The U.S. Supreme Court, in a challenge brought by New Jersey, voted 6-3 on May 14 to strike down a 1992 federal law prohibiting sports betting operations everywhere but in Nevada, where it had long been legal. The majority said it was up to states to decide for themselves whether to allow such betting.

The ruling came over the objections of professional football, baseball, basketball, and hockey leagues and the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which worried about the effect of legal, big money gambling on the integrity of the games.

Mr. Lertzman, of Cleveland, and Minnesota-based Lakes Entertainment were the primary forces behind a failed attempt in 2008 to convince voters to amend the Ohio Constitution to place a single casino in Wilmington in southwest Ohio.

A year later they were minor partners with Pennsylvania-based Penn National Gaming and Detroit sports mogul Dan Gilbert as they successfully convinced voters to approve casinos at four specified locations that they controlled.

Penn later bought them out, but they remain minor partners in Mr. Gilbert’s operations in Cleveland and Cincinnati.

The Open Ohio proposal would have the Ohio Lottery Commission regulate sports betting much as it now does Keno in licensed businesses across the state. The commission also now regulates racetrack slot machines.

Unlike other lottery profits, which are earmarked for public education, the Open Ohio amendment would steer tax revenue to local governments. He proposes a 33 percent wagering tax — the same amount placed on wagers at the casinos but below the 35 percent tax at slots parlors.

Mr. Lertzman estimates his proposal could mean $1 billion in wagering tax revenue annually for the state, based on the assumption that $3 billion in illegal gambling now taking place would come out of the shadows.

Sports bars, restaurants, and other such establishments would also be permitted to have slot machines. They would not be permitted in the local corner stores where lottery tickets are now sold.

Mr. Lertzman is shooting for the November, 2019 ballot because of the short time between now and the July 4 deadline for this fall’s ballot.

A constitutional amendment now needs about 306,000 valid signatures of registered voters to qualify, but that number is connected with the number of votes cast in governor races so it will change after November.

State Sen. Joe Schiavoni (D., Boardman) proposes to tackle the issue directly through legislation, confining the activity to the existing 11 state-sanctioned casinos and “racinos” and earmarking the money to school districts and local governments.

He said he’s been approached by Sens. Bill Coley (R., West Chester) and John Eklund (R., Chardon) to try to work something out.

“I have three concerns,” he said. “Where are we going to be betting? Will it just be in casinos and racinos or in any other private lottery providers, which is what people are talking about… What is reasonable (in a tax rate) for the industry and fair to the consumer?

“And where do we dedicate the funds?” he asked. “I do not want gambling expansion where the money just goes into a pot and we don’t know where it goes.”

Whatever happens, he said it should come through the General Assembly.

“I think a lot of Republicans learned their lesson with casinos,” he said. “They fooled around and fooled around and then you get something you don’t like in the constitution by way of initiative… I think there’s an appetite to do something, at least in the Senate.”

Mr. Lertzman, however, said a ballot issue is the way to go.

“(The General Assembly) has never done gaming legislation,” he said. “I started in 1996 and tried to talk to state reps and senators. They would spend the next three years in hearings while Michigan, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and every state around us have it done. Pennsylvania and West Virginia will have it by the end of the year.”

Contact Jim Provance at or 614-221-0496.


Ohio lawmakers make bids to legalize sports betting
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