New Ohio betting legislation a boon for sports franchises

By Bill King
Legislation will allow Ohio pro teams like the Reds to host retail sportsbooks.getty images

The shift toward sports betting constructs that deliver revenue directly to pro sports entities gained steam earlier this month when the long-awaited passage of legislation in Ohio included license opportunities for the state’s seven major pro teams, two PGA Tour events and a NASCAR track.


Excluded from legislation when lawmakers began introducing bills in 2019, the teams and tours lobbied actively, as a coalition, for the first time this year and came away with licenses that will allow them to strike deals with sportsbooks that include both retail opportunities at their facilities and statewide mobile rights.

Because the state will issue at least 25 online licenses, with most major operators already tied to a casino or parimutuel operator in the state through market access agreements struck ahead of legislation, it’s unclear how much value the access to licenses will drive for the teams.

But Ohio’s construct puts them on far more even footing than they were in earlier bills, which either excluded them entirely from the licensing framework or allowed casinos to control two licenses while teams only got one. The bill that passed makes it unlikely that a casino will get a second license before each of the teams has found a sportsbook partner. The state could allow as many as 50 online brands.

Regardless of how sportsbooks view the online piece, the retail location has been a valuable asset for teams in states that granted them, allowing for deals that can reach 10 years and include a revenue share.

“I give a lot of credit to the teams for pulling this off,” said Sara Slane, a sports betting consultant who advised the Cincinnati Reds and Columbus Blue Jackets. “They didn’t have anything at the beginning of this. And now, being in a position to compete on hopefully equal footing with the casino operators on something like this speaks volumes. It’s a great legislative win for them.”

The bill requires the state to allow sportsbooks to begin taking bets by the start of 2023, with a universal launch date for both mobile and retail.

Ohio follows in the footsteps of Arizona, Illinois, D.C. and Virginia, which each granted licenses to sports facilities in the states. None of those are quite alike, but all give teams and facility operators opportunities to cut deals to open retail sportsbooks that can operate year-round.

Arizona gave the sports entities the most favorable terms, reserving half of only 20 licenses for the teams and touring sports, creating a scarcity that has allowed some to double what they could have otherwise commanded for typical sponsorship deals in the category. D.C. and Illinois left the teams out of online licensing, but offered retail licenses that they have turned into lucrative partnerships with sportsbooks such as Caesars, BetMGM and DraftKings.

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