Anyone’s Bet: The Legalization of Sports Betting in Ohio

Ohioans may soon be able to place bets on their favorite sports teams in bars and casinos throughout the state. This past spring, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a 1992 federal law in Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association that had effectively banned sports betting in most states. This decision has opened the door for states to legalize sports betting across the country.

The change comes more than two decades after sports betting was outlawed at the national level. In 1992, Congress enacted the Professional Sports Protection Act in response to concerns over state-sponsored sports gambling. Delaware, Montana, Nevada and Oregon were exempt from the new law as they had already established a sports betting system.
The law went unchallenged until 2014, when, in an effort to make sports betting legal in New Jersey, lawmakers there repealed provisions of its state law that prohibited sports gambling. The major professional sports leagues and the NCAA brought an action in federal court against the state. The case made its way up to the Supreme Court, which held PASPA to be unconstitutional because it requires states to maintain their existing laws against sports gambling without alteration.

The result of Murphy is that each state can now decide whether to legalize sports betting and how to do it. While many states have quickly moved to make this a reality, Ohio is taking a more deliberate approach. In July 2018, placeholder bills were introduced in both the Ohio Senate and House of Representatives to begin the process of drafting sports betting legislation.

Since the proposed bills are only placeholders, we do not yet have any actionable details on what guidelines Ohio plans to put in place, how it plans to regulate betting practices, or what businesses will be permitted to participate. Supportive legislators are hopeful that a sports betting bill will reach the Ohio Senate and House floors soon after the November election, although it is unlikely Ohio will pass any legislation until 2019 or 2020.

With the exception of the Ohio Lottery, casinos and charitable bingo, the Ohio Revised Code currently prohibits any organization or individual from operating a gambling house or allowing public gaming to occur on premises. And the Ohio Constitution has certain prohibitions as well. Ohio legislators will need to determine whether authority exists in Ohio to allow sports betting through legislation and possibly even a constitutional amendment.

If legislators can find a way, sports fans will legally be able to collect their winnings on placing an Ohio-based wager for the Cleveland Indians to win the World Series or the Browns to win the Super Bowl. Until then, fans can only dream.

Emily O. Vaisa is an attorney at Walter | Haverfield who focuses her practice on liquor control and corporate transactions law. She can be reached at evaisa@walterhav.com or at 216-928-2909.

John Neal is an attorney at Walter | Haverfield who focuses his practice on liquor control and corporate transactions law. He can be reached at jneal@walterhav.com or at 216-619-7866.