A bill that would legalize sports gambling in Ohio is coming under constitutional scrutiny by state Sen. Majority Leader Larry Obhof, R-Medina.
“The Constitution basically limits gambling to the voter-approved casinos, charitable gaming and the lottery,” John Fortney, a spokesperson for Obhof, told Watchdog.org. Obhof has argued that the state might only be able to legalize sports gambling through a Constitutional amendment, which is how casino gambling was legalized in 2009.
Article XV, Section 6 of Ohio’s Constitution states that lotteries and the sale of lottery tickets for any purpose are prohibited by the state unless it is expressly listed as permissible in the Constitution. The section goes on to list casinos, the state lottery and charity as permissible and has no mention of sports gambling.
Fortney said the bill is in its early stages and will still receive hearings. At this point, there is no timeline for the legislation, and trying to force something through the state legislature during a lame duck session would likely lead to unintended consequences, he said.
Although Obhof is personally against the measure, Fortney said he runs the chamber democratically and that there will be thorough and deliberate discussion about it.
“[Obhof] is right to bring up the issue,” state Sen. John Eklund, R-Munson, told Watchdog.org. Eklund is a primary co-sponsor of the bill. Although he believes the bill is constitutional, Eklund said it is still important to ensure that there is no Constitutional impediment to the bill before it comes up for a vote.
Eklund said that he thinks that the constitutional amendment process is only necessary if a proposed change deals with structural issues or fundamental rights issues. Requiring an amendment for gambling lowers the level of conversation for a constitutional issue, he said.
Requiring this change to go through the amendment process would be “dramatic,” he said, and will likely get hijacked by the media. With heavy media involvement, he said he fears that individuals might get emotional about the issue. The legislative process, he said, is the most appropriate venue for deep and thoughtful reflection on the issue.
While Eklund would like to see the measure passed this year, he said it’s hard to say whether that’s possible. Because it has to go through hearings and be discussed over meetings, he said Ohio might have to wait until 2019 to complete the legislative process.
Currently, the sports gambling bill is only one line long and gives no details on how or where gambling would be legalized. It is intentionally vague so that legislature and the public can assess the details and craft the bill after discussion.
“[There is] nothing simple about this,” Eklund said. “[We must] make sure we do it right.”