The Cincinnati Bengals might be the reigning AFC champions, but the Cleveland Browns appear to be the No. 1 team in Ohio when it comes to betting interest.
According to a new PlayOhio survey, 53.9% of current Ohio sports bettors are more interested in betting on the Browns than the Bengals. That still leaves 46.1% who prefer Joe Burrow & Co.
Both teams will need to go through the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers in order to win the increasingly competitive AFC North division.
But this year, Ohio sports fans might be doing more than living and dying with their teams on Sundays. They might be profiting off them.
That’s because the regulated sports betting market in Ohio – where residents will bet games online, at a retail sportsbook, or at a lottery kiosk – is set to launch Jan. 1, 2023.
Why do Ohio bettors favor the Browns?
On paper, the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns are similarly talented teams. Cleveland has a better defense and believes Watson can put the offense over the top.
The Bengals have young stars on offense in Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins, who have already shown how dangerous they can be in the playoffs.
The difference in Ohio betting interest is more to do with geography than comparing the rosters.
According to an analysis of TV markets by FiveThirtyEight, which analyzes polls and other data, the Browns have more viewers in north and central Ohio, while the Bengals’ fandom stretches vertically along the Indiana border down to southern Kentucky.
Central Ohioans tend to support Ohio State University and the Cleveland Browns, while the Cincinnati Bengals and Cincinnati Reds draw fans from the tri-state area of Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky.
That leaves more Ohio residents rooting for the team up north and Cincinnati’s fandom spread across state lines. Bengals fans in Indiana can already bet on their team, as Indiana legalized sports betting in 2019.
Both teams boast impressive TV ratings for mid-sized cities. The Browns’ TV market (Cleveland-Akron) had the sixth-best regular season local market ratings in 2021, just behind the Steelers. The Bengals’ ratings came in 11th.
Bengals have primetime advantage over Browns
When it comes to primetime, nationally televised NFL games in 2022, fans across Ohio are going to get a much heavier dose of the Bengals, who currently have five on the schedule. The Browns are only scheduled to play two, and one is against Cincinnati.
(The NFL will flex certain games into and out of primetime during the season.)
Cincinnati Bengals primetime games:
- Week 4: Thursday Night Football vs. Miami Dolphins
- Week 5: Sunday Night Football at Baltimore Ravens
- Week 8: Monday Night Football at Cleveland Browns
- Week 11: Sunday Night Football at Pittsburgh Steelers
- Week 17: Monday Night Football vs. Buffalo Bills
Cleveland Browns primetime games:
- Week 3: Thursday Night Football vs Pittsburgh Steelers
- Week 8: Monday Night Football vs. Cincinnati Bengals
NFL betting will be big in Ohio
The PlayOhio survey also asked current Ohio bettors which sports they will bet on. Unsurprisingly, the NFL topped the list, with 75.2% of the 620 respondents saying they plan to bet on the league. College football came in second at nearly 52%.
Unfortunately, Ohio’s universal start date of Jan. 1, 2023 will miss most of the 2022 NFL season. PlayOhio previously projected that launching sports betting by Week 1 of the NFL season could be worth over $2 billion in handle during Weeks 1-16. That would have created $112 million of gross revenue and upwards of $11 million in tax revenue.
Alas, the first time Ohioans will be able to place a bet on a hometown team will be at 1 p.m. on Jan. 1 when the Browns kick off against the Washington Commanders.
The Bengals host the Buffalo Bills Monday Night Football the following evening.
Let’s take a look at the NFL betting landscape in Ohio as the state moves closer to legalizing sports betting on Jan. 1.
Browns betting odds volatile because of Deshaun Watson
Back in April, the Browns were actually favored ahead of the Bengals in most Super Bowl futures.
April 2022 BetMGM Super Bowl odds:
- Cleveland Browns +1800
- Cincinnati Bengals +2200
At the time, the Browns were also the AFC North favorites, according to markets:
April 2022 BetMGM AFC North odds:
- Cleveland Browns +160
- Baltimore Ravens +210
- Cincinnati Bengals +240
- Pittsburgh Steelers +900
That was after the Browns had traded for quarterback Deshaun Watson but before investigations into his sexual assault accusations become more serious. The number of accusations were still growing at the time.
Most of the accusations were made by massage therapists alleging that Watson harassed, assaulted or touched them during appointments. Watson has reportedly settled out of court on 20 of the 24 civil suits against him. No criminal charges have been filed.
On Aug. 1, an independent disciplinary officer, Judge Sue L. Robinson, recommended a six-game suspension for Watson. The NFL players union supports the suspension, but the NFL is currently reviewing the ruling and could potentially suspend Watson for longer than that.
Some had expected a longer suspension, potentially for the entire 2022 NFL season. With the news, the Browns’ Super Bowl futures odds rose from +3000 to +2000 — exactly the same as the Bengals and Ravens.
BetMGM Super Bowl futures odds since April
|April 20||July 29||Aug. 1|
The possibility of losing Watson for part or even all of the 2022 NFL season dropped the Browns to third in the divisional odds over the summer, but they recovered slightly with the news of the six-game suspension.
BetMGM AFC North odds
|July 29||Aug. 1|
Bengals are not heavy favorites to repeat as AFC champs
Bettors are certainly giving the up-and-coming Bengals a shot at another deep postseason run. But the decidedly competitive AFC landscape is keeping them a step below the favorites.
The Bengals are currently +1100 to win the AFC and +2000 to win the Super Bowl.
That’s still a far cry from lines well over +10000 for the Bengals to win the title last preseason.
In a densely packed AFC, the reigning conference champs only have the fifth-best odds to repeat. The Bengals are tied with the Ravens and Browns at +1100 to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, with the Buffalo Bills (+300), Kansas City Chiefs (+450), Denver Broncos (+850) and Los Angeles Chargers (+850) more heavily favored.
The Bengals, Ravens and Browns are also equal at +2000 to win the Super Bowl, tied for 10th in the NFL.
With so many talented rosters and star quarterbacks in the conference, the AFC playoffs could certainly become a bloodbath. Plus, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Baltimore stand in each other’s way of reaching the playoffs at all.
When it comes to quarterbacks in the division, Burrow stands out as the favorite to win the league MVP award.
Burrow is currently +1200 to take home the MVP, tied for fifth-highest odds in the league. Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson is just behind at +2000, and Steelers QB Mitchell Trubisky is a longshot at +8000. Watson is not currently listed.
More PlayOhio sports betting survey results
PlayOhio surveyed 620 Ohio residents who currently bet on sports in Ohio. Among the findings:
- 46% of Ohio sports bettors plan to bet weekly;
- Over 90% said betting on a legal site is either “very important” or “somewhat important;”
- More than half plan to sign up for a new sportsbook app once sports betting in Ohio is legal.
Find more details about the survey results here.