Ohio Online Poker Law
With its first two casinos opening in May 2012, Ohio is still a casino-hosting infant. Ohio’s first two real casinos opened in May 2013, and two more were opened soon after. Already, casinos did more than $493 million in business as of Sept. 2013, generating more than $138 million in taxes. The casinos joined seven slot-only racinos, with more racinos scheduled to open in 2014.
Ohio allowed casinos after watching its residents drive their entertainment dollars to the casinos located in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The final push occurred when Pennsylvania voted to allow casinos in 2010. West Virginia has had slots at racetracks since the 1990s, and legalized table games starting around 2000.
As of late 2013, there were no pending online poker or casino bills submitted to legislators in Ohio, or any interest reported publicly by the lawmakers. In fact, in 2013, Ohio Senators passed a law that cracked down on the more than 600 Internet cafes that dot the state.
The cafes are essentially slot parlors where computers take the place of slot machines. They existed through loopholes in Ohio law. The change made it illegal for payouts any higher than $10. There are two ways to look at this and understand how it might pertain to online poker legalization.
The first way to look at it is that the change was passed because the Senate truly cares that slots parlors opened up in old Pizza Huts and strip malls across the state. They truly want to protect their constituents from unscrupulous slot games and think that statewide gambling is truly a problem in Ohio.
This is summed up by Republican Sen. Larry Obhof: “To me, the question is a pretty simple one: Do we want statewide gambling in Ohio, and did voters ever authorize statewide gambling in Ohio? I think the answer to each of those questions is no.”
The second way to look at the law change is as a maneuver by state officials to protect a new, big chunk of the state’s operating budget. It’s fairly certain that the casinos demanded it. That’s one of the perks when your industry produces almost $140 million for the state — protection.
If it’s truly the first one, online poker fans in Ohio may have reasons to worry, especially if an online poker law is lumped in with a general online casino gambling bill.
If it’s the second one, then online poker players should remain optimistic that one day, soon, online poker will come to their laptops again. It also helps that Pennsylvania and West Virginia will allow its residents access to online poker sites by 2016, and most likely sooner.
When Will I Get to Play Online Poker in Ohio?
This is truly a tough one. On one hand, the state is now enjoying the proceeds that come by hosting a casino industry, but on the other, there seems to be a very real concern among some members of the Senate about statewide gambling expansion. Assuming they feel the same way about online gambling, an online casino gambling bill will face serious resistance. A sole online poker bill would have a considerably easier time (especially if one goes through in Pennsylvania). Still, even if that’s the case, look to no earlier than 2016, probably later.