The battle to get sports betting legalized in Ohio looks to be entering the final phase but for some potential market participants, the arguments in favor of opening the market up are a question of what should be included in the bill and not just who.
After a sports-betting bill was published in mid-May, the prospects for Ohio becoming the latest state to legislate for regulated sports betting are looking good.
Senate Bill 176 would open up the market to 20 potential ‘Type A’ mobile licensees and a further 20 ‘Type B’ land-based licensees. With the Speaker of the House suggesting he would like to get the bill done and dusted by the end of this month, there is every reason to suggest that the momentum is in place even if that date is viewed by market observers as being optimistic.
Notably, the state’s professional sports teams have already called for changes that would allow them to participate in the market via partnerships with operators.
“Based on the initial hearing last week, there is still a lot of work to do, and the June deadline seems unlikely to be met,” suggested the analysts at Truist after speaking to the regulatory experts at Global Market Advisors.
“GMA still expects passage this fall unless things move quickly with stakeholders and that they overcome the hurdles they have faced in the past in Ohio.”
Getting on the ballot
Also hoping to persuade the Senate Committee which is hearing opinions about the proposed legislation is Esports Entertainment whose chief financial officer Dan Marks and vice-president of strategy Jeff Cohen were invited to speak before the members of the committee last week.
Their request is quite specific – they hope to get esports included within the substitute bill as a sport that can be wagered upon. As a result of their testimony, Esports Entertainment said, esports is now included, and speaking to Legal-Sportsbetting.com, Cohen said he was hopeful this version of the bill will pass muster.
“We’re optimistic that the Ohio State Senate Select Committee on Gaming, particularly Chairman Schurring and Senator Antani who sponsored the bill, understand the importance of esports and size and scope of the gaming community,” says Cohen.
“They recognize all of the benefits that a robust esports and gaming sector can bring to the state of Ohio. Currently, esports is included in the most recent proposed bill but the legislative process still has to run its due course.”
A waiting game
As it stands, Esports Entertainment has yet to actually launch with esports betting in any state. It has, however, been granted a license to operate gambling operation in New Jersey where operators may offer esports on a case-by-case basis. Meanwhile, a bill making its way through the New Jersey legislature would expand the range of events to include esports.
Cohen was hopeful that if Ohio or any other state makes a move towards allowing esports betting to happen within the state, it will unlock the path for others to follow.
“Each state legislature and gaming commission that recognizes esports certainly helps to serve as a playbook and path for subsequent states to follow,” he suggests.
This is about more than just betting on esports but could also involve a wider acceptance of esports activity generally.
“Other states have already included esports within their sports-betting bills but we are hopeful that Ohio will be the first to take the major step of incentivizing the construction of esports entertainment centers and fostering an esports ecosystem within the state in addition to allowing gambling,” says Cohen.
Indeed, ahead of the legislation currently under discussion, Esports Entertainment announced at the end of May a multi-year partnership with the Cleveland Cavaliers to be the NBA franchises’ official online esports tournament provider.
Three co-branded tournaments will be run every year and Esports Entertainment will be featured on pitchside signage throughout the next regular season. The partnership also includes Cavs Legion GC, the team’s NBA 2K League affiliate, with brand exposure on the player’s jerseys and virtually in-game.
Cavs Legion will also host an upcoming NBA 2K tournament operated by Esports Entertainments Esports Gaming League platform.
The platform enables live and online events where gamers can compete and enjoy esports and video games content on a proprietary technology platform. Its services include full turnkey esports events, live broadcast production, game launches, and online branded tournaments.
Such are the hopes for Ohio, in fact, that Cohen suggests it the benefit accrued by the state could be a “watershed moment for the esports industry as a whole.”
For various reasons, esports betting has been a harder sell among regulating state legislators but Ohio looks like it might break the circle. As is evidenced by Esports Entertainment’s efforts in the state – including their sponsorship plans – should the politicians in Columbus give esports betting the nod, it will likely open up the way for esports to be discussed in further states and lead to a whole deal more activity, including tournaments and sponsorships. Esports Entertainment will certainly be in the vanguard.
Scott Longley has been a journalist since the early noughties covering personal finance, sport, and the gambling industry. He has worked for a number of publications including Investor’s Week, Bloomberg Money, Football First, EGR, and GamblingCompliance.com. He now writes for online and print titles across a wide range of sectors.