Unlike his neighbor to the north, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine wants his state legislature to put a bill on his desk to legalize and regulate sports betting.
He reasons that the demand is there for legal sports betting to come to the state in one way or another.
He would prefer that it goes through the legislature and himself to make sure the bill is best for the state and the people of Ohio.
“He does believe that sports betting is coming and it’s important to do this through the legislative process,” Dan Tierney, press secretary for DeWine, told Legal Sports Report.
Ohio governor wants to avoid sports betting ballot initiative
While legislative allies expressed that Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer would veto the sports betting bill as passed by the House, DeWine sees the legislature as the best option for establishing regulatory guidelines for Ohio sports betting.
Tierney explained that the process for citizens to put an initiative on the ballot in Ohio is a fairly easy process, which is of concern to the governor.
DeWine’s strong preference is that the General Assembly take action prior to anybody attempting to put sports betting on the ballot, which could lead to special interests controlling the process rather than Ohio’s elected representatives.
“What we often see in Ohio is third parties with a vested interest putting forward a ballot initiative with sweetheart language or language very beneficial to their industry. The legislature is in the best position to put forth neutral public policy, so the governor wants the legislature to do it as opposed to someone trying to establish regulations from a ballot process that tends to benefit special interests.”
Why DeWine supports Casino Control Commission as Ohio sports betting regulator
The legislative chambers in Ohio are at an impasse as to which entity should be the regulator for sports betting.
The Senate bill pegs the Ohio Casino Control Commission (OCCC) as the regulator, while the House bill selects the Ohio Lottery Commission.
In June, DeWine informed legislative leaders in both chambers that he favored the CCC but did not elaborate as to why at the time.
Tierney provided some insight into the governor’s reasoning:
“The governor’s preference for the Casino Control Commission partially is based on the Casino Control Commission being an existing regulatory body that does regulation but does not operate gaming itself.”
In other words, the Ohio Lottery Commission conducts the lottery but is not as well suited to be a regulator as the Ohio Casino Control Commission. Also, there could be a conflict of interest for the Lottery Commission to regulate gaming while also offering gaming.
Rebutting argument against OCCC as sports betting regulator
Ohio Rep. Dave Greenspan, sponsor of the House sports betting bill, argues that the OCCC only has the authority to regulate casino games. His stance was backed up by the state’s Legislative Services Commission.
Under the Ohio Constitution, for something to be considered a casino game, it must be classified as such by one of the neighboring states of Michigan, West Virginia, Indiana or Pennsylvania.
While none of those states do classify sports betting specifically as a casino game, it’s worth noting that three of them have sports betting at casinos and Michigan is attempting to join them.
Tierney pointed out that the legislature previously granted oversight of skill-based amusement machines to the OCCC.
“There is a history with the Casino Control Commission being given regulatory authority over games occurring outside a casino,” Tierney said.
Next steps for sports betting in Ohio
Ohio has held nine committee hearings on sports betting this year, eight in the House Finance Committee. Rep. Greenspan believes his H 194 is ready to move as soon as this week, but House leadership hasn’t shown urgency in pushing the measure forward.
Perhaps the lack of urgency is due to this being the first of a two-year session in Ohio. The bill won’t lose any of its progress with the turn of the new year.
The Senate appears to be waiting for the House bill to arrive before ramping up discussions on who will regulate sports betting in Ohio and what regulations will look like.
House Speaker Larry Householder and key Sen. William Coley, president of the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States, have spoken out in favor of the Lottery Commission. Senate President Larry Obhof and the governor are on the side of the Ohio Casino Control Commission.
Tierney indicated that, while DeWine has made it clear to the legislature that the OCCC is his preference as the regulator, he is not demanding it and is willing to discuss the issue with lawmakers if they prefer to go another way.
“The governor is still open to see what comes out of the General Assembly,” Tierney said.