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Ohio Senate Approves Sports Betting, But Some Supporters Raise Concerns

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The Ohio Senate wasted little time in passing a bill to legalize sports betting in the state. On Wednesday, one day after the Senate Select Committee on Gaming passed an amended bill, the full body approved the measure by a 30-2 margin.

Ohio sports betting
Ohio state Sen. Niraj Antani speaks in support Wednesday of Senate Bill 176, a bill he co-sponsored that would legalize sports betting in the state. The bill passed by a 30-2 vote and now heads to the state House of Representatives. (Image: The Ohio Channel)

After starting with 20 mobile and 20 retail licenses each, Senate Bill 176 now has increased the number of mobile, or Type A, licenses to 25 and the total retail sportsbook, or Type B, licenses allowed to 33.

Further, the retail sportsbooks will be limited to counties with populations of at least 100,000. Counties with at least 500,000 people will be allowed up to two retail sportsbooks, while counties with 1 million or more can have three.

However, with professional sports teams, as well as racinos and casinos, being allowed to hold a retail license, it means not everyone eligible in counties like Cuyahoga (home to Cleveland) and Hamilton (home to Cincinnati) would be allowed to offer a retail sportsbook.

Under the bill, the state’s professional sports teams would get preference for both types of licenses. So, too, would golf courses that hold annual PGA Tour events and auto tracks holding NASCAR events.

Committee Chair and Majority Floor Leader Kirk Schuring, R-Canton, said operators could apply for licenses on Jan. 1, 2022. The authority issuing the licenses would start doing so no later than April 1.

The bill now heads to the state House of Representatives. Last year, the Ohio House approved a sports betting bill, but that bill died in the Senate as it took no action on it before the session ended at year’s end.

Concerns Raised About Ohio Casino Involvement

Supporters of the measure, which also legalizes e-bingo or video lottery terminals at veteran or fraternal organizations across the state, hope to have the bill on Gov. Mike DeWine’s desk by the end of the month. However, despite the groundswell of support, there are still some concerns about aspects of the legislation.

Senate Minority Leader Kenny Yuko, D-Richmond Heights, thanked Schuring for his work in leading the committee and shepherding the bill sponsored by state Sens. Nathan Manning, R-North Ridgeville, and Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg.

While Yuko voted yes, he had concerns about the level casinos will be involved in sports betting.

You don’t take the same people that brought you to dance and cut them off at the door,” he said. “You have to give them an opportunity to be involved.”

Yuko also urged Schuring to let the process play out in the state House.

“I know you have a very short deadline, we might not be able to meet it,” Yuko said. “Don’t let that be an obstacle for us doing the right thing. We have to have to do the right thing.”

State Sen. Sandra Williams, D-Cleveland, noted her town has three pro teams and two gaming venues. With more than 1 million people, Cuyahoga can only get three retail sportsbooks. She also voted yes for the bill but expressed hope that the bill would be amended to ensure all gaming companies who want a retail license can get one.

Retail sports betting licenses may not be as big an issue in Ohio as some raise. In states that offer mobile sports betting, like Indiana, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, online bets make up the overwhelming majority of action.

Many Convenience Stores Now Out in Sports Betting Bill

SB 176 also includes a lottery sports betting provision, and just like the Type A and B licenses, it too was amended in committee.

Originally, the bill set up what was a pari-mutuel sports betting operation for lottery retailers. However, now that segment will operate similarly to Type A and B sportsbooks, but the segment will be limited to offering point-spread bets, moneyline wagers, and totals.

Bettors would be limited to $200 in bets per day on the kiosks, and the machines will only be allowed to take credit and debit cards.

The Ohio Casino Control Commission would be allowed to pick up to three vendors to operate the lottery sports betting option, and current lottery licensees will not get preference for a license.

The amended bill also now limits those kiosks to only establishments with a Class D liquor license, which are bars and restaurants.

That decision was met with criticism by some outlets that wanted the opportunity to offer sports betting in their establishments.

Ryan Howard spoke on behalf of the Ohio Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association at the committee’s Tuesday meeting. He said that most convenience stores do not have Class D licenses.

“We respectfully ask that you allow convenience stores to participate in what be an opportunity for us to recover from the pandemic, save small businesses, and perhaps even grow as a result of the increased in-store foot traffic, and ancillary sales that sports betting would generate,” he said.

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