Commentary: Ohio Sports Betting Market Will Be Huge, But What Took So Long?

Commentary: Ohio Sports Betting Market Will Be Huge, But What Took So Long?
By Bill Ordine

The snails-pace progress of Ohio sports betting, both online and retail, has been puzzling.

However, last month, after a couple of years of false starts, Ohio lawmakers finally hammered out legislation agreeable to the state Senate and state House of Representatives with one of the last cleared hurdles being the number of “skins” each licensee will be allowed. The resolution was one skin per licensee with the possibility of a second.

Gov. Mike DeWine signed the legislation just before Christmas and now it’s up to the Ohio Casino Control Commission to hammer out the regulations, typically a labor-intensive, time-consuming process.

Ohio’s casinos, racinos and sports teams all qualify and by the time the dust settles and the bets are being taken, about two dozen or so sportsbooks could be taking action. There will even be more convenient options in bars and restaurants.

Of course, the key question asked by Ohio’s prospective sports bettors is “when” — when can they begin placing wagers. The deadline for getting all this going in Ohio is Jan. 1, 2023.

What Took Ohio So Long?

That it has taken Ohio so long to move on sports betting has been mystifying. Unlike some states that have a traditional antipathy for gambling, such as some southern states, a pervasive anti-gaming streak doesn’t really run through Ohio’s culture. After all, the state already has a handful of land-based full casinos in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus and Toledo, plus several racinos that have thousands of VLTs (read slots), albeit no table games.

The state’s pro sports industry — there are two NFL teams, two MLB teams, an NBA franchise, an NHL team and two Major League Soccer clubs — has generally been supportive of sports gambling in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in 2018 to strike down a federal law that had impeded states from offering sports wagering.

Meanwhile, as Ohio lawmakers dickered over the details of sports gambling, most surrounding states went ahead and launched sports betting — Michigan, Indiana, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. In fact, there are few places in Ohio where a two- or three-hour drive (or less) couldn’t get you to a sports gambling state. So, for a while now, Ohio bettors have been able to easily travel to a neighboring state and register online to do their mobile sports betting, or drop into a retail sportsbook and make some picks.

Ohio Will Be Robust Sports Betting Market

Once Ohio, with the seventh-largest population in the country, does get going with sports gambling, it promises to be a robust market. In addition to actual retail sportsbooks and gambling websites and apps, there will also be stand-alone betting kiosks in bars, restaurants and professional sports facilities that amount to so-called convenience gambling, the same type of familiar gambling behavior associated with the sale of lottery tickets.

The Ohio tax rate on taxable sports wagering revenue is 10%, an enormous drop from the 51% tax rate in New York which just flipped the switch on online sports betting in January. The tax rate can affect bettors because it might influence the bonuses that operators offer to customers – speculatively, a big tax rate would eventually discourage gambling operators from offering bettors big promotions, although that’s not been apparent so far in the nascent New York market.

Most of the tax money that Ohio sportsbooks ship to the state will go toward education. The state’s Legislative Budget Office has made estimates that promise an initial big bolt of cash for the state from license fees. For Fiscal Year 2023, the estimate on the license fees alone is north of $10 million.

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Bill Ordine was a reporter and editor in news and sports for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Baltimore Sun for 25 years, and was a lead reporter on a team that was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News. Bill started reporting on casinos and gaming shortly after Atlantic City’s first gambling halls opened and wrote a syndicated column on travel to casino destinations for 10 years. He covered the World Series of Poker for a decade and his articles on gaming have appeared in many major U.S. newspapers, such as the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Miami Herald and others.

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