Fall has steadily begun to creep in, at least here in Chicago. To baseball purists, that means only one thing: The October Classic is right around the corner.
Who better to talk baseball and Ohio sports betting than with notable raconteur, Cincinnati Reds zealot and expert gaming attorney Kevin Braig of Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick, in Columbus.
His most recent obsession has been the 1919 World Series between the Reds and the Chicago White Sox. But before I dive into the 100th anniversary of arguably the greatest scandal in baseball history, I have to ask Braig to guide me through sports betting in the Buckeye State.
I caught up with Braig early Tuesday, and he offered up some tasty insights for those wishing and waiting for the day when they can place a bet on Ohio sports teams in Ohio.
Braig talks sports betting in Ohio
Surrounded on all fronts by gambling states, Pennsylvania to the east, Indiana to the west and West Virginia to the south, Ohio has been trying to puncture the sports betting bubble that has been ballooning since May 2018. But political discourse and two evenly matched gambling bodies have sunk all attempts to pass any bill. And so, the argument of who is best suited to regulate and enforce the highly coveted Ohio sports betting market, the Ohio Lottery Commission or the Ohio Casino Control Commission, rages on.
Q&A with Kevin Braig
Ohio has been a busy state lately. Can you give me a rundown of what’s been going on in terms of sports betting?
Sure. So, Ohio has two bills that have been introduced that would authorize sports betting. The first one is House Bill 194; let’s call it the lottery bill.
OK, H 194; break it down for me.
The bill would essentially put the Ohio Lottery in charge of sports betting in Ohio. It has been introduced in the House and received a hearing; I think it was last week. It received support, by my understanding, from the Cincinnati Bengals and the National Football League (NFL), and it was opposed by the Professional Golf Association (PGA) and Major League Baseball (MLB).
Why do they oppose it?
They still wanted a data mandate for in-play betting. So, there have been no hearings scheduled in the Senate on H 194, nor am I aware of any that are being scheduled, talked about, or thought about.
So, that’s the first bill, what’s the second?
The other bill is Senate Bill 111, which has been introduced in the Senate, and let’s call that the Ohio Casino Control Commission bill. It would make the casino control commission the regulator overseeing sports betting in Ohio, and it has not received any hearing or moved at all. Sen. Larry Obhof is the president of the Senate, and he has publicly stated his view. Ohio has to amend its constitution before the general assembly could authorize sports betting. Respectfully to Sen. Obhof, his position is a minority position.
Why is his position the minority?
I don’t know of anyone else, including myself, who reads the Ohio constitution in that manner. But, Sen. Obhof is the Senate president, and I am not. And so, his opinion matters a lot more than mine or anyone else’s.
Explain what this means.
It means, probably, that sports betting in Ohio is going to have to wait ’til Sen. Obhof is no longer the Senate president, which will occur early next year. He is serving out the second of his two-four year terms. We have term limits of state senators in Ohio, and you’re allowed to serve two-four year terms. So he is term-limited out at the end of this session. There will be a new session of the General Assembly early next year; I think Feb. 1. There will be a new Senate President, and it is understood by most people unless something unexpected happens, that it will be Sen. Matt Huffman.
Any foresight into sports betting?
My view is, it’s more likely than not at this point that you won’t see anything happen in Ohio until there is a new general assembly in early 2020. But I’m not there on a daily basis so I’m not covering any wagers. The only thing about the statehouse is you should always expect the unexpected.
Would you say that both the lottery and casino commission wield the same amount of influence?
Yeah, I think they both hold the same level of magnitude.
Is sports betting still a couple of years off? You get a new Senate president in 2020; then hearings begin, then there has to be a rulemaking process, etc.
I would say that’s a link too long. I don’t expect it to happen this year, but I do expect it to happen in 2020. Also, not sure if you know, but there is a big election coming in 2020. I learned, probably 10 years ago, when you’re trying to do something new, and you’re in the months leading up to a presidential election, things can get pretty weird.
Ohio is surrounded on all fronts. Is the gaming industry scared at all?
Convenience will be an important factor. I think the gaming industry thinks, no matter when we do it, we will be able to recapture that market.
