A casino sports book. Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images.
Ohio lawmakers are taking a fresh start to approaching the issue of legalized sports gambling in the Buckeye State.
There are not yet any specific proposals on the table in 2021. Instead, seven state senators make up the Select Committee on Gaming, which has begun meeting weekly to hear general testimony on the subjects of legalized sports betting and electronic bingo.
Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, announced this committee shortly into the new legislative term with a collective goal of learning more about how these legalized markets work and the economic impact they would theoretically have on Ohio.
Sen. Kirk Schuring, R-Canton, said he comes into the process “with no predisposition” one way or another. He said the committee will provide a fair and open platform to discuss the issue with industry leaders. He pledged to not meet privately with any legalization advocates until they have made their case publicly by testifying before the committee.
Nearly all states (including Ohio) were prohibited from offering sports betting markets until a 2018 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the ban. Since then, a wide array of states have approved sports betting for brick and mortar locations along with online applications. A person has to be physically located within a legalized state to place an online bet.
Two men representing casino operators were the first to testify to the select committee on Feb. 10. They gave details on how the sports betting markets work in other states and made suggestions on legalization in Ohio.
Eric Schippers, a lobbyist for Penn National Gaming, said the Pennsylvania-based company offers sportsbooks at many of its properties across the United States as well as through an online wagering platform. Penn National Gaming operates the Hollywood Casinos in Columbus and Toledo, along with racinos in Dayton and near Youngstown.
“We firmly believe legal sports betting has the potential to provide a meaningful shot in the arm to Ohio’s gaming industry and to provide a new revenue stream to fund education or other important state programs,” Schippers said.
Rick Limardo, a lobbyist for MGM Resorts International, said the Nevada-based entertainment company is one of the oldest sportsbook operators in America — fielding its first bet in 1979. It now handles a billion dollars worth of wagers each year in-person and online.
In the years leading up to the seminal Supreme Court decision in 2018, Americans turned to unregulated sportsbooks to make bets on everything from the Super Bowl to college sports.
“This illegal market has capitalized on enormous consumer demand, while offering no consumer protections and no revenue for the state,” Limardo contended. He said states are now providing a “safe and regulated alternative” to this “black market.”
Both lobbyists urged state lawmakers to legalize sports betting and set a tax rate that is “competitive” (meaning lower) than other nearby states. They also want to limit sports book licenses to existing casinos — in other words, themselves.
They defended this position by speaking on the work their companies already do to comply with gambling regulations. They touted their respective security systems, which crack down on money laundering, fraud and illegal betting. This type of security could not be guaranteed, they argued, with gambling offered at a local tavern or bowling alley.
MGM’s sports betting app requires users to submit their names, social security numbers and dates of birth, Limardo said. This is cross-checked with other databases to make sure the player is old enough to play.
The committee will meet every Wednesday at 4 p.m., with hearings broadcast on The Ohio Channel.
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