Right about the time The Masters is beginning and cheers of “play ball” are heard in Cleveland and Cincinnati, Ohio residents will learn the fate of sports gaming legislation that has been several years in the making.
But where the final product goes is anyone’s guess.
Governor Mike DeWine (R) made news earlier this month when he told reporters he was confident the Buckeye State would approve sports betting soon.
“Sports gaming is already in Ohio. Ohio is just not regulating it,” DeWine told reporters during a March 1 press conference.
During a key committee hearing last week, Ryan Soultz, vice president of government affairs for Boyd Gaming Corporation, agreed.
“Many Ohioans, especially those that aren’t willing to drive to a neighboring state, place bets with offshore sites that are unregulated and provide no consumer protections,” he told the Senate Select Committee on Gaming, in prepared remarks.
DeWine believes the industry in Ohio is “inevitable,” and predicts “sports gaming is certainly coming to Ohio.”
The Senate announced a special committee in January, the aforementioned gaming committee, to specifically craft legislation.
State Sen. Kirk Schuring (R) chairs the panel and has said he hopes to have something ready to go in early April, after the Easter and Passover holidays.
Unlike many other state legislatures, Ohio doesn’t have a closing date. This session, which began on Jan. 4, is scheduled to conclude on Dec. 31.
For the last few weeks, the committee has heard from stakeholders, including sports teams, local businessmen, state lottery officials, and countless others. All want a piece of the action, or at a minimum to have a say in what the final product looks like. The proposals are seemingly endless.
The final hearing for interested parties to step forward is Wednesday.
The Big Guys Vs. Small Business
Ohio Lottery, which administers the state’s multitude of lottery offerings, distributed more than $1.15 billion to Ohio students last year from revenue.
Additionally, there are four traditional retail casinos located throughout the state. These properties generated more than $637 million in revenue, which was dispersed throughout the state.
Last week Greg Ehrlich, president of Beck Suppliers Inc., an Ohio-based family-operated business, which runs more than two dozen convenience stores around the state, told officials any sports gambling and mobile gaming legislation must include small businesses.
“We have also heard some interests talking about sports betting as though it can only occur in a casino and on a mobile app. That would be terribly unfortunate given the many ways in which retail convenience stores could participate in sports betting let alone the revenue convenience stores could generate for Ohio schools,” Ehrlich told the panel in prepared remarks.
But established casinos and other interested parties want to make sure that whoever controls the process knows what they are doing. They argue because the issues and monies involved are so large, the potential for economic disaster if in the wrong hands, is huge.
The Cleveland Cavaliers aren’t waiting for approval of sports betting to begin to lure fans to their operations.
The NBA franchise announced last week it was partnering with Betway. Under terms of the multi-year deal, Betway will be promoted throughout the franchise and fans will be able to take part in certain Betway games.
“Sports gaming is an exciting and rapidly growing industry and we are excited to bring ‘Betway Big Pick’ to our fans,” said Shelly Cayette, senior vice president of global partnerships for the Cavs.
“We’re proud to partner with one of the preeminent platforms in this space, Betway, and help bolster their presence and connectivity throughout the Cleveland market and across our global fanbase,” she added.