Proposed Bill Could Leave Ohio Casinos Without Sports Books

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Associated Press
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The bill was approved Wednesday by the Senate and sent to the House for consideration. It assigns the 30 total sports books to counties based on population. If professional sports teams in Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati all decided to apply for licenses, casinos and racinos in Cuyahoga, Franklin and Hamilton counties would be shut out at the sports betting window of opportunity in the Senate's bill.

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Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, for example, has three professional sports teams as well as a downtown casino and a racino in the suburbs.

The original Senate bill introduced in early May excluded casinos and racinos altogether. An “omnibus” amendment added to the bill the day of the Senate vote prescribed the licensing limits and priority status for professional sports teams.

The Ohio Professional Sports Coalition, which represents pro teams throughout and The Memorial Tournament, an annual golf tournament outside Columbus, issued a statement on Thursday that said the Senate bill provides “opportunities for fair market access to Ohio's pro sports organizations, which produce the games that make sports betting possible.”

Co-sponsor Sen. Nirja Antani, a Miamisburg Republican, in an interview on Thursday was critical of casino organizations in the state.

“The professional sports teams are businesses just like other businesses," Antani said. "They didn't force their way into Ohio through a constitutional amendment. Casinos were lobbying very hard, lobbying more than anyone else. If they had their way, they would be the only ones in this bill.”

The professional sports coalition also lobbied for a piece of the action.

Curt Steiner, a spokesperson for the pro sports coalition, said Friday that he could not comment on what individual teams' or the tournament's plans are regarding licensing. He pointed to a statement issued in April, before the Senate legislation was introduced, that said coalition members were advocating that each control one retail sportsbook “at or in close proximity to the applicable sports venue.”

The statement also pointed out there are sports books in development at or near sports venues in other states.

The Memorial Tournament would be an odd place to host a sports book considering that the tournament is held once a year at a private club in the upscale Columbus suburb of Dublin.

It is likely the House will seek numerous changes to the Senate version. Rep. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican, said the House did not write its own version because it expected to work with the Senate as it wrote the bill, which he said did not occur.

Seitz is unhappy that the Senate version would exclude a casino and racino in Hamilton County, which is entitled to two brick-and mortar “Class B” licenses in the Senate bill, if the Cincinnati Reds and Bengals both applied.

“You are artificially constraining the ability of logical places to get a Class B license with this limit per county,” he said.

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