Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine sent a message to sportsbook companies that the state is keeping a close eye on them and their advertising and promotional activities in Ohio.
During a Jan. 3 press conference at the Ohio statehouse, DeWine said that he’s aware of “several” recent occurrences of sportsbook operators not following Ohio laws regarding sports betting advertising and promotional offers in the state.
“The companies that are doing the massive advertising need to be aware that they’re being looked at very closely by the governor and the Casino Control Commission in regard to statements that they are making,” DeWine said.
The governor’s comments come just days after Ohio sports betting became legal on Jan. 1. DeWine signed the bill legalizing sports betting in late 2021.
“We’re paying attention. I watch TV,” DeWine warned.
Comments come as Ohio sportsbooks face fines for underage targeting
DeWine said that there have been multiple occurrences of sportsbooks in Ohio not following the established guidelines regarding advertisements targeting people under the age of 21.
“We believe that at least on several occasions they’ve already crossed the line,” DeWine said. “My message to them is that this will not be tolerated in the state of Ohio.”
While DeWine didn’t cite any specific sportsbook operators that have violated the advertising rules, his comments come less than a week after the Ohio Casino Control Commission issued a notice of violation to DraftKings Sportsbook for mailing advertisements to around 2,500 individuals in the state who were under 21.
The OCCC wants to fine DraftKings $350,000 and require the company to develop a new process to ensure DraftKings no longer markets to anyone who has not had their age verified beforehand.
“The Commission has been very clear about the rules and standards for sports gaming advertising with the industry, and are disappointed with the lack of compliance we have seen despite reminders,” OCCC executive director Matthew Schuler said of DraftKings’ alleged violation.
Ohio regulators have been vocal about not tolerating advertising violations
DeWine’s apparent hardline stance against sportsbooks running afoul of Ohio’s laws regarding sports betting advertisements echoes the actions of the OCCC in recent weeks.
Prior to DraftKings’ recent violation notice, the OCCC issued a notice of violation to PENN Entertainment, the company that owns Barstool Sportsbook. The OCCC said that Barstool was promoting sports betting on or near college campuses and targeting people under 21.
The violation stems from a mid-November Barstool Sports video broadcast from near the campus of the University of Toledo. Barstool Sportsbook’s pre-registration was allegedly promoted on the program. The OCCC is recommending a $250,000 fine for PENN/Barstool for the violation.
Just before Christmas, the OCCC sent a letter addressed to sports gaming stakeholders chastising sportsbooks for “consistent violations” of the advertising guidelines and threatening “administrative action” if they failed to address the state’s concerns.
The OCCC’s letter reminded sportsbook operators of the basic advertising guidelines, including that all ads must have a conspicuous responsible gambling message and must not target individuals under 21.
DeWine also warns sportsbooks against misleading promos
DeWine also commented on allegations that sportsbooks have been misleading customers with certain promotional offers.
The governor said the sportsbooks “must be very careful, candidly, in regard to the claim of ‘free money’ and ‘free gaming.’”
“When you look at the fine print, or try to figure out what it really means, it doesn’t mean certainly what is being implied by the TV advertising,” DeWine said of the so-called “free” offers.
Concerns over “free” and “risk-free” promos from the sportsbooks have also been expressed recently by the OCCC. Ohio law states that such offers “must not require the patron to incur any loss or risk their own money to use or withdraw winnings from the free wager.”
In a recent Washington Post story about regulatory push-back against “free” offers, the OCCC’s Schuler reiterated that such offers should “absolutely not require the patron to incur any loss or risk their own money.”
The OCCC’s website recommends that sportsbook operators find alternative wording for the so-called “free bets,” suggesting terms like “bet credit,” “bonus play” or “bonus bucks” be used instead.