Ohio Sports Betting Timeline Still Undetermined

Ohio Sports Betting Timeline Still Undetermined

A growing number of Ohio leaders believe sports betting is coming to the state. None are sure how, or when, that will happen.

Ohio lawmakers, athletic directors and gambling stakeholders all think sports betting will come to their state, according to a report from Columbus CEO. But important questions abound over nearly every facet of sports betting legalization – notably even the legislative process itself.

Ohio Laws Lead to Questions

Before lawmakers can even discuss sports betting, they still have to figure out what laws they need to change.

The Supreme Court struck down the federal ban on sports betting earlier this year, which now allows states the right to accepts sports bets if they choose to do so. It doesn’t automatically legalize sports betting in all 50 states, and many, including Ohio, have existing state-level restrictions on their books.

The state had a constitutional ban on most forms of gambling until a voter referendum in 2009 allowed four land-based casinos in the state. Now different groups have different interpretations of Ohio’s remaining anti-gambling laws.

Further interpretations of the 2009 amendment to the constitution form the crux over three disparate views of potential sports betting implementation:

  • Some lawmakers believe sports betting is now under the purview of the legislature and not impacted by the state constitution. State Sen. John Eklund, who is leading legislative pushes for sports betting in Ohio, told Columbus CEO “there’s no question” the Ohio General Assembly has the authority to go ahead with sports betting.
  • Other lawmakers disagree. State Senate President Larry Obhof has said the constitution will need to be amended by a voter referendum, as it was previously to allow the casinos. He is among a group that believes in a narrow interpretation of the amendment, meaning it only allows for authorities explicitly laid out within the text of the law.
  • A third avenue centers on a clause from the 2009 casino expansion law that permits any table games in Ohio that are offered in neighboring states. Some believe this extends to sports betting. West Virginia is already taking bets, so under this interpretation, Ohio is eligible to accept wagers today.

There has been little consensus on what interpretation wins out.

Lawmakers will return to Columbus in 2019 to discuss sports betting (among other issues) as part of a regular legislative session. They will most assuredly determine which set of rules they’ll need to play by, then begin the process to pass a bill.

By the most stringent of interpretations, that means a constitutional referendum will have to go to voters, which may not come until 2020. By the most liberal, sports betting could begin almost immediately.

But with that question yet to be determined, it’s all but impossible to even estimate a timeline for when the Buckeye State could take its inaugural wager.

Lawmakers Voice Support, Though Work Remains

Early sports betting support could be a driver that pushes that bill forward sooner than later.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a placeholder bill ahead of the 2019 session. However, It offers little in terms of regulation, taxation or implementation, major questions that have stalled efforts in other states.

Though it contains none of these details beyond the intent to pass legislation, it’s a major step toward legalization and puts into writing the expressed desire to see a bill pass out of the state house.

Gambling has already been a financial winner for the state.

Long one of the more restrictive states in the nation toward gambling, that began to change a decade ago as the state saw revenue slip across the border to growing gambling destination in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Indiana. Things turned quickly once the state opened up its gambling market.

The state’s seven hybrid racetrack-casinos generated close to $1 billion in revenue last fiscal year and the four commercial casinos likewise pumped in millions of dollars in economic impact.

Earlier this year, MGM continued its push in the Ohio market with the takeover of the Hard Rock Rocksino in Northfield Park, the state’s highest-grossing gaming facility. Already one of the leaders in U.S. sports betting expansion in Mississippi and New Jersey, MGM assuredly has its eyes on sports betting in Ohio as well.

The progress of sports betting has also been closely monitored by state residents without a direct financial stake.

Officials, Stakeholders Prepare for Sports Betting

Sports betting could have impacts far beyond casinos.

At Ohio State, home to the state’s most popular college football program, university officials are watching and waiting to see what legal sports betting might bring. Though he has publicly opposed wagering on sports, OSU Athletic Director Gene Smith realizes it’s now part of the gameday experience for many fans.

Even in opposition, he also sees the benefit, he told Columbus CEO.

“It probably will bring more attention. I think we are going to see more people watching a lot of games. They are going to be betting these games across the board.”

It’s for reasons like these industry observers see Ohio embracing sports betting.

Jay Masurekar, an analyst with KeyBanc’s gaming division, told Columbus CEO sports betting should come within the next three years.

If it takes that long remains to be seen. There are many key issues to resolve about Ohio sports betting, even before officials determine the legal situation to even allow them to begin the discussion.

But every indication is there are good odds Ohio residents will be able to place a bet from their home state before too long.

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