Ohio The Site For Sports Leagues’ Latest Attempt At A Money Grab

On Wednesday in Ohio, the major pro sports leagues put forth their usual talking points about an "official league data" mandate.
money grab

The Ohio House Finance Committee on Wednesday held its second hearing in as many days on a proposal to legalize sports wagering, both in a retail setting and via the internet.

The legislation, House Bill 194, now has had six official hearings, but no vote has been taken to move it out of the committee. A competing sports betting bill, Senate Bill 111, awaits action in the Senate.

HB 194, sponsored by Ohio state Representatives Dave Greenspan and Brigid Kelly, received some pushback from the sports leagues on Wednesday. In it’s current form, the bill would give the sports leagues power to seek restrictions on what betting markets the sports wagering industry could offer, the top priority for the leagues is the use of “official league data” for settling in-play wagers.

The Greenspan-Kelly bill doesn’t give the leagues the data mandate (under “commercially reasonable terms”)  they have been successful in lobbying for in just two states — Tennessee and Illinois.

A coalition of the PGA Tour, Major League Baseball, and the National Basketball Association testified against HB 194 because of the lack of the in-game data mandate. The NFL provided written testimony as an “interested party,” not taking an official stance on the bill. However, the NFL’s testimony included a call for the data mandate. On a local level, the Cincinnati Reds opposed the bill in written testimony.

League control over sports wagering

Andy Levinson, representing the PGA Tour coalition, testified to Ohio lawmakers that “official league data” is a necessity. He said the bill didn’t go far enough to satisfy the leagues.

“We appreciate amendments made to the bill yesterday included fixes to language related to real-time betting-line information sharing, and a procedure for sports governing bodies to petition the regulator on bets that impose an undue integrity risk,” Levinson said in testimony. “But HB 194 fails to include mandated use of official league data for in-play betting, and for that reason we must oppose HB 194.”

Ohio lawmakers peppered Levinson with questions, generally seeming skeptical of the PGA Tour’s pitch.

Questions about whether such a mandate would create a data monopoly were prevalent at the hearing. Though a data mandate would greatly benefit the leagues at the expense of the sports wagering industry, Levinson claimed in testimony that the leagues are “not looking to take advantage of a monopoly power.”

Betting industry testimony

Following Tuesday testimony from Danielle Boyd, head of government relations for William Hill US, Dan Dodd, representing the industry trade group iDEA Growth, told the House panel that legal Buckeye State sports wagering needs to create an “even playing field” between the leagues and books.

According to testimony from Dodd, a former Ohio state lawmaker, the bill in its current form is too favorable to the leagues. Dodd applauded the spirit of the efforts by Greenspan and Kelly, but he said that the bill could be better at creating a truly free market that would best serve Ohio consumers and deal a blow to the existing black market.

“The bill, as written and through proposed amendments, gives sports governing bodies undue ability to influence the type of wagers that may be offered by sports gaming agents,” Dodd said in testimony.

According to Dodd, the bill provides “little due process protections to sports gaming agents who disagree with a sports governing body’s request to prohibit certain types of wagers.”

Dodd provided other recommendations to the committee, including an idea that would allow online/mobile sportsbooks to operate in the state without being tethered to a brick-and-mortar casino or racino.

JACK Entertainment, an owner of gaming facilities in Ohio, was the last group to speak in front of the House Finance Committee. To no surprise, JACK opposes a statutory mandate for league data for in-game bets.

Adam Suliman, Vice President of Sports & Digital Gaming at JACK Entertainment, told the panel that sports betting legislation should keep Ohio as the regulator of sports betting, not the sports leagues.

In his testimony, Suliman said that operators need flexibility on who they do business with for data.

“While we are open to commercial arrangements that allow operators and sports leagues to work together, a legislative mandate to do so would not lead to a fair and competitive sports data marketplace and would ultimately impact our ability to offer competitively priced sports wagering options for our customers,” he said.

In other words, the legal industry would be at a structural disadvantage to the black market.

Suliman added: “Sports leagues and sports wagering operators around the country have already begun to enter into commercial agreements for the use of data provided by the leagues and for use of league marks and logos. We feel that an open and competitive sports data marketplace will promote innovation and product development in the sports-data supplier industry. Our goal, like most businesses, is to partner with the best suppliers in order to produce compelling products for our customers.”

Ohio timeline

According to Dodd, the Ohio Senate is waiting for the House to pass its version of sports betting before beginning formal discussions on its proposal. The Senate bill calls for the Ohio Casino Control Commission to be the regulator, while HB 194 gives regulation to the Ohio Lottery.

It’s a major difference between the two proposals. Governor Mike DeWine, who last year said he wanted Ohio to regulate sports betting, has indicated he prefers the OCCC as the regulator, but he doesn’t have an official stance.

It’s unclear when HB 194 might advance and pass out of the House. Ohio is likely going to continue the sports betting conversation well into 2020, setting the stage for potential sportsbook openings before the 2020-21 NFL season. Many states have oriented their respective launches around the NFL season.

Legislation currently on the table in Columbus can carry over into 2020, so neither HB 194 nor SB 111 will need to restart from Square 1 once the calendar turns.

Greenspan reluctantly noted Tuesday that Ohio is “no longer on the leading edge on sports betting,” but the state can still be ahead of the curve with passage in 2020. Two of Ohio’s border states, Pennsylvania and Indiana, already have live, legal sports betting, and Michigan lawmakers have also held sports betting hearings. Ohio could still be among the first 20 states in the country to legalize sports wagering since the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act fell in May 2018.


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