COLUMBUS — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday opened the door for states like Ohio to enter the sports-betting arena, but it remains to be seen whether the Buckeye State is ready to walk through it.
Ohio has casinos, horse-racing, racetrack slots parlors, lottery, bingo, and charitable games, but the 6-3 ruling striking down a 1992 federal prohibition on sports betting everywhere but Nevada means that betting directly on outcomes and point spreads of professional and college games could be added to the gambling menu.
Penn National Gaming, which operates Hollywood Casino in Toledo, is interested.
“Sports betting could be another amenity at our Hollywood properties and help generate additional visitation to the properties, as well as drive incremental tax revenue for Ohio,” it said. “We welcome the opportunity to discuss legal sports betting with legislators in Columbus and other key stakeholders.”
State Rep. Bill Seitz (R., Cincinnati) said he believes there would be interest in the General Assembly, although he doesn’t believe it would get serious consideration until next year.
“The details would have to be resolved as to where it would be legal and who should do it,” he said. “Should it be housed in locations that are already associated with gambling, which is always an important distinction because any time you open up new outlets, it’s viewed as expansion of gambling?
“If you house them at existing locations, then it’s not expanding gambling,” he said. “It would just be a different form of things you’re already allowed to do at those locations.”
Over the objections of professional football, baseball, basketball, and hockey leagues and the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the court’s majority found that it was up to the states, not Congress, to decide the fate of sports betting.
Opponents to sports betting have argued that it could endanger the integrity of the games.
“Expanding gambling has not been a priority for this administration, and that remains unchanged,” said Jim Lynch, spokesman for Gov. John Kasich. “We’re aware of the ruling and looking to see what impact it will immediately have on Ohio policies.”
The Republican nominee to replace Mr. Kasich, Attorney General Mike DeWine, also isn’t interested.
“DeWine is not for expanded gambling,” said Ryan Stubenrauch, campaign spokesman for Mr. DeWine. “The Supreme Court decision doesn’t do anything to make it legal in Ohio. It’s still against the law.”
But Richard Cordray’s campaign said the Democratic gubernatorial nominee would consider changes to move sports gambling “out of the shadows and the black market so it can be regulated and used to generate revenue to invest in our communities."
State Sen. Robert McColley (R., Napoleon) said there was not much talk about direct sports betting last year when Ohio passed a law he sponsored to expressly state that fantasy sports operations are legal. That law walked a fine line, stating that simulated games in which prizes are known in advance and in which participants use statistical knowledge to draft and play real athletes was not illegal sports betting.
The winners of fantasy sports are determined by how well those individual players perform in real games, but participants do not directly bet on the games themselves.
“I have to think that a private business is going to look at potentially expanding into an area of business that is not currently being offered in the market,” Mr. McColley said. “I imagine they will likely have a conversation about expanding into sports betting.”
While unsure how he might vote on sports betting, he applauded the Supreme Court for coming down on the side of states’ rights in its ruling.
The constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2009 that approved casinos in Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati defines permitted “casino gaming” to be any type of slot machine or table game offered by any of Ohio’s neighboring states.
It does not mention sports betting, which, until now could occur only in Nevada where such gambling predated the federal law.
If sports betting were pursued in Ohio, it remains to be seen whether lawmakers could do it themselves as an extension of the existing voter-approved casino language, just as they did by legalizing slots machines at horse-racing tracks as an extension of the voter-approved Ohio Lottery.
Or would another voter approved, constitutional amendment be needed?
Ian James was involved in multiple gambling-related ballot issues in Ohio, including the 2009 casino amendment. He does not interpret the 2009 language as allowing sports betting.
“They would likely have to get approval from the state’s General Assembly to authorize it,” he said. “However, the Ohio Constitution gives the Ohio Lottery broad authority on games permitted. That authority is so broad that it could provide sports betting without legislation.”
Rob Walgate, vice president of the American Policy Roundtable, is now a gambling opponent after becoming hooked on illegal sports betting in his youth through bookies. Pursuing legal sports betting would be a mistake, he said.
“I hope the leadership in this state will realize that some states have become addicts to gambling themselves,” Mr. Walgate said. “Gambling is a bad recipe when it comes to growing the economy of the state.”
Contact Jim Provance at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 614-221-0496.
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