Ohio Horsemen Tell Lawmakers Racing Commission Needs to Control Sports Betting

Posted on: April 2, 2021, 11:52h. 

Last updated on: April 3, 2021, 11:51h.

It was the horsemen’s turn this week to testify before the Ohio state Senate Select Committee on Gaming. Not surprisingly, like other stakeholders who spoke or submitted testimony in previous weeks, they have their own thoughts about legalizing sports betting in the Buckeye State.

Ohio sports betting
Travelers on I-70 eastbound pass a welcome sign as they cross into Ohio from Indiana. Senators who have taken testimony on sports betting legislation in recent weeks plan to file a bill to legalize it in the near future. (Image: Google Maps)

Representatives of the Ohio Harness Horsemen’s Association and the Ohio Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (HBPA), which represents thoroughbred owners and trainers, said at Wednesday’s hearing their industry needs a cut of the proceeds from sports betting. That’s especially if the state’s racinos end up opening sportsbooks on their premises.

Ohio HBPA Executive Director Dave Basler told the committee that every time the state expands gaming, it chips away at the share. He said that when a bettor comes to the track with $100 to bet, the horsemen and track will split 15 percent of each wager. If the bettor wins a race or two, it may increase how much they wager and, in turn, the amount the horsemen and track split.

Now, if the racino has a sportsbook, a bettor may walk in on a Sunday when the races start the same time as a Cleveland Browns football game.

Fifty dollars of that hundred is going on the Browns,” Basler said. “There’s no churn. None of that goes to horse racing. Four o’clock, live racing’s done, the game’s done. (No matter if sports bettors) win or lose, horse racing loses on that proposition.

“So, that’s what our request is, that we receive a portion of sports wagering to make up for the dilutive effect. It’s unquestionably going to happen if sports wagering is passed.”

Racing Commission Can Regulate Sports Betting

Renée Mancino, the harness association’s executive director, told senators that the state already has an agency in place that can regulate sports betting – the Ohio State Racing Commission.

She said the state’s lottery commission is only allowed to oversee games of chance. In addition, she claimed the state constitution prohibits sports betting from being offered at casinos. That opinion may be subject to interpretation.

The constitutional amendment that legalized casino gaming in Ohio reads: “‘Casino gaming’ means any type of slot machine or table game wagering, using money, casino credit, or any representative of value, authorized in any of the states of Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia as of January 1, 2009, and shall include slot machine and table game wagering subsequently authorized by, but shall not be limited by subsequent restrictions placed on such wagering in, such states.”

However, Mancino also said there was nothing in the state books that would keep casinos from serving as a “satellite” facility for a track. Each of the seven tracks is allowed to have up to two satellite locations. While that means there could be as many as 21 racing facilities statewide, only MGM Northfield Park has an operational satellite.

With casinos serving as satellites, that would allow for tracks to still open up to nine additional satellite facilities across the state that could offer retail sportsbooks. Regarding mobile, Mancino said the horsemen want one online skin per location, and that skin should be branded identically to the brick-and-mortar book.

She did note, though, that the racing commission has been underfunded for more than a decade. She called on lawmakers to take the licensing fees from sportsbooks to invest in the commission. That would allow it to hire the staff needed to regulate sports betting, she added.

What’s Next for Ohio Sports Betting?

Wednesday was the final hearing for the committee to take testimony from gaming stakeholders and other interested parties. That’s before work commenced on crafting a sports betting bill. Committee Chairman Kirk Schuring (R-Canton) reminded his colleagues on the panel that a draft piece of legislation will likely come out shortly after the legislature returns from its two-week holiday break in mid-April.

Their work in crafting a bill won’t be easy, as stakeholders themselves appear to have their own set views on how sports betting should happen in the state.

Besides the horsemen’s plan, the state’s casinos have called for a system similar to New Jersey and Indiana that would allow them to partner with multiple online applications. And some casinos want sports betting all to themselves. That flies in the face of the state’s pro sports teams that have banded together to request access to licenses that they can then award to an operator.

But wait, there’s more. Businesses that have long been associated with lottery sales, including grocery stores and bowling alleys, want a chance to offer some type of sports betting product as well.

So, those are the voices Schuring and his colleagues must reconcile as they put together legislation. And while they may be able to get a bill through their chamber, it may not necessarily be welcomed with open arms in the state House of Representatives. It passed a sports betting bill overwhelmingly last year only to see it wither in the Senate.

There is sentiment for legalizing sports betting in Ohio, from Gov. Mike DeWine on down. Time would also appear to be on proponents’ side, as there’s still eight months left in the year. However, there’s still a lot of uncertainty ahead, and some stakeholders that don’t get what they want may become adversaries, as lawmakers push their bill through the legislature.