As the launch of legal sports betting approached in Ohio, Jack Entertainment’s Adam Suliman was prepared for almost anything. The senior vice president of sports and digital gaming for the operator, Suliman and co-workers had traveled to sportsbooks across the country – and even to a few in Europe – to get a feel for what to expect. They spent time reviewing regulations set by the Ohio Casino Control Commission and ensured that its sportsbooks at two locations, Jack Casino and Thistledown Racetrack, were prepared and ready to accept wagers at 12:01 a.m. on New Year’s Day.
Things went smoothly as bettors began logging on to the operator’s digital app. But what happened at Jack’s brick-and-mortar sportsbooks “exceeded our expectations,” Suliman says.
“The sportsbooks have been jammed ever since (the opening). Every night it’s been a lot of fun, and it reminds me a lot of going to Vegas to visit the sportsbooks, which is exactly what we’re going for. Right now, we’re doing very well and are pleased with the outcome.”
Sports wagering is off to a quick start across Ohio. Citing data from geolocation and anti-fraud company GeoComply, Truist Securities Managing Director Barry Jonas notes there were more than 11 million bets during the first two days of live wagering, outpacing New York (more than 9 million wagers) and Pennsylvania (8 million plus). Jonas adds that PlayOhio estimates sports betting could generate $8 billion in wagers in 2023.
“We project that Ohio will be the ninth largest state in terms of GGR generated in 2025,” Jonas said via email.
Anticipation started to build when Ohio lawmakers passed a sports betting bill in December 2022. With multiple professional teams in the state and the rabid fan base of Ohio State University, interest in sports betting was not surprising. But Vince Guerrieri, a Cleveland area journalist who wrote about the launch of sports betting for Cleveland Magazine, says it’s important to look at the history of gaming in Ohio to get a sense of how sports betting will play out.
“I do think there is absolutely a market for things like this,” Guerrieri says, noting that outside of football, baseball teams in Cincinnati and Cleveland, the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, and even golf are likely to attract bettors. “There definitely will be year-round interest. But when it comes to gambling, there’s always – and we saw this when table games came in and with slot machines –an initial novelty, and then the numbers tend to level off.”
Because of the January 1 launch, sportsbooks and operators – including FanDuel, DraftKings, BetMGM, Barstool Sports, Caesars Entertainment and bet365 – could not take advantage of the bulk of last year’s college and professional football seasons. Ohio State’s last football game was December 31, a heartbreaking loss to Georgia in the College Football Playoffs. Bettors were limited to wagering on four games involving the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns (and the Bengals’ penultimate game was canceled due to the on-field health issue involving the Buffalo Bills’ Damar Hamlin).
Suliman admits the January 1 launch wasn’t optimal, given Ohio’s passionate collegiate and professional football fanbase. But he thinks interest in the NBA and the Cleveland Cavaliers will be strong. He points to Columbus’s pro teams – NHL’s Blue Jackets and MLS’s the Crew – and their strong fan base as reasons for optimism.
“I’m not naïve,” Suliman says. “It’s certainly going to be challenging this summer to drive handle and revenue that’s anywhere near (football season) levels. We knew that before we got into this, it’s not our first rodeo. Right now, we just need to plan accordingly for that.”
Guerrieri says that there were rumblings about the year’s delay in the run-up to the launch. Jessica Franks, director of communications for the Ohio Casino Control Commission, admits that the interim between sports betting being legalized and its launch was met with some dissatisfaction.
“There were plenty of folks hoping it could be done faster,” she says. “But given the amount of work needed for us to implement our rules, which is a long process on its own, and then do all of the licensing and compliance work, I think a year is about as fast as we probably could have done it.”
Franks says that the 29 online and in-person licensed operators comprised the “largest simultaneous launch, as far as the Commission can tell, in the nation.” Glitches have been minimal or nonexistent, save for some minor delays logging online when sports betting launched on January 1.
A few operators did run afoul of OCCC standards in the first week of sports betting. DraftKings was fined $350,000 for directly sending approximately 2,500 advertisements to individuals under 21. Penn Sports Interactive, the parent company of Barstool Sports at Hollywood Casino, was fined $250,000 for targeting underage bettors at a show it hosted at the University of Toledo.
“We gave them a lot of guidance and reminders about what expectations were and we contacted everybody numerous times to explain, ‘Hey, these are the issues we’re seeing; these need to be corrected,’” Franks says. “When we keep having repeated violations, even after multiple reminders that explicitly said `what we’re seeing this needs to befixed,’ we really didn’t have a choice but to take administrative action.”
“We are seeing improvement, so that’s great,” Franks added. “Our goal is always long-term compliance with our rules and regulations, and so hopefully, we have sent a message that these kinds of things, if we keep seeing repeated violations, we will take action.”