Ohio Lawmakers Back In Session. Where Do Sports Betting Bills Stand?

Heading into the fall, the state of Ohio appeared to be the only one that could legalize sports betting this year without the help of a voter referendum. But a week after the election, it’s unclear what might happen next in the Buckeye State. Three key bill sponsors — Senators John Eklund and Sean O’Brien and Rep. Dave Greenspan — won’t be back for the 2021 session. Eklund, the key champion in the Senate, has term-limited out, and both O’Brien and Greenspan lost re-election bids. Eklund and Greenspan are Republicans, and O’Brien is a Democrat.

The only other state that still has a legislature in session where lawmakers have been discussing sports betting is Massachusetts, but the General Court there does not appear to be moving to legalize this year. The House of Representatives there expects to release its budget Thursday, and it does not include revenue from sports betting. Gov. Charlie Baker’s does.

Earlier in the fall, Ohio’s Eklund told Sports Handle that sports betting would be put on the back burner until after the election. Measures in both chambers have supported statewide mobile sports wagering, do not mandate the use of official league data, and set the licensing fee at $100,000. The key differences are on tax rate and who the regulator will be.

The Senate bill is Eklund’s SB 111, which sets the tax rate at 6.25% on wagering revenue and makes the Casino Control Commission the regulator. The House bill is Greenspan’s HB 194, which sets the tax rate at 10% and tasks the Ohio Lottery as the regulator. HB 194 would require the Lottery to install 1,250 sports betting terminals within 90 days of the bill’s effective date, and another 1,250 within the following 90 days.

Draft bill with consensus being circulated

There has reportedly been a draft of a compromise floating around Columbus that sets the tax rate at 8%, and Eklund said in September that the House sponsors had “acquiesced” to making the Casino Control Commission the regulator, but that doesn’t mean the full House will agree. The legislature goes back into session today with committee meetings, and the first full House and Senate sessions are set for Nov. 17. Both chambers could have up to 10 sessions before adjourning on Dec. 22.

According to the fiscal note on HB 194, the state would take in $1.3 million in license fees in the first year, and overall tax revenue from sports betting would be “relatively small” but could reach $23 million per year by 2023. On the Senate side, the fiscal note on SB 111 estimates the state would take in $1.2 million in license fees in the first year, and tax revenue would reach $20 million by 2022 and grow “modestly” after that. The House fiscal note was written earlier this year, and the Senate one was written in early 2019.

HB 194 will be the vehicle that moves forward. SB 111 was introduced in March 2019 and referred to committee, but it hasn’t moved since October 2019. HB 194 passed the House in June 2020 and was sent to the Senate.

Multiple operators are already preparing for legal sports betting on Ohio — both theScore and Kindred (Unibet) have already announced deals to bring digital platforms to the state, and national giants DraftKings and FanDuel are already active in multiple states, including neighboring Pennsylvania and Indiana. Unibet is also live in both of those states. All three are also prepped and ready to launch digital platforms in Michigan when mobile/online sports betting goes live in that state, either later this year or early next.

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