The Ohio Legislature took another step toward legalizing sports betting in the Buckeye State Thursday when the state House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to pass a bill that would let the state lottery oversee it.
House Bill 194 passed by an 83-10 margin in the chamber, which took action one day after the House Finance Committee voted overwhelmingly in its favor. There was no floor debate on the issue. Only the bill’s two primary sponsors spoke during the 13-minute span from when the bill was announced to when the roll call vote took place.
State Rep. Brigid Kelly (D-Cincinnati), who, along with state Rep. Dave Greenspan (R-Westlake), sponsor the bill, told her colleagues that a billboard in downtown Cincinnati promotes a sportsbook located just 20 minutes away in Indiana. So, Ohioans who want to bet either must cross state lines or call “their guy,” she said.
She spoke about how the bill will not just protect bettors, but also work to protect the games themselves.
“Right now sports gaming happens off the books,” Kelly said. “We know it’s happening. But we aren’t collecting tax revenue and there is no way to monitor the bets to try and protect from any unscrupulous or suspicious activity. As part of our bill, we have a monitoring system that will be one of the strongest, if not the strongest, in the nation. Statewide data will be available to the sports governing bodies through a centralized monitoring system. This is a mechanism that we can use to ensure the integrity of the wagers, and because it’s a centralized system, the data will be available to the commission across organizations and books. So it will be better able to recognize fraudulent activity.”
On to the Senate
The bill now heads to the state Senate, where two lawmakers in that chamber have proposed their own sports betting bill.
Senate Bill 111, proposed by state Sens. John Eklund (R-Munson Township) and Sean O’Brien (D-Bazetta), would tax sports betting at a lower rate (6.75 percent, compared to the 10 percent rate under HB 194). It also would give oversight authority to the Ohio Casino Control Commission (OCCC). The House bill calls for the Ohio Lottery Commission to serve as the regulatory body, with the OCCC enforcing regulations.
Greenspan, in an interview with Casino.org Wednesday, envisioned the state Senate may just look to take up the House bill and make amendments to it. Eklund said after Thursday’s vote that he can see the chamber taking up both at the same time. Going that route would allow the Senate to take additional testimony on SB 111 as it hears about the House plan.
That decision, though, will be made by Senate leaders, who will consult with Eklund and O’Brien.
My goal has always been and always will be to get something done right,” Eklund told Casino.org. “And whose bill or what bill is the vehicle for doing it is of no moment. What is of some moment is the policy differences between them.”
The biggest policy issue is where the money from sports betting goes. The House bill would primarily fund education, while the Senate proposal calls for the state’s revenue to go to the general fund. Both would also provide funding for problem gaming services.
Will Time Be an Issue?
Another issue could be time. While the Ohio Legislature is considered a full-time body and the 2019-2020 session does not end until December, there will be breaks in the schedule. Currently, on the Ohio Legislature’s calendar, the Senate is shown as having sessions scheduled just through June, although there will likely be sessions that take place as well after the November election.
When asked if that’s enough time, Eklund told Casino.org, “Dum sprio spero,” which, translated from Latin means, “While I breathe, I hope.”
Eklund said he would like to see the Senate meet a couple of times in July or August to work on legislation.
“The nature of the question is really based on how much time do we really have left, and I can’t predict that,” he added. “If I had my druthers, I’d say, ‘Yeah, we have time, and we can do this.’ Time will tell.”