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Ohio is at an impasse in determining the regulatory body for sports betting in the state.
Last month Gov. Mike DeWine came out in support of the Senate plan to have the Casino Control Commission (CCC) handle Ohio sports betting. But Ohio Rep. Dave Greenspan tells Legal Sports Report that the House proposal with the Lottery Commission in charge is the only legal option.
Greenspan, the sponsor of H 194, asserts that a June 3 opinion from the Ohio Legislative Service Commission (LSC) confirms the governor’s choice is not viable. That’s because Ohio sports betting is not considered a casino game that would fall under the CCC’s purview.
“I was surprised by the governor’s comments, but we believe our position is the correct position and, as we continue to promote the bill and explain the opinion, we are confident that we will convince him and others why the provisions in the House bill are the correct provisions,” Greenspan said.
The LSC opinion outlined that the CCC would not have the authority to oversee OH sports betting unless it were considered a casino game.
According to the Ohio Constitution, for sports betting to be considered a casino game it would have to be classified as such by one of its neighboring states. Those include Pennsylvania, Indiana, Michigan, Kentucky and West Virginia.
“We’ve got the Legislative Service Commission, an unbiased nonpartisan group that gives us research, providing this opinion and that’s the opinion we’re operating under,” Greenspan said.
Greenspan contends that expanding Ohio sports betting through the CCC outside of the four casinos would require going to the ballot for a constitutional amendment, a debate New Yorkers know all too well.
The Lottery Commission gets around these issues because it is exempt from Ohio gambling laws.
Another issue with S 111, according to Greenspan, is that the CCC controls what happens in casinos but cannot permit them to offer gaming outside the casino property through mobile means.
“There is no permissible path for the Casino Control Commission to regulate sports betting, but even if there was, the only locations Ohio could have sports betting would be the four casinos with no opportunity for mobile or online,” Greenspan said. “According to the constitution, it has to be located in casinos only.”
While the Senate bill limits Ohio sports betting to the 11 casinos and racinos located in the state, the House bill adds more than 1,200 fraternal and veterans organizations.
However, those aren’t the only entities that currently offer lottery products. Bowling alleys, bars, and convenience stores also partner with the lottery and are lobbying for inclusion. About 3,000 bars in the state have lottery terminals.
Greenspan noted that from a technical standpoint, the technology already exists for sports betting through the lottery at these venues. He’s open to broadening the sites that could offer sports betting in his bill, but the places that want it will need to garner support from his colleagues:
“I’m comfortable where the bill is now, but what I’ve told the various interested groups is that if they can get votes to support what they’re looking for then we’ll give them the opportunity to have language written.
“Neither myself or my joint sponsor would stand in the way of that occurring, but they would have to get the votes and the governor and Senate’s support to have the opportunity to bring that forward.”
The Senate doesn’t seem comfortable with having OH sports betting in 1,200 locations, let alone thousands more. Senate President Larry Obhof told the Columbus Dispatch that his chamber sought to shut down internet sweepstakes cafes and he didn’t see them supporting sports betting being all around.
“The Senate was not supportive of having a significant expansion of gaming all across the state,” Obhof said. “I’m on safe ground predicting that would still be the opinion of the majority of my caucus today.”
At the last Ohio hearing in the House Committee on Finance, Eric Schippers of Penn National Gaming called such requests a money grab. Greenspan agrees:
“Just because that specific provision is being engrossed in other states’ bills, I don’t believe it’s something we need to include in ours. My concern is Ohio may be artificially creating a monopoly if requiring operators to use official league data
“If there’s only one marketplace to receive data, that marketplace can monopolize transactions on their sport. That company providing league data can effectively charge whatever cost it wants because it knows Ohio sports betting cannot operate without it.”
Greenspan said he also isn’t concerned that operators would use low-quality data without a legislative mandate.
“If a sports betting operator is ruling on bets based on questionable data in a free-market economy, the patrons aren’t going to continue with a company they can’t trust to provide them with accurate results,” Greenspan said. “So the marketplace will provide the environment for official league data.”
In June, OH sports betting took a back seat to budget discussions. The Ohio legislature returns from recess in the first week of September. Greenspan indicated he has not yet had the opportunity to discuss the LSC opinion with the governor’s office.
The good news is that the Ohio legislature goes until the end of the year, and this is the first of a two-year session.
Greenspan admitted that opponents might argue that the LSC’s opinion is just one, and others may seek opinions to the contrary. On the other hand, for the lottery to offer sports betting, it needs to be considered a game of chance rather than a game of skill.
An option remains for creating a third regulatory body to handle sports betting.
Greenspan expects his bill to pass through committee and possibly get a House vote in September. The Senate bill has yet to be referred to a committee.
“Our bill is the one moving so I’m optimistic our bill will be the one that prevails,” Greenspan said.