Ohio Sports Betting Bills Face Stalemate, While Neighboring States Advance

Ohio State FlagAs of Spring 2019, two sports betting bills have been sitting, unmoved, in Ohio legislature:

  • OH SB 111 resides in the state Senate and aims to have the Ohio Casino Control Commission in charge of regulating sports betting.
  • OH HB 194 is in the state House and if legalized would appoint the Ohio Lottery as the regulatory authority over sports betting.

While it’s clear that these two Ohio sports betting bills have been locked in stalemate for months, the path to get out of it is unclear. With the Super Bowl only weeks away, sports wagering’s peak season, it comes as a shock that there hasn’t been a bigger push to move these bills forward, given the sensitive timeline.

Sen. John Eklund gave this statement last month, regarding the status of the legislature to this issue:

“The heavy lifting in terms of educating members, gathering info, caucusing, I think in my opinion, we’re coming to the end of that line. I know it’s taking a long time, but that doesn’t mean nothing’s going on. We’re working very hard to get this just so.”

Comments from the Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives, Larry Householder, however, seemed to indicate different views:

 “The Senate at this point seems pretty committed to keeping it with the casinos. So we’ll just have to figure it all out.”

Ohio Falls Behind Neighboring States

Since Eklund’s comments last month, Ohio’s northern neighbor, Michigan, officially legalized both retail and online sports wagering. Kentucky, Ohio’s southern neighbor, has also sent a sports betting bill to their House floor and the bill looks to be in prime position to be signed into law with the governor supporting the bill.

Ohio now sits in between three states with active mobile betting that does not require in-person registration. That means that residents who live near the borders of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, or Indiana can all hop over the state line, place their bets, and come back to Ohio. This issue will seemingly only be accelerated when Michigan launches its own sports wagering apps.

Meanwhile, OH HB 194 has had a total of eight hearings conducted in the House Finance Committee since being introduced and has yet to reach the House Floor. Similarly, OH SB 111 has had two hearings in the Senate committee of General Government and Agency Review with no luck of obtaining a full vote from the Senate.

What’s the Hold Up?

What the hold up is really coming down to a disagreement over which state agency should regulate betting on sports.

Senate President Larry Obhof and Gov. Mike DeWine said they’re in favor of making it legal in Ohio’s 11 casinos and racinos, so long as it’s overseen by the Ohio Casino Control Commission. It would levy a 6.25% tax, with proceeds going into the state’s general fund. The Senate bill has only received two hearings so far.

Householder supports putting the Ohio Lottery Commission in charge, which could grant permission to small businesses like bars and restaurants and fraternal organizations to have sports betting terminals. It calls for taxing betting receipts at 10%, dedicating the net proceeds for education and gambling-addiction programs. The House version got eight committee hearings, but hasn’t gotten a hearing since December, with Householder saying it wasn’t quite ready for a full vote.

Both the Senate and House versions would allow for mobile betting, with neither version raising much money for the state. Casino companies generally prefer that the Casino Control Commission regulate the industry, though they’re not too pressed about which bill gets passed.