Ohio Sports Betting Moves a Step Closer to Legalization

While sports leagues around the world are slowly awakening from its coronavirus-induced sleep, another state in the US is pushing legislation to legally approve sports betting.

The House of Representatives in Ohio approved Thursday a gambling bill that moved the state one step closer to legalizing sports betting. House Bill 194 that been debated for over a year was passed through the House with large majority, 83-10, the only votes against coming from the more conservative Republicans.

House and Senate at Loggerheads

The bill is still far from becoming a law, as there is a clear division between House and Senate that is slowing the bill and causing Ohio to fall behind its neighbouring states in terms of legalization.  The House proposal empowers the Ohio Lottery Commission as the regulator for the sports betting ecosystem, while the Senate’s one, also supported by St. Gov. Mike DeWine, insists on tasking the state Casino Control Commission with the regulatory function.

House Bill 194 will tax receipts at 10%, with net proceeds going towards state education and gambling addiction programs, while the Senate proposal is for a 6.25% levy, and proceeds going into the state’s general fund instead of being specifically allocated for education.

Both House and Senate proposals will allow mobile sports books, but neither of them will raise much money, opposition groups and organizations within the society point out. Estimations made by the nonpartisan Legislative Service Commission place tax revenues in the $15 million to $20 million bracket annually.

Delay Leaving Ohio Behind Neighbours

Bill sponsors point out the lack of legal options results into money outflows to Ohio’s neighbouring states, and legalizing sports betting will help keep these funds within and raise extra revenue. Indeed, most of the states around Ohio have already legalized sports betting.

At the end of 2019, Michigan legalized sports betting in the state to become the fourth state neighbouring Ohio to approve wagering on sports, with the state regulator already accepting license applications from sports book operators. In Kentucky, the situation is very similar as a sports bill was advanced for vote in the House and stalled there.

Sports leagues and teams, on the other side, pushed for the use of official league data to be obligatory, to help protect the integrity of the game, while in fact it would help protect their financial interest, giving them bargaining power to sell their official data to sports books.

Opposition to the bill is coming mainly from conservative organizations in the state that are in principle against any forms of gambling, with some of them even comparing the bill effect as a “reverse Robin Hood – taking from the poor and giving to the rich”.

The House also approved another bill, House Bill 282, to allow charitable organizations to operate electronic bingo machines that resemble slots, as well paper instant bingo games.

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