Groups push for Ohio Lottery control of sports betting

LIMA — If there’s going to be sports betting in Ohio, Jim Riepenhoff wants to see it in small businesses like his and not at casinos or racinos.

“In small businesses all over Ohio like mine, we need the option to offer sports betting,” said Riepenhoff, the owner of 20th Century Lanes in Lima. “We need it in our business so that we can attract new customers and we can retain the current customers we have.”

Testimony is ongoing in the Ohio Senate Select Committee on Gaming about bringing sports betting to Ohio. Local establishments, such as Riepenhoff’s bowling alley on South Main Street, want it to be run in the state by the Ohio Lottery Commission. That way, every local business that already offers Keno through the lottery could give people the opportunity to bet on sporting events.

Proponents, who spoke at Lima Mayor David Berger’s weekly press conference Wednesday, recognize they’re up against a powerful lobbying group, as casinos hope to limit betting to inside their facilities in Ohio. The big difference is lottery profits are distributed by law to schools across the state.

“We need to make sure that the gaming product actually helps in every city and every municipality,” said Greg Beswick, of the Fair Gaming Coalition of Ohio. “Unfortunately, we’ve found that the casinos haven’t quite lived up to the billing they gave us when they went on the ballot and became legal in Ohio. We’ve seen them break promises when it comes to jobs and when it comes to development in the state.”

Denis Smith, of Public Education Partners, a group of educators advocating for public education, noted that Wednesday was the 24th anniversary of the DeRolph v. State of Ohio Supreme Court decision. That case showed an inadequate funding system that wasn’t equitable to all districts in the state.

“We need to make sure that the legislature considers the perfect way to house the new industry of sports betting would be through the framework for the already-existing Ohio Lottery and not something prescribed to casinos,” Smith said. “… We’ve waited for the fulfillment of the promise of the DeRolph decision for 24 years. Today, we have an opportunity in sports betting.”

Berger backed the push, said it’s a way for the city to finally benefit from gambling.

“Lima wasn’t one of those communities that ended up with the casinos. A few cities ended up with powerful magnets of economic activity, and the rest of us were left without,” Berger said. “I do think that this issue, in the way it’s structured, has the potential to benefit communities all across the state, and I want to encourage people to engage in the discussion.”

Riepenhoff said it simply feels like a win-win proposition if done correctly.

“If they decide to allow sports betting in Ohio,” Riepenhoff said, “it needs to be through the Ohio Lottery. This is going to be a win-win for everybody. It’s going to be a win for the business owners all across the community that are the heartbeat of our community. … Primarily it’s a win for the community and for K-through-12 education.”