I’ve been asking this question to everyone I speak with but is not introducing a mobile component in any legislation a fools’ errand?
Yeah, you have to have mobile in this day and age. We live mobile lives. I don’t think that’s an issue. I’m pretty sure Ohio will have mobile sports betting. I think the main opposition to mobile comes from states that have a significant tribal gaming presence because that complicates things. Ohio has no tribal gaming within its borders, so that’s not an issue.
Any additional thoughts?
I think if Ohio waits too long, the state could see a drop in its gaming revenue because people will be taking their gaming out of state. It won’t be just sports betting; it will be table games and slot machines because they will be somewhere they can get legal access to a sportsbook.
A fixation like no other
When I’m feeling depressed that my Atlanta Braves wasted a 97-win season, I know who to speak with: Braig. When I want to talk about postseason expectations, I know who to speak with: Braig. And when I want someone to break down the legendary 100th anniversary of the 1919 World Series, know to most as “The Fix,” Braig vaulted to the top of the list.
Having put in over 100-plus hours of research, Braig has written about and discussed in detail the ins-and-outs of this infamous game. Most recently, his 10-page research article, titled: Don’t Believe the Dope: Few Saw Fix Coming, chronicles the fluctuation of the sports betting odds in New York, Chicago and Cincinnati throughout the 1919 World Series.
“I think it’s the crime of the century,” Braig said. “The myth is, it was kind of a slapdash thing that was thrown together in late September by a couple of players and the people that really operated the fix were single-A rifters and grifters that sort of bumbled along in it. And I don’t think that’s what happened at all. I think it had been planned for a long, long time.”
Now, to accurately break down everything Braig and I discussed would be ludicrous. Braig is far too knowledgeable in the subject that I would fail to do his research justice.
But he did mention sports betting has changed significantly and that a scandal of this magnitude, in today’s world, would be damn near impossible.
Why? Because the world will probably never see another person like Arnold Rothstein, the notorious racketeer, businessman and gambling kingpin.
“As I learned more about the fix, I became convinced that Rothstein engineered the corruption of the National League pennant race that year through New York Giants first baseman Hal Chase,” Braig said.
When you meticulously look at the complicated web of hands that were involved in “The Fix,” you can find yourself going down the rabbit hole of insanity. Of course, as Braid pointed out, everyone involved with this has since passed away, so the real secrets may never be known.
A baseball fan’s predictions
But what I know for sure, is the Washington Nationals have punched their ticket to the 2019 World Series where they await either the New York Yankees or the Houston Astros.
“I think the Nationals are by far the best story in the postseason,” Braig said. “They seem like they have been touched by the angel of destiny. They have this look about them like everything is going to go right.”
According to BetMGM, the Nationals are +190 to win the World Series.
Braig said he would like to see a Yankees versus Nationals series, a sort of homage to the 1955 musical comedy, Damn Yankees by George Abbott.
Another exciting prediction by the Cincinnati native is that Braig anticipates the October Classic could one day be sponsored by — gasp, a sports betting company.
“I also think, in 2022, its either going to be a FanDuel World Series or a Fox Bet World Series,” said Braig. “Fox owns the rights to the World Series until 2021. To me, that seems like the right amount of time. I mean, it just makes sense.”
It appears that we have come full circle. Sports betting has already infiltrated network television by way of sport wagering shows, and it’s only a matter of time before they host the big dance. Braig pointed out that in 1904, bookmakers tried to sponsor the World Series. He said, if the Yankees had finished the season in first place, bookmakers would have paid the players $50,000 to play a postseason series. However, Boston overtook the Yankees, and it never happened. The great “what could have been” of the early 1900s.
Baseball may not be everyone’s forte. Some find it slow, tedious and even uneventful, but it is still the only sport where you can fail seven out of 10 times and make the Hall of Fame. But for those die-hard few who waited 100 years for the Chicago Cubs to win the World Series; sat through 54 wins at Camden Yards in Baltimore, or held their heads down in disappointment as the Atlanta Braves were bounced from the playoffs yet again, for us, baseball will always be America’s pastime.