Last week, Ohio once again took decisive action regarding problematic sports betting promotions in the state.
Fanatics Sportsbook had been offering bet credits matching the amount of purchases through the Fanatics online retail store. Within hours of industry analysts debating the appropriateness of the promotion, the Ohio Casino Control Commission asked Fanatics to remove the offer.
On May 19, the OCCC confirmed to PlayOhio: “Fanatics has ceased the promotion in question — the Commission appreciates Fanatics’ attention in this matter.”
Fanatics has chosen not to run a similar promotion in Massachusetts, demonstrating the degree of influence Ohio regulators have begun to wield on the U.S. sports betting industry.
Ohio has fined sportsbooks $1.29 million since launching legal online sports betting on Jan. 1. Both the OCCC executive director and Ohio’s governor have repeatedly spoken out about responsible advertising in the state, and four of the industry’s biggest operators have been hit with six-figure fines.
This is all on top of the vast network of Ohio responsible gambling resources that have been recognized as industry leaders, even before sports betting kicked off.
Fanatics Ohio promotion flagged, then taken down
Let’s start with the recent Fanatics promotion in Ohio, which offered bonus bets in the amount of purchases at Fanatics.com. For instance, a shopper considering the purchase of a $29.99 hat would see a pop-up ad offering a $29.99 bonus bet — if he or she signed up for an account at Fanatics Sportsbook.
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
There are a few reasons why such a promotion might run afoul of Ohio’s sports betting advertising regulations.
Fanatics offer could tempt underage bettors
First, the ad is almost certainly popping up in front of underage shoppers, and Ohio has already shown zero tolerance for that — especially for those who do so brazenly.
In February, Ohio hit PENN Entertainment, owner of Barstool Sportsbook, with a $250,000 fine for promoting its online sportsbook near the campus of the University of Toledo. Ohio noted that the event violated the state’s rules against promoting sports betting on or near college campuses.
Even though many college students are 21 years old and legally allowed to bet, promoting to an 18-and-over audience is not allowed.
‘Bonus bets’ can also be a sensitive subject
Perhaps more importantly, the Fanatics offer blurs the line on how “bonus bets” work. In December, Ohio made a point of reminding sportsbooks that “free bets” or “risk-free” promotions are misleading if they require the user to risk any of their own money.
OCCC Executive Director Matt Schuler spoke to the Washington Post in December about this exact issue, saying: “If something is claiming to be free or risk-free, then it has to absolutely not require the patron to incur any loss or risk their own money.”
Ohio sportsbooks rushed to change “free bet” language to the more appropriate “bet credits,” a clarification that is catching on in other states as well.
Similarly, Fanatics wasted little time adhering to Ohio’s request that the promotion be taken down. Fanatics quickly complied, telling PlayOhio on May 19 that the promotion had been taken down but offering no further comment.
It was later reported that Fanatics would not try the same promotion in Massachusetts, where the sportsbook is set to launch soon.
Ohio governor taking responsible gambling seriously
Warnings about not following Ohio’s sports betting advertising regulations have come from the very top of the state’s executive branch, and they have proven to have teeth.
On Jan. 3, just two days after legalizing sports betting, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine warned Ohio sportsbooks that the state was closely monitoring their language.
“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 during a press conference.
Schuler echoed the sentiment: “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,” he said.
These comments came just a week after Ohio fined DraftKings $350,000 for mailing advertisements to around 2,500 individuals in the state who were under 21.
Warnings followed by fines, followed by change
Within three months of legal sports betting in the state, Ohio had shown a willingness to call out — and fine — some of the biggest sportsbooks in the state.
All told, Ohio has fined sportsbooks a total of $1.29 million so far, with DraftKings, Caesars, BetMGM and Barstool paying six-figure fines each.
Ohio even flagged a years-old gaming product called slots+ by PlayUp Sportsbook, which the OCCC said had been operating in Ohio illegally. The state fined PlayUp as well, along with enacting a four-year ban on entering the Ohio sports betting market.
Every sportsbook Ohio has fined has accepted their punishments, and most appeared in front of the OCCC to rededicate their operations to following Ohio’s guidelines.
Other legal sports betting states are watching Ohio, which is poised to become a top-five sports betting state in the U.S. in its first year of operation.
They’ll do well to follow Ohio’s lead when it comes to consistent communication with sportsbooks and swift action for those who run afoul of the rules.
21+ and present in OH. Gambling Problem? Call 1-800-GAMBLER