Candidate for governor

Ohio: Cincinnati Mayor calls for sports betting overseen by Lottery, open market to stores and bars

Cincinnati Mayor and Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Cranley.
2021-12-03
United States
Reading time 2:41 min

Cincinnati mayor John Cranley is calling on Ohio lawmakers to establish sports betting under the Ohio Lottery Commission’s oversight. This would imply abandoning a measure that has already been passed by the Senate, which grants the state Casino Control Commission authority over the market.

Cranley said that, should he be elected governor, he will appoint Lottery Commission members who would use their position to provide sports betting in the state, Ohio Capital Journal reports. The mayor argues this approach would avoid a lengthy court battle, as well as making more funding available for public schools.

The debate over which body should have authority over sports gambling has long been a source of discussion among Ohio lawmakers. Under SB 176, which passed the Senate in June, the Casino Control Commission would oversee the market.

The decision not only affects which commission will regulate betting, but also how taxes will be handled. While the lottery is constitutionally obligated to send its proceeds to public education exclusively, SB 176 divides its 10% tax on gaming receipts between public and non-public schools. Cranley claims the bill is “fuzzy,” and that it could “undermine public education.”

The mayor has also said Ohioans should be able to walk into local bars, restaurants or stores and bet on games, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. "Sports bars throughout the state and small towns should also be able to make some additional revenue from sports betting," the mayor stated.

Cranley believes this would unlock more money for schools. He called on the Ohio Lottery Commission to authorize sports betting throughout the state, claiming the market shouldn’t be the domain of casinos alone.

"This will drive business away from small towns, small businesses, convenience stores and sports bars," Cranley said. "Convenience stores and sports bars, under my plan, just like we have 10,000 licensed lottery salespeople throughout the state of Ohio, we would license those people who want to go to sports betting."

Earlier this week, Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) said he and other lawmakers have crafted a possible agreement on sports betting which would satisfy every player in the gaming industry. He now hopes a bill to be passed this month, making sports betting ready to launch no later than January 1, 2023.

But Cranley is warning that, should lawmakers use SB 176 as a starting point for final sports betting legislation, they could be headed for court. The mayor said that it would be “unconstitutional” in two ways.

“One, the Casino Control Commission does not have the authority under the constitution to do sports betting, and you can’t pass a law that violates the Ohio Constitution: only the Lottery Commission under the constitution has the power to expand gambling beyond the four casinos,” Cranley said, according to Capital Journal. “And under the constitution, gambling proceeds have to go to public education unless they’re for the four casinos.”

Cranley has pointed to a legislative service commission report, prepared for former Rep. Dave Greenspan, as proof about the Lottery Commission’s existing authority. The report found the lottery likely to have the authority to go forward.

“Because the Lottery Law grants broad authority to the State Lottery Commission to conduct lotteries and the lotteries are exempt from the Gambling Law, it appears that the Commission may be able to create and operate a sports betting lottery under Ohio law,” the report reads.

Legislative analysts, however, disagree on the Lottery Commission being the sole body allowed to act. SB 176 states that the Ohio Supreme Court has yet to weigh in, with the question to be resolved being the definition of “lottery,” which analysts claim is left vague in Ohio’s constitution. 

Should the court interpret gambling writ large as a lottery, that “would appear to bar any sports gaming outside the context of the state lottery or casinos.” But if the court defines a lottery as a specific type of gambling, lawmakers would have room to establish sports betting as they see fit: Ohio’s Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has already backed that reading.

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