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26th of May 2018

Politics



Sports wagering could be heading to Ohio after Supreme Court ruling

CLEVELAND, Ohio - Placing sports bets at Ohio casinos made giant leap toward becoming legal with a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday. But no one in authority is predicting when, or if, it eventually will happen.

Both the Ohio Casino Control Commission and the Ohio Lottery Commission deferred to state lawmakers and the governor for guidance. And they are not saying yet what they will do.

The Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision in a case brought by New Jersey, opened the possibility to sports gambling in every state.

Wiped off the books were restrictions in a 1992 federal law that barred state-authorized sports gambling, with some exceptions, leaving until now Nevada as the only place where someone could legally wager in person on the results of a game.

Operators of Ohio's four casinos in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus and Toledo said they would welcome the opportunity to add sports wagering.

The initial response from Gov. John Kasich's office was non-committal.

"Expanding gambling has not been a priority for this administration, and that remains unchanged," the governor's office said in a prepared statement. "We're aware of the ruling and looking to see what impact it will immediately have on Ohio policies."

All members of both commissions are appointed by the governor.

What must change

Under normal rules for the Ohio Lottery Commission, adding sports gambling to Ohio's seven racinos would require treating sports bets as games of chance, like buying a lottery ticket or playing Keno. But those rules could be expanded. The lottery is in charge of non-racing gambling at the tracks.

The four casinos - JACK in Cleveland and Cincinnati, and Hollywood in Columbus in Toledo - are governed by the separate Ohio Casino Control Commission, set up after Ohio voters in 2009 approved casinos at four specific locations.

There are no current policies in place that would allow wagering on sports, said Jessica Franks, spokeswoman for the commission. Ohio initially offered only games in use in other states; others could be added once in place elsewhere, Franks said.

Even if Ohio lawmakers resist, one clause in the 2009 amendment might open the door to sports waging in Ohio, if neighboring states approve such betting.

The 2009 ballot language said passage would "permit approved types of casino gaming authorized by Michigan, West Virginia, Indiana, and Pennsylvania as of January 1, 2009 or games subsequently authorized by those states."

The more detailed amendment language, however, is silent on sports wagering, mentioning table games and slot machines as being included, and specifically excluding bingo and horse racing from that section of the law.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, while he personally opposes gambling, signed a brief filed with the Supreme Court in support of New Jersey's attempt to overturn the existing federal law that restricted expansion of gambling.

A spokesman for the attorney general's office said he believed legalizing for-profit sports gambling at the casinos would require amending Ohio's constitution. But the spokesman, Dan Tierney, said sports wagering could meet Ohio's definition of a lottery, potentially making the addition of sports gambling legal if regulated by the lottery commission.

Political reaction

That's from the Attorney General DeWine's office. From the office of candidate DeWine, the Republican nominee for governor, came this on Monday: "Mike DeWine has been consistently opposed to any expansion of gambling in Ohio, and that position remains unchanged."

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Richard Cordray "would consider supporting legislation to legalize sports betting and move it out of the shadows and the black market so it can be regulated and used to generate revenue to invest in our communities," his campaign spokesman said.

Adding casino gambling to Ohio was an uphill battle approved not by lawmakers, but by a vote of the people after a 2009 petition drive from people interested in introducing casinos to Ohio.

Since then, the state added slot machines - but not table games - to race tracks rebranded as racinos under the authority of the lottery commission. Further expansion into sports betting would require a policy decision by the General Assembly and governor, lottery spokeswoman Danielle Frizzi-Babb said.

The legislature did inch forward in expanding gambling in December, approving a bill authorizing the Ohio Casino Control Commission to regulate fantasy sports contests.

Rep. Jonathan Dever, a Republican from Cincinnati and primary co-sponsor of the fantasy sports betting bill, said the timing might be right to revisit all of Ohio's gaming laws. But he said any action likely would have to wait, at the earliest, until after state legislators returns from their summer recess.

"There were a lot of things that were passed in the constitutional amendment that I think most people that are paying attention to the space believe aren't perfect and need to be cleaned up and fixed. ... I'm hopeful there are a lot of people who are going to be calling us in the next couple of days after they have a chance to read the Supreme Court's decision."

Count the casino operators among those.

Casino reaction

Penn National Gaming, which runs Hollywood casinos in Columbus and Cincinnati, said it is ready to talk.

"Sports betting could be another amenity at our Hollywood properties and help generate additional visitation, as well as drive incremental tax revenue for Ohio," Penn National said in a prepared statement. "We welcome the opportunity to discuss legal sports betting with legislators in Columbus and other key stakeholders."

Matt Cullen, chief executive officer of JACK Entertainment, said regulations created by the state will determine the viability of sports wagering in Ohio.

"Under the proper regulatory framework," Cullen said, "we support the State of Ohio moving forward with sports betting at brick and mortar facilities. ... Certainly there is significant guest interest in sports betting being available at our facilities."

The ruling likely will set off a flurry of activity, said Lou Blessing, a former state representative from Southwest Ohio who now works as a lobbyist for a real-estate company affiliated with Penn National. That includes competition between casino operators and racino operators -- each set of companies operates in Ohio under different regulatory frameworks, overseen by different government agencies.

"This is going to be an issue, and I bet you these folks will look long and hard at what they can do," Blessing said. "This decision is a blockbuster, really."

The Supreme Court's decision

New Jersey went to court for the opportunity to offer sports wagering, successfully seeking to overturn the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act.

"The legalization of sports gambling requires an important policy choice, but the choice is not ours to make. Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each state is free to act on its own. Our job is to interpret the law Congress has enacted and decide whether it is consistent with the Constitution. PASPA is not," Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the court.

All four major U.S. professional sports leagues, the NCAA and the federal government had urged the court to uphold the federal law, the Associated Press reported.

In court, the NBA, NFL, NHL and Major League Baseball had argued that New Jersey's gambling expansion would hurt the integrity of their games. Outside court, however, leaders of all but the NFL have shown varying degrees of openness to legalized sports gambling, the AP reported.

Bookmark cleveland.com/casino for complete casino coverage.

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