The process of licensing, installing and testing sports betting kiosks in Ohio was a months-long endeavor, but adding one of the self-service machines at a local bar like Kitty’s Sports Grill in downtown Cincinnati was a “no-brainer,” according to owner Billy Watson.
“If we could get one,” Watson said, “we wanted to do it.”
Ohio’s betting kiosks are a unique addition to a statewide sports betting launch. The state has licensed over 1,000 businesses to add the machines, with locations ranging from bars, restaurants and grocery stores to bowling alleys and even truck stops.
Kitty’s Sports Grill is located within the shadow of the Bengals’ Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati’s business district. The bar had its sports betting kiosk up and running on Jan. 1, the first day of Ohio sports betting.
“Everything is working fine,” Watson said a few days after the Ohio sports betting launch. “It’s just getting used to the process.”
Here’s what adding a betting kiosk means for a local business like Kitty’s and how simple it is to place a bet on one of these ubiquitous machines.
Adding sports betting kiosk a ‘no-brainer’
Kitty’s is a popular pregame destination for Bengals fans — it might be the closest bar to the stadium. The outside of the building is adorned with a painting of a roaring tiger and the words “Rule the Jungle.” A mammoth meat smoker out front summons sports fans and downtown lunch-goers alike.
The new sports betting kiosk stands out even in a room packed with TVs and sports memorabilia. The kiosk looks like a classic arcade game with “UBET OHIO” written in orange and white across the top and “BET HERE” where one might expect their Pac-Man joystick to sit.
Located on Third Street just across from the Bengals stadium, Kitty’s busiest days are NFL Sundays. Watson, the son of “Kitty” herself, says he didn’t hesitate to apply for a kiosk once they became available.
“For a lot of people, if they like sports, usually they like gambling on it, too,” he said.
The kiosk was busy on Jan. 1, thanks to Ohio sports betting kicking off with a full slate of Sunday NFL games. Buffalo Bills fans in town for their team’s Monday night matchup with the Bengals were among those utilizing the machine, even though sports betting is legal in their home state.
Watson says he chose to go with kiosk distributer Ubet, largely because his sales rep lives in the Cincinnati area. Kitty’s also has two Keno machines operated by another company in the kiosk business called Intralot, which provided around 700 of the 771 Ohio kiosks that were licensed to go live on Jan. 1. Ubet, it turns out, was the only supplier whose machines fired up on Day 1 and worked as planned.
Watson points to a thick binder sitting next to the machine, noting that it covers “everything” one could imagine — including protocol for when an NFL game is canceled. That, of course, is an absolute rarity but one that Cincinnati sports fans saw up close when the Bengals vs. Bills Monday night game was canceled in the first quarter after Buffalo safety Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest on the field.
“When I read that, I was like, ‘This has never happened,’” Watson said, “and then two days later it was like, ‘Wow it’s a reality.’”
Per the binder, Kitty’s will refund any bet slips made on that game now that it has been canceled by the NFL.
Using a sports betting kiosk is quite easy
Kitty’s staff keep an eye on the machine and ID anyone who looks like they might be under 21 (you have to be 21 to enter Kitty’s). But the Ubet machine does not require any identification and does not document who is using the machine — or how much they bet, even though Ohio law limits kiosk bettors to $700 per week in wagers across all kiosks in the state.
The machine is cash-only, and winning bet slips can be cashed out at the bar up to $600. Winning bets over $600 have to be cashed by the kiosk operator or the Ohio Lottery.
The betting interface is quite simple. One screen shows a list of the night’s games — it was mostly college basketball lines on Jan. 5. The main touch screen shows an empty bet slip, with choices down the left side ranging from “home screen” to various sports.
The process of placing a bet goes like:
- Insert as little as $5 cash
- Choose a sport
- Scroll to a particular game
- Click on a point spread, moneyline or over/under bet
- Enter bet amount
- Click “place bet”
Within seconds a betting slip prints out — just like placing a bet with a teller at a retail sportsbook or a horse-racing track.
Watson witnessed someone place a $5 bet on the Bengals’ divisional rival Cleveland Browns. When asked if he had a problem with it considering the bet was against another divisional foe in the Pittsburgh Steelers, Watson, after a long pause, cracked a grin and said:
“The Steelers are my least favorite team, let’s put it that way.”
How things came together for Kitty’s kiosk
Things slowed down at Kitty’s betting kiosk during the first business week after Ohio sports betting kicked off.
Watson isn’t seeing a ton of people stopping in to place bets, but he hopes the kiosk is a draw for downtowners and can help make up for some of the business Kitty’s has lost since the pandemic began. Watson says the lunch rush and happy hour have taken a major downturn with so many people working from home since 2020.
“Our business is slow during the week, and word is getting out that we have it,” he said.
Ubet is doing its part to integrate sports betting into Kitty’s business. The marketing arm of the company provides software that will project betting lines and informational messages about betting on two big TV screens, kind of like a sportsbook ticker. The program will mix in photos of Kitty’s menu and messaging about specials as well.
The state has been strict during the licensing, installation and testing process, and Ubet has articulated the seriousness of IDing users and displaying responsible gambling messaging. Various screens on the kiosk show Ohio’s 1-800-GAMBLER hotline and information about “Time Out Ohio,” the state’s responsible gambling campaign.
Still, Watson doesn’t necessarily think he should be responsible for keeping track of how much someone bets. And he hopes the kiosks offer more betting options down the line, like Super Bowl prop bets.
“I get that it’s brand new, and they want to err on the side of caution,” Watson said. “I feel like some of these things might change after a little bit of time.”
Kiosk a welcome new draw for downtown staple
For now, the betting kiosk is another draw for a local sports bar that has been doing its thing through decades of other changes.
During a slow lunch hour on Jan. 5, a group of four men clad in purple and yellow Baltimore Ravens gear sauntered in for lunch three days before the Bengals were set to host the Ravens. None of them tried out the kiosk before ordering a bucket of Miller Lites, but Watson was happy to chat with them about the latest new addition to the bar.
When asked to take a photo of the group, Watson obliged, holding up one of their phones and asking them to, “Say Who Dey!”