COLUMBUS — State lawmakers have begun planning for passage of a yet to be defined proposal to legalize sports betting. The first of several anticipated bills on the subject was introduced Thursday with neither what sports could be bet on nor the setting for permissible wagering on sports. The entire bill states only "It is the intent of the General Assembly to develop and enact legislation legalizing sports wagering."
The chief sponsor of the sports betting bill, SB 316, Sen. John Eklund, R- Munson Township, said he intends to soon begin a series of meetings with interested parties throughout the state. He favors action by lawmakers to control it rather than allowing outside interests to take the issue to the ballot.
Eklund believes legalized sports betting in Ohio is inevitable. "There is a lot of widespread interest in it and a desire for it. I think it is ultimately coming and I think we are better off using the legislative process for that to happen than the vagaries of an initiative process which is really not informed by facts, investigation and research as the legislative process will be," Eklund said.
Rep. Niraj Antani, R- Miamisburg, an outspoken opponent of statewide ballot issues that are placed before voters here by out of state business and consumer groups, said he too wants lawmakers to control the process, unlike what happened with casinos.
The legislature declined to pass a plan to legalize gambling. Companies that wanted to make it legal then brought a constitutional amendment to the ballot on November 3, 2009 and won, giving themselves the exclusive right to open casinos in four Ohio cities. "What we want to make sure is that this is not another issue like the casinos. We do not want an out of state special interest coming to Ohio and buying our ballot and telling us how we are going to regulate or have sports betting," Antani said.
How would the system work?
Antani is not sure. He said presumably people would be able to place bets on the outcome of professional sports games including the Reds, Indians, Bengals and Browns. Where those bets would be placed remains a controversial issue.
A sampling of local taxpayers turned up several ideas. Some, like Tim Lawson, Dayton, said they prefer the wagering be done in casinos and racinos where oversight already is in place from the state's Casino Control Commission and the Ohio Lottery. "That makes sense. A controlled environment. Control it the best way you can," Lawson said. Others favor treating sports betting like the lottery and Keno that can be played in a bar or restaurant. Either way, said Dionte Davis, Dayton, sports betting would quickly become very popular, especially among sports fans. "All the time people will make it their favorite hobby," Davis said.
Antani said wagering might be permitted on individual outcomes within a game. In baseball, for example, Antani said there could be a different wager for every batter at the plate. "Is this a single, double, triple or a homer? Does the pitcher pitch a fastball, curveball or slider? In a football game, before every play, you could put a one dollar bet down on is a run or a pass?" Antani said.
The location for wagering and exactly what could be bet on would be determined by lawmakers if Eklund and Antani prevail. They both mentioned at least one citizens group wants to put the issue on the ballot in 2019. Discussion of the issue was initiated when a US Supreme Court ruling in May opened the door to legal sports wagering if it is approved by each state.
Eklund said he hopes to begin hearings on the issue in the fall with formation of a plan and additional hearings next year.