Advocates are hoping that gambling on sporting events in Ohio will soon become legal, but exactly when and how people will be able to place wagers and on what teams is still up for debate at the Statehouse.
The state legislature has introduced two competing bills to legalize sports gambling in the Buckeye State. They were introduced a little more than a year after the U.S. Supreme Court declared it is up to individual states to permit or outlaw sports betting.
Gov. Mike DeWine has expressed support for efforts to legalize sports betting in Ohio, but so far the efforts are split over which state agency should administer and oversee the industry.
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House Bill 194 would award control to the Ohio Lottery Commission and investigative responsibilities to the Ohio Casino Commission. The bill also calls for a 10 percent tax to be applied to all sports betting and earmarked for education and gambling addiction programs.
Senate Bill 111 would give control to the Ohio Casino Commission. The Senate bill has not yet had any public hearings.
“Obviously, the debate is really becoming who regulates it and how,” said State Rep. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg. “I think there’s a compelling argument that perhaps the lottery is the constitutional way to do it. I am for a free market so if we are going to do it then it should not just be at casinos.”
Members of the Ohio House are already hearing from colleges and professional sports leaders about their opinions on legalization. One committee member, Rep. Phil Plummer, R-Dayton, said he supports legalizing sports wagers but is still making up his mind about “the best route” to allow and regulate it in Ohio.
A “slow roll-out” of allowing sports betting in Ohio will be needed to make sure state leaders and regulators “get this right,” Plummer said.
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With sports betting already permitted in more than a dozen other states, Ohio needs to allow it so it doesn’t lose out on tax revenue, Plummer said. Neighboring Indiana’s first sports betting facility opened in September and online operations launched earlier this month.
“We’re definitely missing out. It’s lost revenue to other states where people are gambling on sports,” Plummer said “Unfortunately, it’s already going on in the black market. We might as well control it.”
Opponents of legalization efforts in Ohio have criticized the possible move by calling out sports betting as a rigged and predatory practice.
“Stop Predatory Gambling,” a national nonprofit, pushes for social reform with regards to gambling.
Les Bernal, the group’s director, told the Ohio House finance committee that Ohioans lose around $3 billion per year to state-sanctioned gaming businesses. Unlike other businesses, Bernal said, gambling often leaves people with nothing in return because the “financial exchange is mathematically rigged against you.”
“There is a faulty assumption surrounding commercialized gambling and it has led to very bad outcomes for the American people,” Bernal said. “It’s the false perception that gambling is just like any other business. It’s not.”
One factor legislators will have to consider is whether they allow betting on mobile devices outside of specific locations such as casinos, bars and bowling alleys.
In New Jersey, more than 80 percent of sports wagers are made online on mobile devices, said Jeff Ifrah, founder of iDEA Growth, a trade organization focused on expanding regulated online gaming. Some of the biggest companies, including DraftKings and FanDuel, are already well recognized brand names.
“No one is debating that mobile will drive up revenue, no one is debating that,” Ifrah said. “It’s just an issue of the casinos wanting to keep as much revenue as possible and insisting that it become retail only.”
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There is one approach, Ifrah said, that the legislature could take to appease gamblers, casino owners and online betting services.
Some other states — including Indiana — allow online betting services to “piggyback” off a casino’s license to allow sports betting, Ifrah said. Often, casinos will work with an online service if the company agrees to either share revenue or pay them an annual or one-time payment upfront, Ifrah said.
The Hollywood Casino in Lawrenceburg, Ind. —about 20 minutes outside Cincinnati — partners with a company called Kambi to provide sports betting opportunities.
Some states, such as New Jersey, allow casinos to partner with multiple online betting services, Ifrah said.
“There’s enough money to go around because the state is so big,” Ifrah said.
Professional sports leagues have not given their full-throated support or opposition to proposals currently being considered in the Statehouse.
Instead, they have encouraged the legislature to make tweaks to House Bill 194, before voting to send it to the governor’s desk.
The change they have sought would be to require betting services in Ohio to use official league data. The requested alteration is needed to protect fans from being cheated by false or pirated data when making bets as a game is ongoing. That change was advocated for at an Ohio House committee hearing by a representative of Major League Baseball, the National Football League and the Professional Golf Association.
“[L]egalized sports betting in Ohio must be done correctly, or we risk the integrity of our game and the goodwill of our fans,” said Melissa Wideman, Cincinnati Reds vice president of community relations. “Therefore, without inclusion of a requirement that Ohio sports books use official league data for in-play betting we must oppose HB 194.”
Having accurate data could become an issue when it pertains to specific bets, Andy Levinson, senior vice president of tournament administration for the PGA told House members. This concept, known as “in-play bets” relies on data and if unofficial information is used, Levinson said it could be the difference between someone winning with one betting service and losing with another.
For example, Levinson proposed the idea of a someone placing a bet that a drive in a golf tournament was more than 300 yards.
“Imagine one sports book indicates the drive distance as 299 yards, while another marks it as 301 yards. Imagine the reaction of the losing customer,” Levinson said. “Dissatisfaction will spill over not only to the sports book but, potentially, to the PGA Tour itself, creating disenchantment and suspicion of a ‘rigged’ system.”
Although both Antani and Plummer have expressed support for allowing wagers to be made on college sports in Ohio, another area legislator disagrees.
State. Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, said that if it does become legal to bet on sports in the Buckeye State, she hopes it is a practice that will only be allowed for professional teams.
“I do not want to see it go down to the college or high school level,” Lehner said. “I think there’s already enough shenanigans going on at those levels.”
Permitting bets to be placed on college teams and athletes in Ohio would not create any new concerns since it’s already allowed in other states, both Antani and Plummer said.
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But, each of Ohio’s public universities and at least 51 private colleges in the state oppose legislation to legalize betting on college athletics. They include Wright State University, the University of Dayton, Miami University, Ohio State University and the University of Cincinnati, among others, according to letters from the Inter-University Council of Ohio and the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Ohio.
While allowing betting on college sports in Ohio could increase the odds that a student or team could try to throw a game, the more prevalent danger is the “undue pressure” it could put on students, said Neil Sullivan, UD athletic director.
Permitting bets to be placed on an individual student athlete’s performance or the specific outcome of a play or shot could further complicate things, Sullivan said. It may also create an uncomfortable situation, Sullivan said, where “half the kids on their (residence hall) floor just lost money or gained money based on a made free throw.”
“At the end of the day we’re dealing with young people,” Sullivan said. “Exposing them to the things that can come from sports gambling … gives us great concern.”
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