Ohio lawmakers weigh sports betting possibilities

It’s a better-than-safe bet that sports betting will become an issue for Ohio lawmakers at some point.

But they will most likely take up the issue at their own pace. After Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling allowing states to make laws allowing sports betting, Southwest Ohio legislators don’t think Ohio will take any action quickly.

Sports betting today is illegal in Ohio. Even after the new Supreme Court ruling, states are free to allow or disallow wagering on sports.

In Ohio today, however, the General Assembly already has a full calendar from here to Memorial Day, said Ohio Rep. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg. A vote for a new Ohio House speaker was set for Tuesday.

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“There are other things that are top of mind,” Antani said.

“We can work up a bill as fast as the General Assembly wants to move,” said Sen. Bill Coley, R-Liberty Twp. “But I think I know my colleagues well enough to say that they will be thoughtful, they will be deliberate in their process here.”

“This is a clean slate,” Coley added. “We can move in any direction people want to move.”

However, he identified three immediate “major” concerns with sports betting.

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Consumer protections should be in place, so that the books who take bets are clearly able to pay winners, he said.

Legislation must somehow attempt to address “problem gaming” and addiction to gambling, Coley said.

And he added, “You don’t want to damage the brand that sports has.” Legislation must address the concerns that some will have of athletes “throwing games” or of gambling influencing performance.

Plus, state government will need to collect taxes and handle an array of other imperatives.

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“Something as big as this is not something we should do quickly,” Antani said. “We should take our time, vet the issue, talk to members of the public — and we should talk with the different sports franchises and see what they want to do as well.”

Added Antani: “If we’re going to do this, it should be done right.”

Coley said he expected that he and his colleagues will have a “cursory discussion” on the issue Tuesday or Wednesday.

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“It’s kind of all over the map,” Coley said. “People who are strongly for it, people who are strongly against it.”

There’s also the question of technology. Coley expects some states will allow people to bet with their mobile phones.

“It’s important for us to hear from the public,” Antani said. “We as legislators are representatives of the people.”

Antani said he has heard only “a little” from constituents and colleagues on the issue. “A couple of people have made some Pete Rose jokes.”

As new as it is, the issue is already creating division. Ohio Democratic gubernatorial candidate Richard Cordray has said he would consider allowing sports betting, while a spokesman for current Gov. John Kasich has indicated that the issue is not a priority for him.

Greene County’s Mike DeWine, the Republican candidate for governor and Ohio’s attorney general, has typically opposed expanding gambling in Ohio, a spokesman for DeWine has noted.

Penn National Gaming, which owns the Hollywood Gaming at Dayton Raceway racino — one of Penn’s four Ohio casinos — released a statement saying the company was pleased with the Supreme Court’s decision to end the federal ban on sports betting.

“Sports betting could be another amenity at our Hollywood properties and help generate additional visitation, as well as drive incremental tax revenue for Ohio,” Penn said in a statement e-mailed to this media outlet. “We welcome the opportunity to discuss legal sports betting with legislators in Columbus and other key stakeholders.”

Gambling is already big business in Ohio. Statewide gaming revenues totaled $71.8 million in April, up less than a percent from 2017.

And the Ohio Casino Control Commission recently said gambling receipts are higher than they were last year through the year’s first four months. State numbers show total gaming revenues from the state’s four casinos were $284.2 million through April, up 2.2 percent from the same point in 2017.

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