Ohio Lawmakers May Need Voter Approval to Expand Racino Gambling

Ohio lawmakers are considering various forms of gambling expansion, but some of the possibilities, such as adding table games at racinos, will require voter approval in a referendum.

That seemed to be the consensus at the final meeting of the Study Commission on the Future of Gaming in Ohio. The April 11 gathering at the Ohio Statehouse included summaries of gambling’s past, present, and future.

Those findings and others from months of study commission meetings will be added to a report submitted by June 30 to the Ohio General Assembly.

State Sen. Nathan H. Manning, R-North Ridgeville, and state Rep. Jay Edwards, R-Nelsonville, led the final meeting.

Manning concluded:

This is our last meeting of the commission. Co-chair Edwards — after his epic birthday celebration — and I are going to get together and discuss the report and we’ll be reaching out to all of the commission members to get your input and advice. And we’ll go from there.

Edwards turned 35 on April 11.

Meanwhile, the topics garnering the most attention from special committee witnesses and legislator members seemed to be the following:

However, the latter would require voter approval because the measure would change Ohio’s constitution.

Racino Reps Request Parity

Amy Ankerson, senior vice president and general manager at El Dorado Scioto Downs, testified on April 11 that Ohio’s racinos could benefit from having equal gaming rights as the state’s four retail casinos.

She and Dan Reinhard, senior vice president of government affairs for Jack Entertainment, testified that voters would need to approve a constitutional amendment allowing Ohio’s seven racinos to offer live and electronic table games.

Ohio’s four land-based casinos are:

  • Hard Rock Casino Cincinnati
  • Hollywood Casino Columbus
  • Hollywood Casino Toledo
  • Jack Cleveland Casino

Reinhard, also senior counsel with the Cleveland-based law firm of Calfee, Halter & Griswold LLP, said Ohio electors voted in 2009 to allow those retail casinos to exist.

The Cleveland-headquartered gaming company he represents also operates Jack Thistledown Racino.

Ohio Online Casinos Saw Interest

Although Feb. 20 was the study commission meeting dedicated to the iGaming topic, online casinos came up in testimony and lawmaker queries on April 11.

During the final meeting, Manning observed that many state legislatures appear “reluctant” to legalize online casinos. Indeed, the only iGaming bill still alive in the US this year is struggling in Maine.

Legal online sportsbooks are live in more than half of the states, including Ohio. Online casinos are only available in a handful of jurisdictions. However, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia house those sites and sit on Ohio’s borders.

Manning asked Jeff Morris — vice president of public affairs and government relations for Penn Entertainment — for his opinion about why legislatures aren’t adding iGaming.

Morris had just testified in favor of Ohio legalizing online casinos.

Morris told Manning he believes more states will legalize online casinos, as they did mobile sports betting:

I just don’t think it’s going to happen at the same speed.

In Ohio, Penn (Penn Entertainment 16,03 +3,82%) is responsible for ESPN Bet and the following properties:

  • Hollywood Casino Columbus
  • Hollywood Casino Toledo
  • Hollywood Gaming at Dayton Raceway
  • Hollywood Gaming at Mahoning Valley Race Course

Racino Parity Advocates Oppose Online Casino, Lottery

Although Jack Entertainment owns the betJack online sportsbook and would be able to offer iGaming if it were legalized, Reinhard testified against legalizing online casinos and an online lottery. He said Ohians need only look at malls abandoned after Buckeyes began shopping through etailers.

Once people get the taste of the online piece, that’s where they go.

He acknowledged betJack’s existence and said Jack’s retail sportsbooks see the consequences.

They bet on their phones while they’re sitting in them.

Another racino representative, Craig Robinson, testified on behalf of Miami Valley Gaming and Racing (MVG).

The president and general manager of MVG — a joint venture between Delaware North Companies and Churchill Downs Incorporated (CDI) — hadn’t mentioned racino parity with retail casinos.

However, Robinson also testified in opposition to iGaming:

I am here proudly representing a team of Ohioans that live, work, raise their families and vote right here in Ohio. Please do not overlook us as you search for additional sources of revenue that sound far too good to be true.

Half of MVG’s ownership — Louisville, Ky.-based CDI (Churchill Downs Incorporated 132,99 -1,20%) — does have a history with iGaming. CDI ran TwinSpires until the company shut down the online casino and sportsbook due to low profits.

Conversely, Rick Limardo — senior vice president of government affairs at MGM Resorts International — expressed unequivocal support for Ohio online casinos.

In written testimony, he said:

This expansion would benefit racinos, the racing industry, and the state of Ohio through additional visitation, revenue, and local high-paying jobs.

Lomardo specifically referenced MGM Northfield Park. The racino is one of the MGM (MGM Resorts International 39,72 +2,03%) brands.

Another is BetMGM, the online gambling brand MGM jointly owns with Entain (Entain PLC 707,20 -1,26%).

About the Author

Heather Fletcher

Heather Fletcher

Heather Fletcher is Lead Writer at Bonus, concentrating on online casino coverage. She specializes in breaking news, legislative coverage, and gambling marketing strategy overviews. To reach Heather with a news tip, email [email protected].
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