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More states legalize sports betting as Ohio’s proposal evolves

Updated: May. 19, 2021 at 11:22 PM EDT
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - Ohio lawmakers continue to hear competing testimonies about their latest effort to legalize sports betting as more states pass and sign their own bills.

On Tuesday, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan signed into law a bill legalizing sports betting, making it the 28th state to legalize wagers on sports in the country, according to the American Gaming Association. In Florida Wednesday, lawmakers approved sports betting in a move that is expected to see legal challenges.

State senators in Ohio released their bill two weeks ago Thursday. They target a self-imposed June 30 deadline to pass the bill before lawmakers leave for their summer break.

Senators on the Select Committee on Gaming heard testimony from several interested parties and proponents of the bill Wednesday, including representatives from some of Ohio’s sports teams and colleges.

They included Doug Healy, the Cincinnati Reds chief financial officer, and Ted Tywang, general counsel for Haslam Sports Group, which includes the Cleveland Browns and the Columbus Crew. The two argued against one of the core ideas of the bill that was sold when it was revealed. They said the way the bill proposes offering 20 “Type A” and “Type B” licenses doesn’t create a free and fair market, arguing it gives preference to national chains.

Sen. Kirk Schuring, R-Canton, who was missing from Thursday’s committee hearing due to health reasons, stressed when the bill was released that the free market will play an important role in deciding who gets a license.

Several interested parties objected to various aspects of how Ohio is awarding licenses, but all seemed open to the idea of working on comprimises to meet senators’ June 30 deadline.

“We want legalized sports betting to be done right, but we also want it to be done soon,” Tywang said.

The Reds also have plans to build an in-person sportsbook near their stadium. The team would partner with an established sportsbook to run the facility.

“For us, it’s an economic development opportunity down there at the banks where we have a bar and restaurant district that’s been struggling to survive,” Healy said.

Groups in the past have testified against the idea of legalizing bets on college sports in Ohio.

C. Todd Jones testified in favor of limited college sports betting on behalf of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Ohio, a group representing smaller and private institutions throughout the state.

Currently, the bill kicks the question on college sports to the Ohio Casino Control Commission. Jones said lawmakers should settle the score as part of the legislation to avoid a cycle of schools going back to a regulatory body to get approval. He said it should be limited to NCAA Division I football and basketball games. He also said the bill should make betting on esports or club sports off-limits.

From our perspective, this compromise would allow the state to obtain all of the revenues it is seeking without creating undue harm to small independent businesses in the state, which is what your Ohio independent colleges are,” Jones said.

House lawmakers have yet to propose their own bill, but when they did in 2020, they wanted the Ohio Lottery Commission to regulate sports betting instead of the OCCC, which is the plan under the Senate’s bill. More small businesses could likely get involved with sports betting in some capacity under a model regulated by the Lottery Commission.

David Corey, representing the Bowling Centers Association of Ohio, asked lawmakers Wednesday to compromise on a plan to allow the Lottery to have a hand in regulating the industry.

“You’re once again picking winners and losers, and Ohio’s small businesses get left out again,” Corey told Senators.

He said small businesses that partner with the Ohio Lottery currently, like grocery stores, don’t want to install full-fledged sportsbooks, but “they want a piece of the pie,” he said.

One of those business owners is Charlie Bassett, who operates Bassett’s Market in Port Clinton. That’s one of the 600 grocery stores in the state that sells Ohio Lottery products.

“Limiting sports betting will lead to less acceptable options for Ohioans, particularly in our rural areas,” Bassett said.

A representative from the Problem Gaming Network of Ohio also testified, asking lawmakers to make sure necessary protections are in place for betters.

Derek Longmeier said the organization is neutral on the prospect of legalizing sports betting. But, he pointed out that no federal funds are available to help states support gambling addictions.

A man who said he’s been a recovering problem gambler since 2016, Jess Stewart, cautioned lawmakers about allowing college sports and prop bets in their bill. He also advocated for protections in place for gamblers, saying he struggled with a gambling addiction for 40 years.

“I’m fully aware that you’re under pressure to get this done quickly,” Stewart told senators. “I believe, given the stakes, it’s more important to make sure it gets done right.”

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