The odds are favorable to legalize Ohio sports betting this year, according to one bill sponsor.
Ohio Sen. John Eklund tells Legal Sports Report he expects to fill out his placeholder bill for sports betting by the end of February. He feels the good money is on it to pass.
“I think the chances are better than 50-50,” Eklund said. “But, remember, I told you that I don’t bet, so I’m not what you would call a reliable handicapper. My feeling – because the number of groups and organizations that have expressed some level of support for this outnumber the groups that have a hell-no attitude – is some measure of confidence that we’ll be able to get it done.”
Eklund, a Republican, introduced S 316 along with Democratic Sen. Sean O’Brien to give it bipartisan support. Republican Rep. Dan Greenspan sponsored a companion bill in the House.
While he wasn’t ready to share details of the legislation, Eklund gave insight into his mindset on some key points.
Coming around on mobile Ohio sports betting
Eklund admitted when he first started taking meetings on sports betting last year, he did not favor mobile.
“I didn’t have an appreciation for the safeguards that are associated with the activity,” Eklund said. “I had the vision that every seventh grader in Ohio would be able to pick up their cell phone and — boom, boom, boom, boom, boom — place a bet on the outcome of the Cleveland Browns versus the Kansas City Chiefs. Now I’m aware that we can do this without creating that atmosphere.”
The Ohio Lottery Commission, among other stakeholders, demonstrated to him the consumer protections available for mobile platforms.
“I’ve also been impressed by the extent by which technology is available to make it a more directed activity,” Eklund said.
Eklund recognizes people are doing everything online and from their phones these days.
“I’m coming around on that,” Eklund said of mobile wagering. “If that’s what the consumer wants and it can be done in a safe and secure fashion that maintains the integrity of the contests, it would be hard to turn one’s back on that. I think of it as a channel of distribution.”
Wary of integrity fee to sports leagues
Eklund noted that professional sports leagues have expressed an interest in what goes on in Ohio.
“They have in their mind that some sort of royalty fee paid to the professional sports leagues would be appropriate,” Eklund said. “Why, I’m not all together sure.”
A study by Oxford Economics for the American Gaming Association estimated that nationwide legalization and mobile betting could result in a $300 billion a year market.
Leagues do not collect an integrity fee on the billions of dollars wagered legally and illegally in the US. Eklund questioned why it should get one in Ohio.
“I don’t fault them at all. Another aspect of our primary market here is that it can generate revenues for leagues, teams and owners. It would be silly not to pursue the possibility of monetizing that market. But we’ll see about that. If margins are as thin as I’m given to understand, it starts to run up against the financial aspects of the activity.”
Entering with reserved revenue expectations
Seeing the big dollars wagered, Eklund thought there could be game-changing revenue available for Ohio. He realized margins are small enough that sports betting won’t mean “suddenly we’ll be in the land of milk and honey.”
“Reading about the economics of sports betting and how it works, the revenue streams associated with it have been interesting and eye-opening,” Eklund said. “I don’t view it as the tool to solve any state’s, much less Ohio’s, fiscal concerns from now until forever.”
However, as a Republican, he took notice of last year’s PASPA decision as a declaration of state authority.
“When that decision came out, people in the gaming industry who follow these things expressed an interest in having sports betting,” Eklund said. “I became interested for federalism reasons, and I started working on putting something together.”
Comprehensive bill on the way
Eklund hoped to have his placeholder bill filled in last session, but it has taken longer than expected.
He’s encouraged that stakeholders are in agreement that Ohio should regulate sports betting. He also sees them as realistic on the limitations of what statewide sports gambling can do fiscally.
Potential areas of disagreement include:
- what betting is allowed
- who can offer it
- who will regulate it
- whether it will be permitted online
Eklund has received four different versions of draft bills from stakeholders including casino operators, racetracks and fraternal organizations.
“As you can imagine, there are a number of people or organizations interested in this. It’s taken longer than expected to work out the details. We’re trying to conglomerate what they all think this should look like into something comprehensive that probably gives nobody everything they want, but at least makes everybody equally miserable.”