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Given that Ohio is home to a staggering eight major sports sides (including baseball’s Cincinnati Reds), it’s something of a surprise that the state took so long to legalise sports betting within its boundaries.
However, the last week in June finally saw Ohio lawmakers formally pass a sports betting bill into legislation, following a last minute tweak to the legislation and a decisive 30-2 vote in the state senate.
You learn more about sports betting in Ohio at online-gambling.com, of course, but this post will explore the decision to pass the legislation and what this will mean for interested sponsors.
Better Late Than Never – The Legalisation of Sports Betting in Ohio
Discussions to legalise sports betting in Ohio have been ongoing in the Ohio senate, ever since the US Supreme Court decided to strike down the PAPSA legislation in 2018 and give the green light for individual state authorities to regulate and monetise this practice.
To this end, Senate Bill 176 has been the subject of intense discussions and several minor tweaks, as negotiations have continued at pace and finally achieved an amicable resolution for almost all parties involved.
The most recent amendment was made at the beginning of June, as the maximum number of online and retail licenses was finalised at 25 and 33 respectively. As the final, minor stumbling block was removed, the bill subsequently passed the senate with only token opposition.
The House must now pass an identical version of the bill before it can be passed formally into law, of course, but this is considered to be little more than a formality going forward.
The final version of the bill was also designed to prioritise licenses for Ohio’s professional sports teams and organisation, with these entities having lobbied heavily for such changes during more than a dozen hearings in early 2021.
While this was crucial to ensuring that the bill ultimately passed the senate without serious conflict or further delays, some critics have argued that the amended, sports league-friendly legislation could shut out some of the state’s casinos from retaining sportsbooks.
This could be a source of conflict and angst further down the line, causing potentially more delays and complications to a legislative process that can best be described as painstaking.
For now, however, the good news is that sports betting is likely to be fully legalised in one form or another in the near-term, creating a viable marketplace to meet the demand of locals and a viable source of tax revenue for the state treasury!
Delving Deeper into the Bill and its Licensing Structure
From a remote betting perspective, as many as 25 separate operators could apply for online licenses under the bill, five more than were referenced in earlier iterations.
Such licenses could prove lucrative with the current climate, with iGaming continuing to enjoy exponential growth while low vaccination rates in rural Ohio prevents residents from getting out and about.
Under the bill’s framework, each licensee could then contract with two separate online operators apiece, meaning that there could ultimately be as many as 50 online skins and one of the highest caps in the country.
As we’ve already touched on, the bill will also give preference to 10 professional sports organisations with Ohio-based franchises or events.
Namely, this would include the NFL (Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns); NBA (Cleveland Cavaliers); MLB (Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds); NHL (Columbus Blue Jackets); MLS (Columbus Crew and FC Cincinnati); PGA TOUR; and NASCAR.
Given that the major professional sports leagues and teams referenced here all have myriad deals with the top sportsbooks stateside, it would appear as though national operators and market leaders such as FanDuel, DraftKings and PointsBet would be afforded a huge advantage as they seek initial entry (either through a franchise or otherwise).
The bill would also allow for other, less prominent sporting associations to apply for an online license in the state, including the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA). This is hosting an event in Cleveland this year, and has already lobbied for inclusion in the bill.
Similarly, a selection of other, non sports-related entities with a physical state presence will have an opportunity to apply for an online license.
According to bill sponsor and state senator Nathan Manning, the vagaries of the bill could even allow the Ford Motor Company to apply for a virtual license. They’re unlikely to take this option up, of course, but this does highlight a potential issue with the wording of the bills and its ability to underpin a fair and competitive marketplace.
If we assume that all 10 franchises take a license, this leaves around 15 openings for other business interests, which are likely to be highly sought after by a large number of operators.
It may also enable the market leading operators to dominate, potentially undermining the competitiveness of the sector in the process.