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Ohio bill legalizing sports betting expected soon | #sports | #elderly | #seniors

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio could legalize betting on sports by this summer, three years after first taking up the issue, according to a top state lawmaker.

Sen. Kirk Schuring, a Canton Republican overseeing legalization efforts, in an interview said he plans to introduce a bill sometime in April, with an eye on passing something by the summer.

Schuring, the chair of a state Senate sports gaming panel that held its ninth and final hearing on Wednesday, was tight-lipped about what might be in the proposal.

“We are going to introduce a bill. How that’s going to look, I can’t tell you right now, but sometime in the next two weeks, we will introduce a bill,” Schuring said. “It will be referred to my committee, and we’ll see what happens to it there.”

To become law, any proposal would require approval from both the House and Senate, which are Republican-controlled, and Republican Gov. Mike DeWine’s signature.

Senate President Matt Huffman has said his goal is to roll sports gambling legislation into a state budget bill that must be passed by a June 30 state constitutional deadline. DeWine said earlier this month he views legalizing sports betting as “inevitable.” House Speaker Bob Cupp, who as a state lawmaker last year voted for a House legalization bill that died after the Senate failed to take it up, could look to the expansion of gambling to help fund a costly school-funding bill that’s his top legislative priority.

“Our governor said he wants to do something, our Senate president has said the same thing, and I think Speaker Cupp has said the same,” Schuring said. “As long as we have the tripartite agreeing to something, our chances are good something will happen.”

Ohio has been debating whether and how to legalize betting on sports since state senators introduced a bill in July 2018, the month after the U.S. Supreme Court in a landmark ruling said it was up to each state to regulate gambling. Other states were quick to legalize sports betting, which by now includes every state surrounding Ohio. Legalization proponents say by waiting, Ohio continues to lose revenue to neighboring states or the unregulated black market, like foreign-based betting websites.

But the legalization debate in Ohio bogged down over disagreement about how betting on sports would be regulated. A Senate bill, which never saw a vote, called for sports betting to be regulated by the Ohio Casino Control Commission, while the House bill that passed in May 2020 before later dying in the Senate tapped the Ohio Lottery Commission.

A complicating factor emerged last October, when Neil Clark, a prominent lobbyist charged in a federal investigation into a state nuclear bailout law who since has died, revealed that businessmen who turned out to be undercover FBI agents had hired him to influence sports betting legislation in what he came to believe was a sting operation.

Meanwhile, other gambling-related issues also have been caught in the legislative logjam for no clearly stated policy reasons. A 2019 proposal from the Ohio Lottery Commission to offer “iLottery” mobile lottery games has been gathering dust after state legislators blocked lottery officials’ attempts to award the contract to a Michigan company.

And a bill to allow fraternal organizations to offer ‘e-Bingo” slot machines stalled in the Senate after unanimously clearing the House in May. House members even tried in December to amend the e-bingo bill into an unrelated elections bill, which died during the lame-duck legislative session.

“So why did this bill become so contentious once during the last General Assembly?” State Rep. Jeff LaRe, a Fairfield County Republican who sponsored the e-Bingo bill, said during Wednesday testimony before the Senate gaming panel. “I think we all know that answer. A good friend of mine once told me that pigs eat, and hogs get slaughtered.”

LaRe declined to specify what he meant afterward, other than to say his bill got lost in the shuffle with other priorities.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a factor in Ohio’s deliberations over sports betting drawing out out for nearly three years, said Athens state Rep. Jay Edwards, who’s shepherding gambling issues for House Republicans

“On top of that, there’s a lot of interested parties,” he said. “Casinos and racinos want their say in this. The leagues, the professional sports franchises in Ohio, the bars and restaurants, the lottery, the casino commission, there’s a lot of people very interested in this, they’re very passionate about the issue, and they all have a right to be heard.”

Schuring’s Select Gaming Committee has been holding weekly hearings since Feb. 3, drawing testimony from officials representing professional sports teams, gaming companies and retailers. The debate over sports gambling has attracted powerful, deep-pocketed interests, with casinos pushing for control of the system, including rights to a limited number of “skins,” or gaming brands that they then could sub-let to other companies. Others, including bowling-alley operators and convenience store owners, have pushed for bets non sports to be allowed at kiosks in their businesses.

Casino and racino operators say they make small profits on sports bets, but view it largely as a way to attract customers.

“It would really mean a new segment of our business that we could cater to with something our neighboring states are offering,” Angela Matthews, general manager of JACK Thistledown Racino in North Randall, just southeast of Cleveland, said Thursday while showing off the facility’s new outdoor patio.

“As soon as we get approved, we will have sports books,” Matthews said.

State universities meanwhile have pushed for lawmakers to exclude college sports from betting, telling lawmakers it could corrupt the integrity of amateur sports.

Among those who have testified before the Senate gaming committee is Len Komoroski, CEO of the Cleveland Cavaliers, who said last week the team “welcomes the conversation of what a regulated sports betting market should look like in Ohio.”

Komoroski said the Cavs are pushing for aggregated, anonymous betting data to be shared with the leagues so they can recognize possible suspicious patterns. Leagues also have lobbied for Ohio gambling platforms to use official league data, which they can license for a fee, as well as to grant teams the rights to run an online, branded sports book.

“Every sports bet accepted by a gaming operator stems from the content created by all of Ohio’s professional teams,” Komoroski said. “The legislature should allow said teams to capitalize on the very event we’re putting on.”

Edwards said depending on negotiations, it’s possible the legislature could wrap sports betting, iLottery and eBingo into a sweeping gaming bill.

“My take on it is that it’s an opportunity, it’s going to happen, it kind of already is happening, and it could be a revenue stream for the state. I think the state should look at bringing this up, trying to bring in the biggest amount of revenue it could have and make the biggest availability for the most people,” he said.

Cleveland.com / Plain Dealer Data Editor Rich Exner contributed to this story

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