Ohio Senate Bill 176 gets a lot of attention for the fact it would legalize sports betting in the Buckeye State. However, there’s another provision in the bill that would allow electronic instant bingo, also known as e-bingo, at roughly 875 facilities across the state. As a result, some gaming companies that operate casinos in the state have come out against the bill.
On Wednesday, just a couple hours after the Senate voted 30-2 to pass SB 176, an organization called Get Gaming Right Ohio issued a statement. The group claimed allowing the e-bingo machines could undercut funding for the state’s schools.
We believe the current sports gaming legislation, which allows for the unprecedented expansion of casino-style slot machines, is incredibly bad for Ohio, and we urge lawmakers to reject this bill,” Dan Williamson, a spokesperson for the group, said in a statement. “SB 176 will flood the state with nearly 9,000 underregulated gambling machines without proper consumer protections, putting Ohioans at risk and robbing the state of potentially millions of dollars in education revenue.”
The statement said Get Gaming Right Ohio seeks to inform residents “about the need for responsible, regulated, and limited gaming and sports betting” in the state. The Wednesday statement mentioned support from JACK Entertainment and Penn National Gaming. Those companies operate a majority of the 11 casinos and racinos in Ohio.
MGM Resorts International previously was listed as a sponsor in an organization statement last month. However, the company that operates the Northfield Park racino was not mentioned in Wednesday’s release.
More About e-Bingo in Ohio
Ohio has four casinos which offer slot machines, and seven racinos which offer video lottery terminals (VLT). While the casinos are regulated by the Ohio Casino Control Commission, the racinos and their VLT machines are overseen by the Ohio Lottery Commission.
Under SB 176, the state would allow veteran’s or fraternal organizations to operate up to 10 machines. According to Get Gaming Right, there are about 876 eligible locations across the state.
E-bingo machines would only be allowed to operate no more than 12 hours a day. The state would not tax organizations on the revenue they receive from e-bingo.
Ohio Casinos Issues with Sports Betting
Casinos could have more concerns about SB 176 than just the e-bingo provision. Senators amended the bill last week before sending it to the chamber’s floor. It gave more preference to the state’s professional sports teams over sports betting licenses than the casinos and racinos.
The bill allows for up to 25 Type A licenses, which allow licensees to partner with mobile gaming providers. It also allows for up to 33 Type B licenses, which allow retail sportsbooks.
However, those retail sportsbooks are only allowed in counties with populations of at least 100,000. Counties with more than 500,000 people are allowed to have two retail sportsbooks. In addition, counties with more than 1 million in population can have three brick-and-mortar establishments.
While that may sound like a lot, there will be instances where establishments find themselves left out. Take, for example, Cuyahoga County in Cleveland. With more than a million people there, it will qualify for three retail sportsbooks. However, there are three major professional sports teams, a casino, and a racino.
If the sports teams get the brick-and-mortar sportsbooks, then neither JACK Casino nor JACK Thistledown would be able to build a sportsbook at their gaming facilities. They would, though, still be eligible to receive a mobile license.
It may not be a pressing issue for some casino operators. As states like Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey have shown, mobile sports betting dominates. Having access to those licenses will likely prove to be more lucrative.
However, they may find themselves at least trying to defend their turf as the bill now goes through the House. That’s especially after comments state Sen. Niraj Antani, a Miamisburg Republican who served as a primary sponsor to SB 176, made to the Associated Press on Thursday.
“The professional sports teams are businesses just like other businesses,” Antani said. “They didn’t force their way into Ohio through a constitutional amendment. Casinos were lobbying very hard, lobbying more than anyone else. If they had their way, they would be the only ones in this bill.”
History Repeating Itself?
Senate Republican Floor Leader Kirk Schuring, who chairs the Select Committee on Gaming which crafted SB 176, reiterated last week that the goal is to get the bill to Gov. Mike DeWine by the end of the month.
However, the AP article noted that some House members are less than enthusiastic about the bill’s language regarding retail sportsbooks.
“You are artificially constraining the ability of logical places to get a Class B license with this limit per county,” state Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, said in the article.
If other lawmakers echo Seitz’s concerns, Ohio may find itself in a similar situation as last year.
A year ago, the Ohio House voted 83-10 to pass a sports betting bill. But that bill never received consideration in the Senate before the session expired at the end of the year.
One bright spot for the bill is that lawmakers have more time to reach an agreement. While Schuring has been adamant about quick passage, the legislative session runs through December 2022. So, that does give legislators ample time to hash out any disagreements.
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