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As Belterra Park lays off workers, Ohio lawmakers go 'all in' on sports betting to shore up budget

Posted at 10:29 PM, May 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-29 10:20:44-04

CINCINNATI — Belterra Park’s parent company notified Ohio this week it may need to lay off more than 300 employees, and the gaming center told WCPO 9 Thursday that without a solid reopening date from Gov. Mike DeWine, it’s unsure exactly how many workers it will have to let go.

On the same day news of the layoffs broke, the Ohio House overwhelmingly passed a bill to legalize sports betting championed by a state representative from Cincinnati.

Rep. Brigid Kelly says it’s time for Ohio to roll the dice on a new form of revenue, especially since neighboring states like Indiana have been cashing in for years.

“I drive by a billboard in downtown Cincinnati that talks about, ‘Hey, drive 20 minutes to another state, so you can engage in sports betting,’” she told WCPO.

Facing $775 million in budget cuts, Ohio could use an influx of money. Kelly says sports betting could raise millions for education, which is why she co-sponsored House Bill 194 with Rep. Dave Greenspan of Cleveland. Now, more than ever, she believes HB 194 is the one to bet on.

“We want to make sure that if Ohioans want to play that we do it here and we keep those resources here,” she said.

After closing in mid-March and with no clear reopening date in sight, Belterra Park’s parent company, Boyd Gaming, says, "It is very difficult to predict what business levels will look like when we reopen and how long it will take for businesses to recover,” adding, “we cannot determine at this time exactly how many team members will be recalled to work, and how many will need to be laid off.”

That’s less specific than the required notice they gave the state saying 20-60% of its employees could be let go -- their best estimate is 361. Furloughed Belterra employees will keep getting their benefits through July 31.

“I think this bill does a couple of things: it requires capital improvements which will create jobs, so when casinos/racinos build sports books, that will create jobs for that,” Kelly said.

Similar legislation in the Senate, SB 111, would also legalize sports betting. The bills differ in who would oversee the industry. Ultimately, Kelly thinks the state, in need of an economic boost, is ready to go all in.

“I think there will be some really robust conversations between the House and the Senate and the governor’s office because, at the end of the day, what we don’t want is we don’t want people betting on sports illegally and we don’t want people betting on sports legally in other places when they can do it right here in the state of Ohio.”

Cincinnati’s Hard Rock Casino told WCPO Thursday it has not announced any layoffs.