Wait, What? From Creative To Crazy, Sports Betting Plans All Over Map At Ohio Hearing

Written By Martin Harris on March 4, 2021 - Last Updated on July 19, 2022

The ongoing discussion of legalizing sports betting in Ohio continued late Wednesday afternoon with a hearing before the Senate Select Committee on Gaming.

Lawmakers were again in listening mode as they “accepted opponent, proponent, and interested party testimony,” as the agenda described.

A variety of witnesses appeared to supply examples of each kind of testimony. However, one could alternately describe the groupings for this week’s meeting as customary, creative and quixotic.

Operators make case for Ohio casinos as foundation

Under the customary category came testimony from casino operators like Bally’s Corporation and Caesars Entertainment.

As operators typically do, their representatives argued in favor of linking mobile and retail sportsbooks with existing casinos. Such licensing agreements requiring operators to partner with land-based properties are common in states with legal sports betting.

The committee has heard from casino operators before. Representatives of Penn National Gaming and MGM appeared before the committee in mid-February.

Such conversations also often cover the extent to which legislators might let entities besides casinos offer sports wagering in some capacity.

Last month, the committee heard arguments for bars, taverns and bowling alleys becoming possible sports betting venues. It came up again last week when a representative of Ohio’s grocery stores explained their desire to also offer sports betting.

Alternate argument in favor of betting at bars

Along those lines came one of the more creative suggestions from a witness at Wednesday’s meeting.

Andrew Herf of the Ohio Licensed Beverage Association again made the case for Ohio bars to be permitted to offer sports betting. Herf proposed allowing the bars to accept wagers via lottery terminals.

Rather than stick to the usual arguments in favor of opening up sports betting to bars, Herf emphasized hardships suffered by bar employees and owners as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. He also noted the various restrictions it has forced upon establishments.

It was a different approach to the issue, highlighting short-term relief over long-term gains for bars.

The argument produced a mixed reaction from senators. Sen. Niraj Antani, for instance, was unmoved by the idea of a bailout of sorts for bars. But Sen. Cecil Thomas did acknowledge how giving the bars sports betting could boost their business otherwise, too.

OH sports betting tax talks go awry

Even more imaginative was an argument from the representative of interactive gaming company Intralot.

Tara Jones, the group’s director of government relations, spoke in favor of integrating Ohio Lottery within the sports betting industry. That in itself was not unusual. But particulars of her proposed plan certainly were.

Jones suggested Ohio institute a 10% hold requirement similar to the one Tennessee adopted, the highest such requirement in the country. A hold requirement means sportsbooks must retain at least a certain percentage of the amount wagered or else face fines. In other words, it limits the amount sportsbooks can pay out as winning wagers.

However, Jones also proposed Ohio impose a whopping 40% tax rate on sports betting revenue. That’s twice Tennessee’s rate of 20%, and would stand as the highest of any state in the country.

Such an attempt to secure the state an impossibly large piece of the sports betting pie would seem, well, a bit “pie in the sky.” In any event, it certainly illustrates the committee’s current openness to hearing a wide variety of plans before proceeding.

The committee will meet again next Wednesday.

Photo by AP / Adam Hunger
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