It looks like Ohio sports betting will be no way or all the way this year, according to a key state lawmaker.
Rep. Bill Coley wants to see regulated legal sports betting legalized in Ohio this year, or for the state to enforce a ban on all sports betting. He doesn’t have much of a preference which way it goes, Coley said in a phone interview with LSR:
“If we think sports betting can be a healthy endeavor that we can enhance, maybe we should look at legalizing it and putting it in a safe and secure environment. If we want to keep a ban in place, I’ve got some ideas to empower our Casino Control Commission to create a law enforcement wing and empower them to really enforce the ban.
“One thing I hope we don’t do is leave the status quo in place.”
Coley informed on the issue
Coley has traveled internationally to participate in conferences about sports betting, which makes talk of a ban rather surprising.
When the Supreme Court struck down PASPA, Coley released a statement applauding the decision “to hold the federal government accountable for unconstitutionally violating the states’ ability to make their own policy decisions on the matter of sports betting.”
Coley recently returned from the ICE London conference, where he participated in panel discussions on sports betting and the DOJ’s 2019 reinterpretation of the Wire Act. In November, he spoke favorably of regulation at the US Sports Betting Policy Summit in Washington, D.C.
He also serves as president of the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States (NCLGS). Coley has spoken to leaders of other state legislatures about the need for states to share their sports betting data to properly regulate the industry.
“I can take what I’ve learned from around the world and make sure the law is crafted in a way that whatever we do maximizes the fun and minimizes the harm,” Coley said.
Concerns about problem gambling
Coley said problem gambling is a major issue in Ohio that needs to be addressed through either regulation or prohibition.
He said according to what he has been told by problem gambling advocates, sports betting is the No. 1 culprit for gambling problems. He also heard that attempted suicide rates for people with sports betting problems are high, but people addicted to sports betting don’t try to get help.
He said that only 1 percent of calls to a problem gambling hotline are from sports bettors.
“I’m of the opinion that if we’re not going to allow sports betting in the state, let’s enforce our laws, invest in problem gambling organizations and get treatment for people who need help,” Coley said.
Regulation has benefits over ban
Whether Ohio sports betting is legalized or not, the most important factor to Coley is that the state gets serious about enforcing prohibitions against illegal operators.
Coley wants any bill authorizing sports betting to empower the Ohio Casino Control Commission to shut down unlicensed operations.
He made clear he would welcome regulation as a way to:
- Establish consumer protections
- Employ anti-money laundering (AML) procedures
- Prevent match fixing and problem gambling by collecting data on every wager and running it through algorithms looking for issues
“I think you have to back up whatever you do with strict law enforcement,” Coley said.
Coley noted that regulation would give legal operators an incentive to inform the state about illegal operators. In some European or Middle Eastern countries, he said, legalization was accompanied with arrests of illegal operators.
“The bottom line is to fight illegal gambling up and down the product mix. When you legalize the process, you create an economic disincentive for people to engage in an illegal operation and market forces where legal operators will tell law enforcement about illegal operators.
“With regulation, you’d have a revenue stream from which to provide funds to drive treatment.”
Where legislation stands on Ohio sports betting
State Sen. John Eklund recently told Legal Sports Report that he soon plans to fill in his placeholder bill, S 316. The bill has bipartisan sponsorship from Sen. Sean O’Brien, and he thinks it has better than a 50 percent chance of passing.
Coley is not so sure, stating that Ohio sports betting is not a priority bill in the Senate.
“There are several senators supportive of sports betting regulation, and more than a couple who would prefer not to have sports betting in the state,” Coley said. “My only position is that, whatever we do, we want to make sure we have an effective statute.”
An Ohio take on integrity fees
Coley compares professional sports leagues asking for an integrity fee from every wager to farmers asking for integrity fees for the way their output impacts the commodities market.
“No matter that people are wagering on it, the outcome is going to be what it’s going to be, the same way harvest yield results are what they are.
“So for questions on integrity fees and sharing revenues with the league, I think when they start paying soybean farmers and wheat farmers for their efforts, then we ought to talk to the sports leagues.
“They will gain the most from this because of the interest in their product, but they aren’t owed nor do they deserve compensation for this.”