Lawmakers Open To Online Casinos In Ohio, But Not Until 2021

Posted on October 15, 2020

Ohio casinos want internet gaming in the Buckeye State but won’t pursue legislation until next year.

Lawmakers also expressed to PlayOhio a willingness to consider online casino gaming. But all agree that it can’t be included in the sports betting bill this session.

“We’re focused entirely on sports betting and mobile sports wagering at this point, but we’re absolutely for it and think it is a natural evolution we’ll continue to work toward,” said Eric Schippers, senior vice president of public affairs and government relations at Penn National Gaming.

Penn National owns four of the 11 casinos/racinos in Ohio.

Online gaming would make casinos pandemic proof

Interest in online casino gaming is growing across states after the hit casinos have taken during the coronavirus pandemic. After months of closure, they still aren’t operating at full strength.

Casinos in states that have internet gaming, such as New Jersey and Pennsylvania, were able to continue bringing in revenue during the closures.

“We’ve seen the great benefit of iCasino in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, so we’re certainly going to be sharing those stories with legislators,” Schippers said.

“What we’ve found in Pennsylvania is it has been a general additive to the casino business. It’s a great customer acquisition tool, particularly with younger customers in the 25-to-35 age group. We’ve managed to sign up new customers who were not in our database both through iCasino and mobile sports wagering. That has given us a chance to engage with new customers who we can now provide offers to come out for a steak dinner.”

Time needed to educate Ohio lawmakers on iGaming

Ohio would be better off prioritizing online casino gaming. In New Jersey, internet gaming brings in more than double the revenue of sports betting.

But Ohio legislators have worked on sports betting legislation for two years. There will be a short window to pass the bill during a lame-duck session following the election.

Sen. John Eklund, the Senate sponsor of the sports betting legislation, thinks adding an unvetted matter at this late hour could derail the bill.

“My personal feeling is it’s something for consideration in the future,” Eklund said. “I think that issue is one that very well could hold up the process of the sports gaming bill in Ohio.”

Schippers agreed that it will take time to educate lawmakers about online gaming.

“There are still members in both chambers that are a little reluctant to embrace even the online aspects of sports betting. Mobile wagering is something we still need to educate lawmakers on, that the infrastructure is in place to protect the integrity of the games. We don’t want to bite off more than we can chew until we continue educating lawmakers on the success of New Jersey and Pennsylvania.”

Avenue to speed up online gaming in Ohio

For sports betting, there was a long debate as to which entity should oversee the activity. The options were the Ohio Casino Control Commission or the Ohio Lottery Commission. The bill sponsors from each chamber settled on the Casino Control Commission.

Online gaming also could go through either commission. Sen. William Coley is pushing for the inclusion of online lottery in the sports betting bill.

Schippers said the casinos don’t want the lottery to become a competitor offering instant games that simulate slot machines. However, the casinos would be interested in offering video lottery games through the commission.

Coley is not keen on online casinos. He could be more willing to consider the idea if it goes through the lottery.

“Two companies that own four casinos have a constitutional monopoly on table games and slot machines,” Coley said. “It will be up to a future legislature to decide if it should allow casinos to expand that monopoly online or not.”

Photo by Theo Gottwald | Dreamstime.com
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Matthew Kredell

Matthew has covered efforts to legalize and regulate online gambling since 2007. His reporting on the legalization of sports betting began in 2010 with an article for Playboy Magazine on how the NFL was pushing US money overseas by fighting the expansion of regulated sports betting. A USC journalism alum, Matt started his career as a sportswriter at the Los Angeles Daily News and has written on a variety of topics for Playboy, Men’s Journal, Los Angeles magazine, LA Weekly and ESPN.com.

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