According to the American Gaming Association, a record $6.8 billion is estimated to have been wagered on Super Bowl LIV, by an estimated 26 million Americans.1 This increase is due in part to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Murphy v National Collegiate Athletic Association, where the Court held that the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act violated the 10th Amendment. This has opened the door to safe and legal sports gambling in the United States, and, as a result, states are now free to pass legislation legalizing sports gambling within their borders. Once isolated to Las Vegas, it now is estimated that half of all Americans will soon be able to legally bet within their home state.2 Will Ohioans be able to join in on the action?
Two bills currently are making their way through the Ohio legislature that seek to legalize sports gambling in Ohio. The more robust of the two bills is House Bill 194 sponsored by Dave Greenspan and Brigid Kelly. House Bill 194 aims to allow the Ohio Lottery Commission to administer sports gambling at the 11 existing casinos and racinos across Ohio. The bill also aims to allow fraternal and veterans’ organizations (i.e. VFW halls, American Legion Posts, Elks and Moose lodges etc.) across the state to place sports betting terminals in their facilities for members’ use.
House Bill 194 proposes taxes and fees of (a) 10% tax on each sports wager receipt, (b) $100,000 licensure fee on each casino/racino (plus an annual $100,000 license renewal fee for each casino/racino), and (c) $1,000 licensure fee on each fraternal and veterans’ organization. The tax revenue generated from sports betting under H.B. 194 would go to support Ohio education. While H.B. 194 does not reference mobile and online gaming, which some experts believe could make up 90% of the sports betting market within a decade,3 Rep. Greenspan argues that such mobile and online gaming will be allowable under the definition of “Sports Gaming Equipment” as defined in the bill.4 All in all, Rep. Greenspan believes that the bill would generate about $30 million annually and would be a healthy benefit to the state’s education system.5
The second bill is Senate Bill 111 introduced by John Eklund and Sean O’Brien. Senate Bill 111 would authorize the Ohio Casino Control Commission to exclusively license the 11 existing casinos and racinos across Ohio to engage in sports gambling operations including on-line or mobile based platforms. Similar to H.B. 194, a $100,000 licensure fee must be paid by each casino that implements sports gambling in addition to a reoccurring $100,000 administrative fee every five years of operation. S.B. 111 would levy a tax on total sports wager receipts collected by casino operators at a rate of 6.25%. The tax revenue generated under S.B. 111 would go to the state’s general fund. While S.B. 111 seems to lack momentum relative to H.B 194, Governor Mike DeWine recently backed S.B. 111, reasoning in part that the Ohio Casino Control Commission only regulates gaming and does not sponsor any particular state lottery (as opposed to the Ohio Lottery Commission).6
At this point, the debate does not seem to be whether Ohio will legalize sports gambling but rather which entity will regulate it. While this remains a contentious point, Rep. Greenspan and Eklund realize the longer the debate continues the more tax revenue the state misses out on. The substance of the two bills are roughly the same.7 While all signs point to passage of one of the bills in 2020, for now Ohioans must travel to neighboring Pennsylvania, Indiana, or West Virginia to place their bets—or at least to do so legally.