Controversial Sportsbetting Bill Raises Concerns about Inequality for Ohioans

A sports betting bill has been long in the works in the Ohio Senate, coming up five separate times in 2020 alone. But legislation always falls just short of bringing sports wagering to the state, with lawmakers seemingly unable to settle on the details of such a bill. Currently, Ohio allows for casino play and racinos, but sports wagering as well as online casinos are strictly illegal.

Opponents of a sports betting bill have expressed concerns that legislators haven’t considered the social impact that legalization will have in drafts of a potential bill. Provisions regarding the limits of advertising and tax write-offs are just a few of the issues critics say need to be addressed before gambling can be expanded in the state.

Perfecting a Bill

Earlier this year, Senate Bill 176 was introduced and pushed through by legislators for consideration by the House. However, the bill wasn’t quite what the Senate Select Committee on Gaming recommended and there’s a high possibility that the suggested legislation could be scrapped for yet another rework.

Even more recently, the Senate tacked sports betting legalization amendments on bill HB 29, a bill that was originally about veteran ID cards. The House rejected these amendments but has yet to bring any sports betting legislation of its own to the table. The Senate has asked for a conference committee to try to meet in the middle and craft a bill that is designed to pass.

The New Layout

What the Ohio Senate is proposing currently would allow for up to 40 retail sportsbook licenses and 25 online licenses, with the opportunity for more than one skin per operator. There would also be a license type that would allow for up to 20 liquor-licensed venues to host sports wagering kiosks. All revenue from sports betting would be taxed at 10% and licenses wouldn’t be available until April of 2022.  If the Senate can convince the House to accept the amendments to HB 29, there’s a possibility the bill could pass this year.

A Hard Sell

Meanwhile, outspoken objectors are calling on legislators to consider the bigger picture. National Director of Stop Predatory Gambling, Les Bernal, took part in a press conference in August, stating that commercial sports betting would go against public interests.

Concerns for Citizens

Should a bill come to fruition, nearly all of the proposed 10% tax on sports betting revenue would go towards K-12 education and problem gambling resources. But Bernal is harsh on the plans for the tax, calling it a “budget gimmick,” since sports betting in Ohio would be overseen by the Ohio Casino Control Commission instead of the Ohio Lottery Commission. The OLC has to use lottery profits to fund education, whereas the OCCC isn’t under the same obligation. On top of that, the tax revenue from operators is offset by tax write-offs they receive from the state.

Bernal also called upon the state legislature to acknowledge their responsibility to the children of Ohio to address issues with gambling adverts. Just like tobacco advertisements are restricted to protect children from their effects, Bernal believes the prospective sports betting bill must regulate gambling advertisements. “Those who are targeted today will be the problem gamblers of tomorrow,” Bernal said, quoting Carolyn Harris, a member of British Parliament who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group on Gambling Related Harm.

Looking Ahead

As it stands, there are only two obvious truths in the situation regarding an Ohio sports betting bill: Ohioans have been waiting a long time to see it come to pass, and it may be a long time still yet. The interest is there, for both lawmakers and gamblers in the state. But agreeing on how sports betting should come to Ohio is a tough nut to crack.

While the gambling industry in Ohio would see a large amount of growth if a piece of legislation like bill 176 or HB 29 were to pass, there’s no sign that lawmakers intend to expand on to new casino sites. Online gambling will most likely remain inaccessible to Ohioans, leaving gamblers interested in the prospect to take their chances with off-shore operators instead.


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