Ohio Casino Execs Pitch iGaming, Table Games Expansion To Lawmakers

Ohio Casino Execs Pitch iGaming, Table Games Expansion To Lawmakers
Fact Checked by Jim Tomlin

Ohio already ranks as one of the country’s largest gaming states in terms of operator revenue. But can the Buckeye State grow that market? For the past few weeks, state lawmakers have heard about that subject from gaming industry leaders and other stakeholders.

The Commission on the Future of Gaming in Ohio met for the fourth and final time on April 11 in Columbus, hearing from representatives of the state’s racing industry. Not everyone in that group sees eye to eye as to what direction statewide gaming should tread, especially when it comes to online Ohio casinos.

Ohio is one of 38 states that have legalized sports betting, but it is not one of the seven states that permit online casinos, also known as iGaming. Three of the states that offer online casinos – Michigan, Pennsylvania and West Virginia – border Ohio. That leads to some discussion about whether the state should follow suit.

It’s not likely that an iGaming bill will be filed this year in the Ohio legislature. But efforts in some states, including Indiana, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire and New York, failed in 2024 for a variety of reasons. The push for iGaming in New York was stymied by organized labor, which feared online casino apps would lead to job cuts for union workers at brick-and-mortar casinos. Similar arguments were made in Maryland, where even some of the land-based gaming properties raised concerns about the impact that online options would have on their business.

Online gaming is a tougher sell than Ohio sportsbooks, repeating a pattern in many states.

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PENN Says iGaming Complements Casinos

Jeff Morris, the vice president of public affairs and government relations for PENN Entertainment, told the commission that his company supports legalizing iGaming because it can complement existing retail products. The Pennsylvania-based company currently operates two Hollywood Casinos in Columbus and Toledo and Hollywood-branded racinos in Dayton and Youngstown.

He told lawmakers that groups on both sides of iGaming legalization have been busy releasing reports touting the benefits and concerns about online casinos. However, Morris pointed out that COVID-19 and the rise of gray machines have “posed problems” for studies from proponents and opponents.

“The pandemic upended the gaming industry, changing customer habits across the board and the way casino casinos operate across the country,” he explained. “Meanwhile, the influx of tens of thousands of slot machines and skill games in bars, taverns, gas stations, laundromats and so on during the same time flooded the market with new supply. … These two significant data points, which occurred at approximately the same time iGaming and iLottery were legalized, make it incredibly difficult to offer an objective analysis on the effects of the legalization of iGaming and iLottery on the traditional brick-and-mortar business.”

One Ohio Casino Balks At iGaming

Like other states that have been debating iGaming, Ohio’s casino operators are divided on the issue. Dan Reinhard, JACK Entertainment’s senior vice president of government affairs, told lawmakers that only the four licensed casinos should be able to offer iGaming if it’s ever allowed.

However, Reinhard said allowing online casinos would lead to in-person betting declining by more than $220 million each year in Ohio. He warned that this would have significant repercussions on businesses and the state’s economy.

“Ohioans need to look no further than their local malls to understand what online options do to local retail and local jobs,” he said. “IGaming will do the same under any logical scenario. IGaming will damage Ohio businesses, cost Ohio jobs, leading to diminished capital investment and degradation in Ohio’s current tax base.”

One key difference between PENN and JACK is that PENN is a national gaming operator with casinos in 20 states and the ESPN Bet sports wagering app in 18, including Ohio. JACK owns just the casino and racino in the Cleveland area, and its betJACK online sports betting app is licensed only in Ohio. JACK’s arguments are comparable to those of smaller casino operators in Maryland and Mississippi, who have raised issues about iGaming and online sports wagering, respectively. Unlike folks using Ohio sports betting apps, people in Mississippi can only use their mobile devices to wager if they are inside of a casino.

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Ohio Racino Wants Tables

Besides PENN’s two Hollywood Casinos and JACK Cleveland, Hard Rock International has the fourth license for its Cincinnati casino. Those four are regulated by the Ohio Casino Control Commission. The state also has seven racinos, which offer only slot-like video lottery terminals and no table games. The racinos are also regulated by the Ohio Lottery Commission.

However, at least one racino operator wants to see that change. Scioto Downs is a harness track operated by Caesars Entertainment in Columbus. Last year, the track completed a $30 million renovation that included a new grandstand for the 65-year-old venue.

Amy Ankerson, the track’s general manager and senior vice president, told the commission that even with the new investment, Scioto Downs is still not achieving its full potential for the racing community or the state. She wants state lawmakers to consider amending the constitution to allow racetracks to offer table games, both live-dealer and electronic.

“Ohio is, in fact, at the low end of both table games’ revenue mix and table game win per capita,” Ankerson said. “Wider geographical availability in peer states generates higher revenues per capita.”

She added that table games attract younger players and would create additional jobs across the state. If voters were to approve converting racinos into casinos, it could create as many as 1,100 new jobs and generate more than $1 billion in tax revenue over the first decade.

With the commission having received testimony from numerous stakeholders, state Sen. Nathan Manning, a North Ridgeville Republican who co-chairs the panel, said the next steps are for him and state Rep. Jay Edwards, a Nelsonville Republican who is the other co-chair, to discuss the findings and garner feedback from the other members before moving forward.

In the meantime, BetOhio.com has the best Ohio sports betting promos available.

USA Today photo by Doral Chenoweth



Steve is an accomplished, award-winning reporter with more than 20 years of experience covering gaming, sports, politics and business. He has written for the Associated Press, Reuters, The Louisville Courier Journal, The Center Square and numerous other publications. Based in Louisville, Ky., Steve has covered the expansion of sports betting in the U.S. and other gaming matters.

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