Back in July 2018, after the U.S. Supreme Court that May opened the door to legalized sports betting nationwide, we noted in this space that Ohio hadn’t exactly rushed in to start the legalization process, and that given the stakes, “caution is not so bad.” Our final thought at the time: While gambling companies were clamoring to get the action going, “Ohio’s legislators owe their allegiance only to citizens, and their obligation when it comes to implementing sports betting — if they do so at all — is to do it right, not to do it first.”
They certainly took the “not to do it first” part to heart.
More than three years later, Ohio still is not past the starting line when it comes to sports betting. According to data from the American Gaming Association, as of Oct. 6, 28 states and the District of Columbia have live, legal sports betting, and four others have legalized it but are not yet operational. (It usually takes at least six months from the time legislatures approve legalization to secure the needed regulatory approvals to start sports betting in a state.) Ohio is one of two states — Massachusetts is the other — with active sports betting legislation that has not been passed. Four states bordering Ohio — Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania and West Virginia — already have live sports betting. Kentucky remains a holdout, with no active legislation at the moment, the gaming association reports.
Ohio does, though, appear to be making progress in finally getting into the game.
State Sen. Kirk Schuring, a Republican from Canton who chairs the Select Committee on Gaming, said in a recent radio interview that a conference committee has been set up to iron out differences between the House and Senate versions of the state’s sports betting bill, and that there could be floor votes in both chambers by the end of the month. Senate Bill 176 would award 40 Type A licenses — 20 for mobile and online betting, and 20 for in-person sports wagering. Type B licenses, determined based on county population size, would be brick-and-mortar buildings that could offer their own sportsbooks. Type C licenses would be kiosks.
“I think we are finally on a pathway to get sports betting into law,” Schuring said.
There are, here and everywhere, legitimate concerns about legalized sports betting. The practice, for instance, can have a disproportionately negative affect on minorities and people in lower-income communities, and therefore can worsen wealth inequality.
But gambling opportunities now are so pervasive that Ohio’s slow pace in setting up a sports betting system is depriving it of tax revenue that surrounding states are only happy to collect when Ohio residents cross state lines to bet on their favorite teams — or just the ones they feel confident will help them make some money.
The American Gaming Association’s Commercial Gaming Revenue Tracker showed that in August, the latest month for which figures were available, there was $217.3 million wagered in legalized sports betting nationwide, a 68% increase from August 2020. The increase in sports betting exceeded gains in overall gambling revenue, which was up 47.4% from a year earlier. (People are eager to do something with their money after all that time in pandemic lockdown.)
Bloomberg Opinion in August noted that gambling “is among the oldest and most universal human recreational activities, but commercial gambling for cash is only a few centuries old. The business, and government attitudes toward it, have undergone periodic seismic shifts. We’re in the midst of one today.”
Indeed we are. It doesn’t even seem odd anymore when, for instance, the Cleveland Cavaliers strike up a partnership with Fubo Gaming, a subsidiary of fuboTV Inc. that is preparing to launch a sportsbook later this year, even though sports betting still isn’t legal in Ohio. The partnership, announced Oct. 6, is the first for Fubo Gaming with an NBA team and is seen as a way for the company to get a jump on the inevitable competition that will be coming into the market soon. Ohio, with about 11.7 million residents, is a big prize.
Gov. Mike DeWine has called sports betting in the state “inevitable” and has indicated he would sign a bill legalizing the practice. It’s time for the legislature to get this done so the state can go about the business of offering sports gambling in 2022.