The Ohio Senate late Thursday night passed a gaming bill that would legalize sports betting and e-bingo, the second time in the last eight days lawmakers in that chamber passed such a measure.
On Thursday, the Senate voted unanimously to amend House Bill 29, which establishes an identification card for veterans, and tack on a modified version of Senate Bill 176. Senate Majority Floor Leader Kirk Schuring (R-Canton) noted that the bill passed by a 30-2 margin last week, but not without some supporters raising concerns about the number of licenses and who got priority.
Some of those issues were addressed. That included removing a provision that gave Ohio’s professional sports teams priority for a Type B, or retail sportsbook, license. In addition, caps on the number a county could have were revised. Now, a county with a population of 800,000 or more can have up to five brick-and-mortar establishments.
That’s key because the previous version allowed Cuyahoga County, home to Cleveland, to have three retail licenses for three pro teams and two casinos. In Hamilton County, home to Cincinnati, there would have been two available three teams and two casinos.
In all likelihood, mobile sports betting will dominate the market in Ohio as it’s done elsewhere in the US. However, bill proponents consider brick-and-mortar establishments as economic development opportunities, with the ability to create jobs and generate growth in communities across the state. Counties with a population of at least 100,000 will be able to host a sportsbook.
Pro teams and casinos can also apply for mobile sports betting, or Type A, licenses. One difference is the casinos will be able to have two skins with their license, compared to just one for the teams.
The amended bill also simplifies the lottery sportsbook provision to certain restaurants and bars.
The state will still collect a 10 percent tax on revenues. Schuring said that 98 percent of that will go toward public and private education, with half of that dedicated to extracurricular activities.
Betting on the House to Pass Bill
The amendments, while important, weren’t the key reason why Schuring brought the bill up again.
Since unveiling the legislation earlier in the session, the chair of the Senate Select Committee on Gaming said the goal was to get the bill to Gov. Mike DeWine by the end of June.
After the Senate’s vote last week, however, key lawmakers in the House pushed back on that timeline. That led to Schuring, with help from Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima), to negotiate with House members.
By attaching the gaming bill language to a bill that’s already cleared the House, it means the legislation will now go directly to the House floor and bypass a committee review. If House members concur with the changes, it goes to DeWine for his signature. If they don’t, then a conference committee between the chambers would have to reach an agreement on the bill.
I think we’re on the threshold of getting something done,” Schuring said. “I think this is an amendment to this bill that hopefully the house cannot refuse. It’s good policy, and hopefully once and for all, we’ll have this done and we can see sports gaming in Ohio sometime in 2022.”
The next House session is Friday afternoon. According to the Ohio Legislature’s schedule, the House may meet twice more next week before the end of the month.
Changes to e-Bingo Provision
The amendment also addressed the e-bingo provisions of the bill. Previously, veteran and fraternal organizations were allowed to have as many as 10 electronic gaming machines. After some opposition from casino operators, the cap is now set at seven machines per eligible facility.
Further, fraternal organizations will need to be established by next Thursday (July 1, 2021) to be eligible to offer the games.
“It’s easy to become a fraternal organization, and we don’t want a proliferation of fraternal organizations that will come out of this with an opportunity to have an e-bingo license,” Schuring said.
Get Gaming Right Ohio, a casino-backed group that opposed SB 176, had previously estimated 876 establishments could offer games to their members and patrons. With a cap at seven machines, that would mean there could be as many as 6,132 machines installed.
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