A Fanatics sports betting promotion in Ohio this week caught the attention of the state’s regulators, who asked the retail merchandiser to stop offering it.
Fanatics had been offering a bet credit in the amount of purchases in its online store for those who signed up for the Fanatics Sportsbook app.
Since sports betting in Ohio went live on Jan. 1, the Ohio Casino Control Commission has been vigilant about policing sportsbook advertising and marketing according to its responsible gambling rules.
Fanatics Ohio sportsbook promotion flagged
The Fanatics promo was flagged by gambling industry reporters this week. The Fanatics site was offering a bonus bet matching the cost of merchandise, but the shopper had to sign up for Fanatics Sportsbook to claim the bonus bet.
So, @Fanatics is offering a bonus bet to everyone who purchases an item on site?!?
Obviously they won’t let kids take advantage of the promo, but presenting it to everyone who places an item in the cart? Really?
This is quite problematic for them and the industry as a whole. pic.twitter.com/2WGmPhizOY
— Jamie Salsburg (@jamiesalsburg) May 17, 2023
Within a day, the OCCC was already working to get the promotion removed. Fanatics on May 19 confirmed to PlayOhio that the promotion has been taken down but offered no further comment.
Sports betting promotion offered to a wide audience
The OCCC provided PlayOhio with the following statement: “Fanatics has ceased the promotion in question — the Commission appreciates Fanatics’ attention in this matter.”
It is unclear which specific rule the Fanatics promotion violated, but it’s not surprising that the offer came under scrutiny.
If the Fanatics online retailer was putting the offer in front of anyone who checked out, it would have popped up in front of customers younger than 21, which is a violation of Ohio’s sports betting advertising rules.
Even if Fanatics did not specifically target underage shoppers, the deal would have engaged with some. Of course, the Fanatics Sportsbook app would not have allowed an underage person to sign up for the sportsbook thanks to the state’s Know Your Customer regulations that require sportsbooks to verify a user’s age and identity.
Ohio has been strict about sports betting advertising regulations
While the “bet credits” language is appropriate per Ohio’s guidelines, Fanatics appears to have entered a gray area when it comes to exchanging the bet credit for a cash purchase.
In December, just before Ohio’s sports betting launch, the OCCC reminded all sportsbooks about a couple of specific rules regarding advertising:
- That responsible gambling messaging has to be on every ad and that it has to be “conspicuous.”
- That “free bets” or “risk-free” promotions are misleading if they require the user to risk any of their own money.
Ohio’s law states: “Promotions or bonuses described as free or risk-free must not require the patron to incur any loss or risk their own money to use or withdraw winnings from the free wager.”
Ohio sportsbooks have been using “bet credits” rather than “free bets” in advertising ever since. While Fanatics used appropriate language in the merchandise promotion, the fact that customers were paying for the merchandise appears to have been an issue.
Ohio sportsbooks have racked up advertising fines
In general, Ohio sportsbooks have largely adhered to the state’s responsible gambling rules and advertising regulations, but there have been a few missteps along the way.
The state has fined sportsbooks a total of $1.29 million so far, with big-name operators like DraftKings, Caesars, BetMGM and Barstool paying six-figure fines each.
Most of the fines are related to the responsible gambling messaging noted in the December letter, along with advertising to underage customers. Several sportsbooks have sent representatives to OCCC meetings to accept the fines and explain their dedication to responsible gambling and the state’s regulations.
Fanatics is making moves in Ohio
Fanatics has not announced when it will launch its sportsbook across Ohio, but the company has been active in the state recently.
After beta-testing in Ohio and Tennessee, Fanatics on May 1 opened its sportsbook to select users in Ohio via its retail customer database.
Fanatics then announced the purchase of PointsBet Sportsbook on May 14. PointsBet launched in Ohio on Jan. 1 and is active in 14 states. In March, PointsBet took over $5.6 million in bets in Ohio, which ranked ninth among the state’s 17 online sportsbooks to report revenue that month.
Fanatics is likely to merge existing PointsBet user accounts to its own platform after the sale is finalized.