Last year, two competing bills were introduced that would authorize and regulate sports betting in Ohio. House Bill 194 was introduced by Representatives Dave Greenspan and Brigid Kelly. Senate Bill 111 was introduced by Senators John Eklund and Sean O’Brien. The House bill received eight hearings in 2019 while the Senate Bill only received two but neither has received a hearing since the first week of November 2019.
While the process has slowed down in Ohio it is highly unlikely that it has ended. Especially, considering that in December Michigan became the fourth of Ohio’s neighboring states to legalize sports betting. The only neighbor left to legalize, Kentucky, advanced for a full House vote earlier this month. Ohio does not want to be left behind or abdicate the money its citizens will inevitably spend sports betting to neighboring states. So what is the hold up in Ohio?
The key difference between the House and Senate sports betting bills is who will be the agency in charge of overseeing sports betting. The Senate version places sports betting under the purview of the Ohio Casino Control Commission. This is the preferred regulating agency for both the Governor and the Senate President. The House version places this responsibility with the Ohio Lottery Commission. The House Speaker prefers the Lottery Commission regulate sports betting.
Other differences between the two bills are the tax on the betting and the use of the proceeds. The House Bill contains a 10% tax rate and earmarks the funds for education and problem gambling programs. The Senate version contains a 6.25% tax rate and has no earmarks on the proceeds and instead directs them into the general fund. Additionally, the House version, with regulation falling to the Lottery Commission would open the door to businesses other than casinos, such as bars and restaurants.
That difference is mitigated by the fact both proposals would legalize mobile betting. Given the ubiquity of smart phones, from a consumer perspective, the benefits of placing sports betting terminals in bars or restaurants would seem slim. Instead, those establishments may be better served investing in and advertising strong wireless internet services. This is the tact taken by many bars and restaurants in other states with legal mobile gaming to entice customers into their facility and keep them there.
It is likely the two bills meet in conference committee and some agreement is hammered out between the House and Senate. Undoubtedly, neither chamber wants to see money flow to neighboring states that could be used in Ohio. The question is, how quickly an agreement can be reached.