Ohio Gaming Operators Weigh In On Online Casino

April 16, 2024
Existing gaming stakeholders in Ohio remain split on the prospect of future online casino expansion in the Buckeye State, with one key operator staunchly opposed and another offering more tepid support.

Existing gaming stakeholders in Ohio remain split on the prospect of future online casino expansion in the Buckeye State, with one key operator staunchly opposed and another offering more tepid support.

A joint commission of legislators, the Ohio Study Commission on the Future of Gaming, has held a series of hearings in recent months to evaluate potential legislative options for gambling reforms.

One of the dominant topics throughout the hearings has been the potential for online casino legislation following the state’s launch of mobile sports betting in January 2023.

One operator that has come out in favor is MGM Resorts International, the co-owner of the BetMGM online casino brand which also operates Northfield Park, a racino near Cleveland.

“Based on our operational experience in New Jersey and Michigan, where iGaming is offered, we have observed that there are complementary synergies between our retail casino properties and iGaming,” said Rick Limardo, senior vice president of government affairs for MGM.

“These synergies have not only enhanced the customer experience but have also contributed to the growth of our business in both areas,” Limardo said.

Jeff Morris, vice president of public affairs and government relations for Penn Entertainment, which operates four properties in Ohio, expressed similar sentiments regarding the prospects of online casinos.

But Morris added that the coronavirus pandemic and proliferation of so-called “grey machines” have made it difficult to assess the pros and cons of legalizing online gaming based on results from other states, including neighboring Pennsylvania.

“These two significant data points — which occurred at approximately the same time iGaming and iLottery were legalized — make it incredibly difficult to offer an objective analysis on the effects of the legalization of iGaming and iLottery on the traditional brick-and-mortar business,” Morris said.
“Meanwhile, the benefits of brick-and-mortar regulated gaming in Ohio are proven — tens of thousands of jobs, billions in capital investment, and billions in tax revenue,” he continued. 

“As you consider the legalization of iGaming and iLottery, I urge this commission and your fellow lawmakers to ensure that any expansion of gaming consider the effects on the existing jobs, past and future capital investment in and around the properties, and associated local benefits provided by the state’s existing casino industry.”

On the other hand, JACK Entertainment, which operates a Cleveland casino and a racino in northeast Ohio, did not mince words about its strong opposition to online gaming.

“iGaming is a threat to Ohio businesses and Ohio employment,” said Dan Reinhard, senior vice president of government affairs for JACK, which is headquartered in Cleveland. “Every market has limits on discretionary dollars. Gaming dollars are no different than any other market. 

“No matter what study is presented, online consumption eats away and eventually devours retail business through diminishing dollars for the local economy,” Reinhard added. “Economic damage occurs when revenues that would normally benefit local businesses and economies leave local wallets and instead flow out of the state.”

Reinhard argued that brick-and-mortar casino revenues could decline by more than $221m annually with the legalization of online casinos and lead to job losses for brick-and-mortar casino workers.

“Ohioans can observe their local malls to understand the impact that iGaming will have on local economies,” he said. “Just like online retail has decimated local retail, iGaming will do the same under any logical scenario.”

In addition to online casinos, several racino operators, including MGM and Boyd Gaming, pushed the commission to consider allowing Ohio's seven racetrack video lottery facilities to offer land-based table games to match offerings at the state’s four land-based casinos, arguing that it would expand revenue and jobs in the state, and ward off threats from neighboring states.

“By adding this amenity to the existing racinos, you provide consumers with additional choices on how to spend their recreational dollars and improve the overall customer experience,” Limardo said on behalf of MGM.

“Furthermore, as we look to the future of gaming in Ohio, it is important to reach new customers and demographics,” he added. “Similar to sports betting, table games will attract a new type of customer into the racinos to experience not only the gaming floor, but all the amenities our properties have to offer.”

Ryan Soultz, vice president of governmental affairs for Boyd, added that the company was concerned that new electronic table games that run on historical horseracing outcomes could ultimately be permitted in Kentucky.

“If these games are introduced on the Kentucky side of the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky gaming market, Belterra Park will be at a competitive disadvantage unless we are granted the ability to offer similar products for our guests,” Soultz wrote in prepared testimony to the commission.

“Decisions on where people go to experience gaming entertainment are driven by many factors, but the availability of new or favorite games is a key consideration.”

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