Ohioans are being bombarded with advertisements for online sportsbooks.
Or are they?
In the lead up to this year’s Jan. 1 launch of sports betting in Ohio, it certainly felt like you couldn’t go online or turn on the television without seeing several ads for sportsbooks attempting to lure new users with pre-launch offers.
Since Jan. 1, sportsbook advertising hasn’t slowed down, with most of the larger sportsbook operators running ads consistently.
But are people being “bombarded” or is it simply a matter of not being used to seeing ads from an industry coming into a new market for the first time?
Ohio online sportsbooks and Cleveland Cavaliers games
On Jan. 6, less than a week after sports betting became legal in Ohio, I sat down to watch the Cleveland Cavaliers take on the Denver Nuggets on Bally Sports Ohio, the regional sports network previously known as Fox Sports Ohio.
The plan was to keep track of how often viewers watching the game were exposed to sportsbooks during the telecast to see if Ohioans truly are being overwhelmed with sports betting propaganda or just receiving relatively occasional but consistent messages from the ’books.
DraftKings spots come early
8:45 p.m.: Tuning in to the tail-end of the pregame show, it dawns on me that just turning on the channel delivers a sportsbook message — kinda.
Bally Sports, of course, has the branding of Bally’s, one of the biggest names in the gambling industry. Bally’s is involved in sports betting with its BallyBet Sportsbook, which is conditionally approved to operate in Ohio but has yet to go live.
Still, if you are aware of BallyBet, there’s an omnipresent Bally’s “B” in the corner of the screen and station IDs running consistently throughout the programming to potentially trigger the sportsbook association.
8:53 p.m.: Here we go! I see my first sportsbook commercial less than 10 minutes after tuning in, just seven minutes from the start of the official game broadcast.
It’s a 30-second spot for DraftKings — but not the ones featuring Kevin Hart that I see on a regular basis. This is just a text- and pulsating-music-heavy Ohio welcome ad promoting the sportsbook’s “Bet $5, Get $200 in Bonus Bets” offer.
9 p.m.: As tip-off approaches, I’m noticing a lot of local-to-Northern-Ohio advertising, in commercials and in the little in-game sponsorship shoutouts — a car dealership, a furniture store, a window installation company.
On that note, after a sportsbook-free commercial break, MGM Northfield Park — a racino about 20 miles from Cleveland that includes a BetMGM retail sportsbook — pops up as a presenting sponsor of the broadcast during some of the final pre-game analysis ahead of tip-off.
FanDuel sponsors pre-game odds for the matchup
9:10 p.m.: FanDuel has entered the chat. FanDuel sponsors, fittingly, the odds for tonight’s matchup, which favor the Nuggets.
The Cavs are, after all, without Donovan Mitchell, who has been red-hot this season (two games ago he dropped 71 points against the Bulls) but tonight is having a scheduled night off for rest.
FanDuel’s logo pops up in a little box with a breakdown of the odds and the slogan “Make Every Moment More,” which the announcers say.
9:12 p.m.: Tip-off! Right off the bat I notice some more subtle sportsbook messaging. PointsBet has its logo going up the backboard stands on either side of the court. It stands out even though it is sharing space with other brands, including Verizon, State Farm and Western Union.
This game is at Denver’s Ball Arena and PointsBet is the official gaming partner of the Nuggets (and the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche), so the branding makes sense on a local-to-Denver level. PointsBet gets a little extra bang for its buck tonight because it is one of the online sportsbook apps viewers watching from Ohio can use to place bets.
9:21 p.m.: There’s a break in the action and the commercial break kicks off with a FanDuel commercial.
It’s the 30-second tailgating-themed spot that begins “We’ll make a new bet around every two seconds, not only on the game, but the game of life.” The commercial features a POV shot from the view of a guy going to a game and picking up a “curious hitchhiker” who turns out to be a “cornhole prodigy.”
It’s a pretty funny spot. Or at least it was the first 50 times I saw it.
In general, I (a TV viewer based in Southwest Ohio) feel like this FanDuel ad, the Kevin Hart (and non-Kevin Hart) DraftKings commercials, the J.B. Smoove and the Mannings’ Caesars ads and the ones featuring Jamie Foxx for BetMGM are the commercials that air the most during “normal” viewing hours.
Bet365’s Aaron Paul commercial makes appearance
9:27 p.m.: Cavs are playing well, keeping the Nuggets’ Nikola Jokić, the NBA’s reigning back-to-back league MVP, somewhat in check. But even early in the game you get a sense that Jokić is in control and just warming up. His presence is constantly felt whenever he’s on the floor.
In the next ad break there’s a commercial for the aforementioned MGM Northfield Park. But the ad primarily makes the racino look like a high end casino resort and there’s no mention of the BetMGM retail sportsbook or the BetMGM sportsbook app, which is live in Ohio.
9:42 p.m.: After no sportsbook ads in the commercial break between quarters, an ad for Bet365 comes up in the first break of the second quarter.
It’s a melodramatic commercial featuring Aaron Paul extolling the wagering offerings of Bet365, “the world’s favorite sportsbook.” The sweeping camera shots show Paul in front of a bunch of green neon computer graphics, looking a little like a sedated Jesse Pinkman has gotten stuck in The Matrix.
I’ve either never seen this commercial before or it made such little impact I have no memory of seeing it. It’s certainly not in the commercial rotation on southwest Ohio TV nearly as much as some other sportsbook advertisers.
Caesars’ latest spot with Mannings airs, then more FanDuel
9:47 p.m.: I’ve been keeping an eye on the rotating courtside electronic ad boards to see if a sportsbook jumps in.
