Critic: Sports betting first step toward ‘institutionalized racism of state-sanctioned gambling’

Sponsor says bill would regulate ‘unsafe’ betting that’s already occurring.

Legalization of sports gambling, which passed the state Senate in June and is due before the Ohio House this fall, drew denunciation Tuesday from a national anti-gambling group and a former Dayton-area state legislator.

Tom Roberts, president of the Ohio Conference of the NAACP and a former member of the state House and Senate from Dayton, said he hopes the House won’t take up the bill right away, “but it sounds like it’s got a lot of legs and leverage.”

Senate Bill 176 is sponsored by state Sens. Niraj Antani, R–Miamisburg, and Nathan Manning, R-Ridgeville, with Sen. Steve Huffman, R–Tipp City, as one of seven cosponsors. The 266-page bill was introduced in May, passed the Senate 30–2 with revisions on June 16, and was referred to the House Finance Committee five days later. Action awaits the General Assembly’s return to session on Sept. 8.

A closely related bill, House Bill 29, is also pending, Antani said; he’s not sure which one the House will take up

The bill would allow separate licenses for three types of gambling: mobile apps, brick-and-mortar locations, and machines in bars and restaurants.

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More than 30 licenses for brick-and-mortar gambling sites would be fairly distributed statewide so that all areas have access, Antani said. Standalone casinos, casinos at racetracks, professional sports teams and other entities would bid for licenses with the state Casino Control Commission, he said.

Les Bernal, national director of Washington, D.C.-based Stop Predatory Gambling, said during a video news conference Tuesday that legalization of sports gambling is just an opening gambit.

“What you’re really voting on is whether you’re going to legalize online casino gambling,” he said.

Bernal said it’s a false perception that legal commercialized gambling is “just like every other business.” Instead he called it a form of financial fraud, deceiving people into thinking they can win but inevitably taking their money.

Bernal denounced what he called the “institutionalized racism of state-sanctioned gambling,” saying that gambling operators target minority communities that are disproportionately low-income, taking a greater percentage of those groups’ income than they do from wealthier and whiter areas.

“If casinos get their way with sports betting, Ohio’s race to the bottom will continue,” he said.

Antani said Tuesday that gambling on sports is already occurring in an “unregulated and unsafe manner,” but legalization will let the state regulate it.

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Antani noted that as an Indian American he is a minority legislator himself, and asserted that sports gambling would not disproportionately affect minority communities per se. It might impact lower-income communities of any background, he said, but reiterated that legalization would allow state oversight of activities that are already going on.

Bernal said the bill has no provisions to shield children from gambling ads. He predicted a deluge of such advertising, saying that children exposed to it would be more likely to develop gambling problems in later life.

Roberts said he at least wants to see changes to the bill, such as providing more funding for public education.

Under the current version, gambling revenue would be taxed at 10%, with 98% of that money going to K-12 schools and the remaining 2% for programs to combat gambling addiction.

The bill has changed substantially since its introduction, Antani said, and may change further.

“There’s always going to be modifications and amendments, but holistically I think we’re going to see legalized sports betting here very soon,” he said.

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