Wondering When Ohio Might Legalize Sports Betting? You Aren’t Alone.

Written By Derek Helling on November 19, 2021

The simple answer to the question of when an Ohio sports betting bill might become law is … well, that there is no simple answer to that question. Parties in the state legislature remain optimistic about it happening this year, but final action remains elusive.

Competing interests of potential sportsbook operators and disagreements between the two chambers of the legislature seem to be the main sources of why a law isn’t already in place. With less than a month until the regular session ends for the year, action will be forthcoming soon if legalization does occur.

Ohio sports betting bill currently in process

Ohio Rep. Bill Seitz and state Sen. Kirk Schuring both have recently expressed cautious optimism about getting an amendment to HB 29 across the finish line. Currently, the amendment is in a conference committee.

Earlier this week, Schuring gave an interview to WHBC-AM 1480. In it, he spoke about the committee’s work on the matter.

“We made more progress last week, and we’re still working on a compromise to get us where we need to be to pass the conference report,” Schuring said. “We actually are at the stage now when we’re asking for the legislative service commission to draft language so others can look at it as we, you know, try to negotiate (so) others can look at it and read it the way it will look when it becomes law. So we’re making progress.”

Late last month, Seitz said that the committee could have reached an agreement. But he blamed the OH Senate for deviating from the language of the bill that the body at large already passed. He also pointed out exactly what the hot button issue was.

Difference of a skin holding up concurrence

According to Seitz, House members were ready to agree to the original deal on the table.

“Some over there seem to want to restrict the casinos and racinos to one skin, not two,” Seitz said. “There will be no deal if that is their position — which, by the way, contradicts what they voted for in HB 29.”

The Senate version of HB 29 gave casinos and racinos two online skins. That means they could partner with two separate online sportsbooks. Meanwhile, sports teams such as the Cleveland Guardians would get one.

Apparently, OH sports teams such as the Cincinnati Bengals would rather level that playing field. Instead of pressing for a second skin for themselves, however, they want to lower the cap on casinos and racinos.

It seems they have the ear of some in the Ohio Legislature on that point. Whether that topic will be sufficient to delay or even kill off this amendment is a matter of opinion right now, though.

And that opinion isn’t one that Schuring holds.

“So you know,” Schuring added, “we’re just trying to work with our House colleagues now to get it to the point where it will be approved by both the Senate and House, and we’re making progress.”

If Schuring is right, that progress will have to occur quickly. With Thanksgiving approaching, the time is running out in 2021 in more ways than one.

How much time does the Ohio legislature have left?

Of course, there’s always the possibility of picking the matter back up in 2022 if it doesn’t happen this year. However, in the interest of getting the product live as soon as possible, sooner is better than later.

The regular 2021 session ends for the legislature on Dec. 15. However, rules allow the bodies to extend the session through New Year’s Eve if they like. Whether this amendment alone would be enough to extend the session is another question.

If Schuring is reading the room correctly, that might not be necessary, at least on this issue. On Nov. 1, he said everyone agrees on 90% of the issues. The number of skins seems to be the meat of the other 10%.

The likely inference here is that if there is no Ohio sports betting bill passed this year, it will be easy to identify the reason why. That would also telegraph the issue that legislators would need to tackle in 2022.

Photo by Aaron Doster/AP
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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Kansas City, Mo. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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