Ohioans may soon have the opportunity to place legal sports bets at casino properties, lottery retailers and possibly even in sports arenas.

Lawmakers formally introduced a highly anticipated proposal to legalize sports gambling in the state. The legislation will move quickly and members expressed hope it could be passed as early as next month. Senate Bill 176 also includes the legalization of electronic bingo machines at charitable organizations.

Sports betting was widely outlawed until 2018, when a U.S. Supreme Court decision made it legal for states to each set up their own regulated systems. More than two-dozen states have already moved to legalize gambling on sports as a way to boost revenue, including nearby states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Indiana.

Sen. Kirk Schuring, R-Canton, who led a select committee that studied sports gambling in the early months of 2021, said lawmakers see the issue less as a matter of state revenue generation and more about regulating an activity that many Ohioans are already involved with. 

“Gaming is here today in Ohio, and all we want to do is put guardrails around it to make sure it’s done correctly,” he told reporters at a Thursday news conference, flanked by fellow members from the select committee.

Schuring said the bill, if enacted, would “make sure that folks who are working in the black market cannot hurt Ohioans.”

Betting at casinos and elsewhere

State senators envision two sets of licenses for entities to offer sports gambling for bettors who are 21 years and older.

Lawmakers are proposing a 10-percent tax on all transactions, with proceeds going toward public and private education in Ohio as well as gambling addiction services. Wagering would be overseen by the Ohio Casino Control Commission.

Under this plan, there would be 20 “Class A” licenses available for the state’s 11 casinos and racinos. They could have retail sportsbooks inside their properties, or could partner with an existing operator (such as FanDuel or DraftKings) to provide a mobile betting option. Ohioans would be able to place bets from their own home.

There would be 20 additional “Class B” licenses for other brick-and-mortar sportsbook locations, such as professional sports arenas. 

“We think it’s going to be an economic development tool in Ohio,” Schuring said of these licenses.

The bill proposes a cost of $1 million for each license, good for three years.

All of Ohio’s major professional sports teams have come out in favor of sports betting. Last month, a coalition of teams (along with the Memorial Golf Tournament in Dublin) expressed interest in obtaining sportsbook licenses to potentially offer gambling within their own stadiums.

As the Ohio Capital Journal reported then, the teams view betting as a way to make money and drive fan interest — allowing spectators to place bets on a game before taking their seats.

“After initial review of the draft bill introduced earlier today in the Ohio Senate, we have questions about the basic sports betting market structure proposed in the bill, specifically whether it adequately protects Ohio consumers and Ohio’s professional sports,” a provided statement from the coalition reads.

Lottery betting, plus e-Bingo and iLottery

SB 176 would also extend a form of sports betting to Ohio’s lottery retailers throughout the state.

The bill would allow retailers to sell $20 tickets for bettors to select a certain “outcome of a sporting event.” All winners of a given bet would split the pot.

Schuring said the bill would keep Ohio Lottery Commission away from riskier “odds-making” bets. Instead, it would give small businesses that already offer lottery and Keno gaming a chance to get in the sports betting game.

The Ohio Fair Gaming Coalition has called for spreading out the sports betting opportunities to the whole state and not just at casinos. Greg Beswick, who leads the coalition, said Thursday afternoon his group is still analyzing the bill language and had no other immediate comment about it.

Separately, SB 176 would legalize electronic bingo at Ohio veterans, fraternal and other charitable organizations. Other digital slot machines would remain prohibited except for at licensed casino properties.

The bill would create a Select Committee on iLottery, which would “study the potential effect of online lottery ticket sales on retail lottery ticket sales in this state.”

iLottery is an online system legalized in some other states wherein residents can play lotto games on their computers and cell phones.

Tyler Buchanan is an award-winning journalist who has covered Ohio politics and government for the past decade. A Bellevue native and graduate of Bowling Green State University, he most recently spent 6 1/2 years as a reporter and editor of The Athens Messenger and Vinton-Jackson Courier newspapers. He is a member of the BG News Alumni Society Board and was a 2019 fellow in the Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs Journalism.