COLUMBUS – Lawmakers in the Ohio Senate are poised to pass a bill to legalize sports betting in Ohio following a last-minute overhaul.
Senate Bill 176 would legalize sports betting in Ohio, allowing residents to place bets on the outcome of the Cincinnati Bengals or Ohio State University Buckeyes’ games. A 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision allowed states to set up their own rules, and in the years since most of Ohio’s neighbors have.
But the proposed legislation goes further, expanding gambling in a state that, for years, fought against adding casinos.
On Tuesday, the bill got a substantial makeover, increasing the number of licenses offered, giving preferential treatment to professional sports teams in Ohio and adding a new license option for bars while limiting their kiosks to two per location.
Under the proposed legislation, casinos, racinos and other businesses could apply for one of up to 58 licenses – 33 designated for brick-and-mortar stores and 25 for online and mobile betting – to offer sports gambling. Applicants would need to pay a $1 million fee. The Ohio Casino Control Commission would select who gets a license and oversee how they use it.
Because of a new change, those brick-and-mortar businesses would be distributed throughout the state based on counties’ populations. For example, Franklin County with more than 1 million residents could have three licenses while Hamilton County in the next population tier would be limited to two.
“That’s our way of saying we want to spread the economic value that we think goes with the B license,” said Sen. Kirk Schuring, R-Canton.
Changes to the bill made Tuesday would add another type of license: Type C for businesses with a liquor license to sell alcohol. An unlimited number of businesses could apply for these licenses for $6,000 each.
However, they would be limited to two kiosks per store, which could offer spreads and over/under bets, and the Ohio Casino Control Commission would limit how many vendors can provide those kiosks. Each vendor would need to pay a $100,000 application fee.
“Two seems to be a good number,” Schuring said of the kiosk limit, but he was open to revisiting it.
Net revenue from sports gaming would be taxed at 10%, bringing in an estimated $17 million to $23 million starting in mid-2022, mostly for K-12 education both public and private, according to an Ohio Legislative Service Commission analysis. Another 2% of tax revenue would be distributed to gambling addiction programs.
If all goes according to lawmakers’ plans, Ohioans could be placing bets as soon as April 1, 2022.
What else is in the bill?
Ohio’s professional sports teams, the Memorial Tournament and a NASCAR event in Ohio would get a preference when applying for licenses. They would still need to meet the criteria for applying.
The proposed legislation also would:
- Legalize electronic instant bingo, known as eBingo, at veterans and fraternal organizations. Each location would be limited to 10 machines.
The attorney general and Ohio Casino Control Commission will check to ensure eBingo doesn’t qualify as a slot machine.
- Ban tax deductions for promotional play credit for five years. After that, the deductions would increase to 10% and 20%.
- Allow wagers on competitive video games if participants are 18 and older.
Is it even legal?
The Ohio Constitution bans most gambling but has carved out exceptions for the lottery and a set number of casinos.
Adding electronic instant bingo, sports gambling and other changes would dramatically expand gambling in a state that historically has opposed it.
Attorney Nicholas Pittner, who led Ohio’s school funding lawsuit, questioned whether lawmakers even had the authority to legalize sports betting because of the state constitution’s restrictions.
“These issues will likely fall to the courts to decide,” he wrote to lawmakers.
What comes next?
After a Senate vote, the bill needs approval from lawmakers in the Ohio House of Representatives to become law.
Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Green Township, has already started to weigh in on the proposed legislation, emailing Schuring about a laundry list of changes.
In the email, Seitz suggested changes to lottery games from MGM, which owns a Cleveland racino. He also wanted lawmakers, not the Ohio Casino Control Commission, to decide the fate of betting on college sports.
“He and I go way back together,” Schuring said of Seitz’s recommendations but would not comment on whether they would be included in a final version. “We are the Senate and this is a product of 45 amendments that came into my office.”
The Fair Gaming Coalition of Ohio is less convinced of their independence: “An email sent by state Rep. Bill Seitz made it clear that Senate leaders’ goal is to help large donors and not the 10,700 small businesses that could benefit from sports betting.”
Jessie Balmert is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Akron Beacon Journal, Cincinnati Enquirer, Columbus Dispatch and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.