Published: April 23, 2021

Ohio's professional sports teams want in on legalized sports betting

Ohio’s professional sports teams are in favor of legalized sports gambling and want in on the action.

A coalition of eight pro teams (plus the Memorial Golf Tournament in Dublin) announced support for a legislative effort to legalize sports gambling in the state. 

A group of lawmakers spent the early months of 2021 hearing testimony from these teams and many other industry experts in preparation of drafting a legalization proposal. A bill is expected to be introduced soon.

Momentum is leaning toward legalization. States across the country have legalized sports gambling in recent years as a way to boost revenues.

The main debate in Ohio at present deals with how such a program would be implemented. Varying interests want the opportunity to offer sportsbooks on their mobile platforms and retail locations. 

The coalition of pro teams want the Ohio government to limit these potential sportsbook licenses to their own athletic franchises as well as to the state’s casinos and racinos. This would put the available licenses at 20.

In other words, teams such as the Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Cavaliers would each have their own licenses to offer sports betting online and in person. The teams envision having mobile apps as well as retail sportsbooks actually located within their respective stadiums (or “in close proximity” to them).

That teams are willing to embrace sports betting may come to a surprise to some Ohio sports fans, particularly those who recall Cincinnati star Pete Rose facing a permanent ban from Major League Baseball for betting on games. 

Such wagers by players and coaches are still disallowed, though teams are rapidly becoming more open to sports betting from spectators — some of whom may find themselves maintaining greater interest when there is money on the line.

If teams have their way, fans entering a stadium before the kick-off, first pitch and puck drop could head to the concourse for a drink, buy a souvenir from the team shop and place a bet on that day’s game before taking their seats. Those watching from home could simply bet the “over or under” on their phone.

In order to “ensure integrity and eliminate any real or perceived conflicts of interests,” the teams propose sublicensing their betting platforms to a third-party gaming vendor. This would prevent, say, a team from putting in the scrubs late in a game to avoid a large payout.

“The teams would not be involved in the day-to-day operations of the sports betting platforms,” a statement the coalition reads.

The teams do, however, propose that Ohio sportsbooks utilize “official league data” from organizations like Major League Baseball and the National Football League in order to settle bets. In the years since a 2018 court ruling allowed individual states to legalize sports betting, such leagues have sold their official data to gambling entities for use of crafting and paying out bets.

The teams also call for the Ohio Casino Control Commission to be the regulatory agency overseeing the sports betting market. Casino revenue goes toward a mixture of local governments and education purposes.

While these pro teams are pushing to be involved in Ohio’s sports gambling landscape, some casino interests have argued the licenses should be exclusively distributed to themselves.

They urge lawmakers to only allow existing casinos and racino operators to offer sportsbooks (both mobile and retail), claiming they are uniquely qualified to provide a secure, legal gaming experience.

Yet another group, the Ohio Fair Gaming Commission, wants to see Ohio adopt a “hybrid model” for legalizing sports betting in the state.

This group is advocating against a “monopoly” of sportsbook licenses at casinos and racinos, instead pushing for a widespread system of betting opportunities across the state.

This proposal would allow bowling alleys, bars, restaurants and other small businesses throughout Ohio to offer sports betting at their locations, utilizing kiosks already used for lottery and keno gaming. 

This is a hybrid model, the group’s leader Greg Beswick said, by letting casinos have sportsbooks under the Ohio Casino Control Commission and other businesses have sportsbooks under the Ohio Lottery Commission. All lottery profits go toward education.

One way or another, lawmakers have plenty of options for the bill expected to be introduced in the near future.


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