COLUMBUS, Ohio (COLUMBUS BUSINESS FIRST)–After a couple of years of battles and political infighting, Ohio legislators have finally passed a bill that’s a signature away from legalizing sports betting in the Buckeye State.

The Ohio House and Senate both passed a bill Wednesday to legalize gambling on sports, three and a half years after a Supreme Court decision opened the door for states outside of Nevada to take that step.

House Bill 29 now awaits a signature from Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine that would launch legal sports betting.

But gamblers would still have to wait. It takes a while for rules to be enacted and gambling procedures to be put in place. However, the bill calls for legalized sports betting to be active by at least Jan. 1, 2023. It could even happen before that, Ohio Rep. Brigid Kelly (D-Hyde Park) told me. Kelly co-sponsored a bill that passed the House last year but ran out of time before it could go through the Senate and ultimately become law.

“It will be not later than that and could be before it,” Kelly said.

The bill enables people to bet in a lot of places. Sports betting would be available in casinos, racinos, stadiums and arenas, as well as through kiosks in bars and restaurants. Beyond that, people will be able to bet online and through mobile devices as long as they’re in the state at the time they place their bet.

Almost all types of bets will be available online and mobile better or in person at casinos, racinos and sports facilities. Bets at kiosks in bars and restaurants will be limited to more-simplified bets such as point spreads, over-under point totals and wins. The kiosks are limited to maximum bets of $200 per credit or debit card.

Licenses for bars and restaurants would cost $1,000 every three years. Casinos and racinos would pay $50,000 to $100,000 the first year and $10,000 each additional year.

The bill calls for the Ohio Casino Control Commission to oversee sports betting in Ohio. That was a sticking point in the past, with some factions of Ohio’s legislature favoring the Ohio Lottery Commission to run sports betting while others preferred the Ohio Casino Control Commission.

The bill calls for 40 licenses for brick-and-mortar sports betting at casinos, racinos and at venues that are home to professional sports teams, 25 licenses for mobile betting and thousands of licenses for kiosks at bars and restaurants that have liquor permits.

The state will charge a 10% tax on gambling revenue after bettors’ wins are paid out. Most of that state revenue will go toward education.

It’s important to the state to offer legalized sports betting, Kelly said.

“We are going to be regulating a currently unregulated market in the state,” she said. “There will be additional money for education, there will be more consumer protections for people who choose to sports bet and there will be more resources for people struggling with gambling addiction.”

Sen. Cecil Thomas (D-North Avondale) who was part of a Senate committee last spring that studied sports betting, also sees major benefits.

“First, it’s projected to bring in tens of millions of dollars in revenue to the state,” his legislative aide, Tony DiMenna, told me. “The vast majority of that will go to education, but also problem gambling, youth sports and veterans services. Second, it’s providing a regulated market for something that is happening today either on the black market with shady practices or legally in surrounding states. A lot of people like to bet on sports, so it’s time for the state to provide the regulated market for it.”

Gambling analysts say the Ohio market has huge potential.

The state could generate $5 billion a year in sports bets within five or six years, Jessica Welman, a Las Vegas-based analyst for PlayOhio.com, part of the PlayUSA.com network of sites that cover state-level gambling news, told me. That would generate about $375 million a year in casino revenue after bettors’ wins are paid out. At 10% tax, that’s $37.5 million annually in state tax proceeds.

“Ohio is up there as one of the most desirable states for sports betting,” Welman said.

Sports betting has been a long time coming in Ohio. Legislators have been exploring ways to legalize it here since the May 2018 Supreme Court decision enabled states to decide whether to make betting on sports legal. In addition to Kelly’s effort last year, a bill passed the Ohio Senate in June but didn’t get through the House before legislators went on break for the summer. All bordering states around Ohio have active legal sports betting operations except Kentucky, which has yet to approve it.

Twenty-nine states and Washington, D.C., now have legal sports betting operations. Three others have approved it but have yet to launch those operations.

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