CLEVELAND, Ohio - While Ohio casinos have been shuttered by coronavirus, business in one segment of the gambling industry has taken off in Pennsylvania during casino closings there, and within months could launch in Michigan as well.
It’s online wagering with casino-style games, a step beyond sports betting already legal in those states as Ohio still mulls whether to add wagering on college and pro sports two years after the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for any state to do so.
Think of it as a chance to play all the casino games without a trek to a physical facility.
Michigan is now putting final touches on rules for laws approved late last year that allow the three Detroit casinos and a dozen Indian tribes to offer through the internet both sports betting and other casino games.
In Pennsylvania, which launched online gambling in July, bets can be placed through eight casinos, as long as the player is somewhere in Pennsylvania at the time, said Doug Harbach, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. Games range from slot machines to poker against other players, with the house taking a cut.
“As you can imagine, there has been a significant increase since the casinos closed,” Harbach said. Online gaming revenue was up 73% in April over March, with a more than doubling of revenue on slot machines. May data has not yet been released.
Michigan in March became the fourth of Ohio’s neighbors - following Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Indiana - to offer sports wagering, but only in person at the casinos just before they closed because of COVID-19.
The regulatory process for online wagering for both sports betting and the other games is being worked out now, said Dave Murley, deputy director of the Michigan Gaming Control Board.
Meanwhile, in Ohio, there has been just incremental progress in the legislature toward legalizing sports wagering, and no formal proposals for other forms of online gambling.
The Ohio House last week approved sports wagering to be run by the Ohio Lottery Commission, which regulates the state’s seven racinos with slots-like machines called video lottery terminals.
But that proposal is in conflict with an Ohio Senate bill, yet to receive a vote, that would place regulation in the hands of the Ohio Casino Control Commission, which oversees Ohio’s four full casinos in Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and Toledo.
Both the House and Senate proposals would allow for mobile betting on sports.
Sports wagering is now legal in at least 20 states, according to tracking by the Associated Press.
Chris Altruda, a sports betting analyst with the gambling news and information website PennBets.com, said that total could reach 25 or more within a year, noting that Florida is one state inching its way there. A proposal is also under consideration in the Kentucky legislature.
Online casino-style gambling is a step beyond simply adding sports bets.
“It’s becoming a new part of the equation," Altruda said. "Currently there are only three states where you can do that, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware.”
West Virginia has also passed legislation to set up online gaming, but the rules to setting up the gaming are still going through the state approval process.
In Michigan, Murley said sports wagering was deemed legal under existing casino laws but that the industry sought a lower tax rate for sports bets than those on other casino games.
This is typical across the country with sports wagering taxes often close to 10% on what the house makes, after paying out winnings.
The separate proposals in Ohio call for tax rates of 10% (House version) or 6.25% (Senate version) for sports betting versus a lottery fee of 33.5% for slots at the racinos and a 33% tax on table games and slots at the casinos.
The Detroit casinos began taking bets in person March 11 as the NCAA basketball tournament was about to begin, but then the coronavirus hit.
Since then, Murley said, work has continued to finalize the rules for online wagers. This has included for the first time state rules and taxes for the 12 Indian tribes, who operate 24 physical casinos in Michigan separate from state regulation.
Murley said officials are “hopeful” for an October or November launch, but the more conservative estimate is to begin online wagering in Michigan online in “early 2021.”
Rich Exner, data analysis editor for cleveland.com, writes about numbers on a variety of topics. Follow on Twitter @RichExner. Follow casino coverage at cleveland.com/casino.
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