The Buckeye State is one of the larger untapped sports betting markets for the online gambling industry.
Legislation cleared the Ohio House in May, and the industry is currently waiting on potential action from the Senate, where a competing proposal sits. What’s the delay?
Some sort of middle ground between the bills is needed. The House version calls for the Ohio Lottery to serve as the regulator, while the Senate plan calls for the Ohio Casino Control Commission to oversee the industry. Both proposals would allow mobile sportsbooks, but they differ on the scope of retail wagering.
Do lawmakers have the bandwidth to sort this out in 2020? Maybe not.
According to FanDuel, a leading player in the U.S. sports wagering industry, partisan “politics” surrounding the ongoing public health crisis is a major part of what’s holding up the process of passing a final bill.
“I look at a couple of states like Ohio and Massachusetts where, you know, we thought maybe it would be a shoo-in to get sports betting legislation passed,” Stacie Stern, director of government affairs for FanDuel, said Tuesday during a panel at the SBC Digital Summit North America.
“With the virus, we’ve seen a lot of politics at play. Ohio in particular, there are some concerns about the [House] Speaker having staff work from home because there were maybe some COVID-19 cases or exposure to COVID, and the minority party felt like the majority party didn’t communicate this. So, when you have things at play like politics, and looking at trying to [pass] legislation that still today could be somewhat controversial … it’s difficult to get people on the same page. It’s something you need bipartisan effort.”
House Speaker Larry Householder, a Republican, ended a temporary work-from-home policy in May, according to Cleveland.com. It was reinstated last week. It was reported that Democrats say Republicans aren’t taking the virus seriously, which they say creates a dangerous working environment for policymakers and their staff. Some senators are reportedly staying away from the statehouse due to how Republicans are downplaying the virus. One lawmaker recently urged people to stop getting tested for COVID-19.
Face masks have been a particularly contentious issue among state lawmakers. The Ohio attorney general recently said the Columbus mask policy won’t apply to the state lawmakers.
Can Ohio cross the finish line on gaming expansion amid this toxic political environment in a presidential election year? We’ll soon find out. Ohio is relatively new to casino-style gambling, with the first casino opening up only about eight years ago.
The Ohio General Assembly is currently on a summer recess, with the Senate expected to reconvene in person in Columbus next week. The session ends in late December.
Sports betting is one of many policy issues the bitterly divided legislature has on its plate.
The Ohio House of Representatives consists of 99 members — 61 Republicans and 38 Democrats — according to Ballotpedia. The Ohio Senate has 33 members — 24 Republicans and nine Democrats.
Gov. Mike DeWine, who has been vocal about his support for legalized sports wagering, is a Republican.
The Buckeye State is bordered by Michigan, Indiana, and Pennsylvania, all of which have legalized sportsbooks. Michigan has yet to launch online/mobile betting.