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The Statehouse News Bureau provides educational, comprehensive coverage of legislation, elections, issues and other activities surrounding the Statehouse to Ohio's public radio and television stations.

Senate's Sports Gambling Bill Could Shut Out Cleveland & Cincinnati Casinos

The JACK Cleveland casino, one of Ohio's four casinos that will be permitted to have sports betting under the Senate bill. [Karen Kasler]
The JACK Cleveland casino, one of Ohio's four casinos that will be permitted to have sports betting under the Senate bill.

The sports gambling bill that passed overwhelmingly in the Ohio Senate this week is already running into problems. The language in it could potentially lock out some of the entities that hoped to control sports gambling in the first place.

The bill says licenses for brick and mortar sportsbooks are limited to counties with over 100,000 residents, and no more than three are allowed.

Joint sponsor Sen. Nathan Manning (R-North Ridgeville) confirmed that if all the pro sports teams in Cincinnati and Cleveland apply for those Type B licenses instead of mobile apps, the casinos and racinos in those counties could be shut out of the sportsbook business.

“We really have to see how many of those sports franchises apply for it before we know who would be shut out. But it's certainly a possibility and that's why we're certainly looking at it," Manning said.

The bill passed the Senate 30-2. One Senator abstained - Sen. Matt Dolan (R-Chagrin Falls), who has a partial ownership stake in the Cleveland Indians.

Opponents who had wanted the Ohio Lottery and not the Casino Control Commission to manage sports betting also note that because of the limits, only 27 of 88 Ohio's counties will be able to have sports betting.

Greg Beswick is with the Fair Gaming Coalition of Ohio, which represents bowling alleys, bars and businesses that sell lottery games as well as local elected officials in smaller communities. They want lottery retailers to be able to offer sports betting on a smaller scale.

Beswick said this language really hurts casinos that had lobbied to control sports betting.

"They were really looking for another state sponsored monopoly to be provided to them to be able to do this." Beswick said. "On the contrary, what we're looking at is a win-win solution. Let the casinos and racinos have sports betting. That's where the large bets can go. But let the 10,700 small businesses that are lottery providers be able to participate at this at the keno kiosks that you see in businesses throughout the state.

Manning said that will be looked at as well as the bill moves to the House. A bill passed in that chamber last year would have given authority over sports betting to the Ohio Lottery.

Beswick said all this happened because the bill was put together too quickly. The issue has been under discussion since the U.S. Supreme Court said states could legalize sports gambling.

A bill passed by the House last year gave control of sports gambling to the Ohio Lottery.

There are lingering questions about whether the Ohio Constitution allows lawmakers to expand gambling via sports betting. An analysis of the bill by researchers who work for the legislaturesays of the bill as passed by the Select Committee on Gaming: "A reviewing court might examine whether the bill unconstitutionally expands gambling in Ohio."

Copyright 2021 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.