Finally, after rolling through Planet Fitness, Michelob Ultra, Jim Beam and Rocky Mountain supermarket chain King Soopers, PointsBet gets its time to shine (for a couple of minutes).
10:02 p.m.: Caesars Sportsbook and Casino joins in on the action. This ad features Caesars regulars J.B. Smoove and Petyon, Eli, Cooper and Archie Manning, plus new guy Vince Vaughn, sitting around a dinner table talking about “going full Caesar,” which we’re told, is when you “place a free bet, while eating a Caesars rewards meal at a Caesars rewards location.” Then Cooper goes into some kind of a “full Caesar” trance and little Caesars float around his head.
Typical of these spots, it’s loud, chaotic and confusing, which they seem to think is necessary to grab viewers’ attention. The opposite approach of bet365, where Aaron Paul comes off low-key and robotic.
Caesars Sportsbook is the Cavaliers’ “Official Sports Betting Partner” but that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the commercial being presented during this Cavs game tonight.
10:10 p.m.: It’s halftime and the Cavs are down 62-58. They’re playing well and hanging around but seemed to be losing some steam toward the end of the half. Seems like they could really use Mitchell’s explosive scoring ability tonight.
10:12 p.m.: It’s the return of FanDuel’s tailgating-themed commercial.
Responsible gambling messages in all sportsbook commercials
It’s at this moment that I remember I meant to be looking out for responsible gambling messaging in the sportsbook commercials.
Just before Christmas, the Ohio Casino Commission Control sent out a letter reminding sportsbook companies that Ohio law requires responsible gaming in all advertising and that that advertising be “conspicuous” and not be presented with “the smallest font, lowest voice, or fastest speech in the advertisement.”
So the fact that I’ve forgotten to keep an eye out for it (even though I’ve written stories about the OCCC’s requirements and think about it probably more than most) suggests that the responsible gaming messaging in TV sportsbook ads is hardly “conspicuous.”
But the messages — basically the gambling hotline number (1-800-GAMBLER) — are there. They’re in small print at the end of the commercial, but they’re there.
10:24 p.m.: The third quarter begins and Jokić seems set on taking the game over, draining back-to-back no-doubt 3-pointers.
10:28 p.m.: Now DraftKings gets its second commercial of the night in. Again, it’s not the Kevin Hart ones.
There is indeed a responsible gambling tagline on the DraftKings spots — “Gambling Problem? Call 1-800-GAMBLER” is at the bottom of the screen toward the end of the ad. The print is small but the message is in all caps and doesn’t seem quite as small as it is in the FanDuel spot.
Ohio Lottery’s responsible gaming campaign gets shout out
10:31 p.m.: PointsBet is back on the courtside ad board.
And there is a quick 10-second in-game ad from the Ohio Lottery in which the announcer says “Know Your Limits to Keep Gambling Fun.”
The Lottery’s Keep it Fun Ohio predates legal sports betting in Ohio, launching in 2020, but it’s especially relevant today. Outside of the gambling hotline taglines in sportsbook advertisements, the 10-second in-game ad is the only overt responsible gambling messaging to run all night.
10:37 p.m.: The sportsbook-mention-free MGM Northfield Park commercial runs again.
10:54 p.m.: We’re into the fourth quarter but there’s a break in the action. After what seemed to be a fairly routine dunk from Evan Mobley, the hoop appears to have come loose or gotten bent.
Players are milling about — Mitchell is casually hanging out on the court in his street clothes chatting with Nuggets players while Jokić keeps warm by jogging back and forth across the court. Arena workers have levels out to make sure the backboard and the rim are straight.
11:02 p.m.: Play resumes after an over 8-minute delay. Which, according to the announcers, is good since a similar incident during a Nuggets game in the arena five days prior led to a 35-minute delay.
11:07 p.m.: It’s PointsBet’s turn again on the revolving courtside ad board.
Sportsbook ads and mentions continue to game’s end
11:08 p.m.: FanDuel pulls ahead in the “most sportsbook commercials in the game” contest with the third airing of the tailgate spot.
11:23 p.m.: The Cavs announcers are doing an in-game ad for a team sweepstakes in which fans can win Cavs game tickets. The promotion is sponsored by Betway, which has been a Cavaliers partner since the 2021-2022 season.
11:28 p.m.: Bet365’s “Jesse Pinkman in The Matrix” spot runs again. (Yes, the gambling addiction hotline is in the small print toward the end of the commercial. It seems to be slightly bigger than it is in the other sportsbooks’ spots.)
11:35 p.m.: Game over. The Nuggets take the game pretty handily, winning 121-108. Jokić is a beast. The Cavs need Mitchell.
11:57 p.m.: Just before the broadcasters sign-off for the night, the FanDuel’s tailgating spot runs for a fourth time, making it the hands-down winner of the “most commercials during the game” trophy. DraftKings and bet365 come in second with just two commercials airing.
New ads from new Ohio sports betting industry are going to get noticed
In the end, I was actually surprised with how few sportsbook commercials there were overall. Perhaps it’s a Bally’s Sports thing. Or maybe I’ve just been over-estimating. But I expected a lot more during a sporting event that you could actually bet on in Ohio.
But it certainly seemed like there were about the same amount of sportsbook ads as there are during non-sports broadcasts and maybe a few less than there typically are during nationally broadcast sporting events on ESPN or network TV.
Regardless, if you watch television at all in the state of Ohio, there’s almost no chance you haven’t seen a sportsbook commercial. They may not be airing at an overwhelming pace, but they are certainly getting noticed.
21+ and present in OH. Gambling Problem? Call 1-800-GAMBLER