Legal sports betting goes live in Ohio this weekend, and the state’s sports betting regulator, the Ohio Casino Control Commission (OCCC), wants to ensure that operators take responsible gambling seriously.
The OCCC sent a memo to gaming stakeholders last week, asking that responsible gambling measures be reviewed after notable violations in the state. The letter came after PENN Entertainment/Barstool Sportsbook was fined $250,000 for advertising to underage individuals.
The penalty was levied after Barstool’s College Football Show visited Toledo for a University of Toledo football game and the show’s host shared a pre-registration promo code for Barstool Sportsbook during the program. DraftKings was also recently issued a notice of violation for a November infraction, as the operator mailed advertisement materials to individuals under the age of 21. The violation carries a possible fine of $350,000.
Specifics from the Ohio Casino Control Commission’s notice of violation to PENN Entertainment/Barstool Sportsbooks. The issue stems from the Barstool College Football Show’s visit to Toledo in November.
— Bennett Conlin (@BennettConlin) December 14, 2022
“In recent weeks, the advertising actions of the industry at large has been concerning,” the OCCC memo read. “As you know, back in June the commission published FAQs allowing advertising prelaunch and clearly stating the standards the industry would be held to—the standards in Ohio law. However, the commission has seen the industry break three of these core tenets recently.”
Those three tenets are:
- All advertisements must contain a responsible gambling message.
- All RG messages must be conspicuous.
- Advertisements can’t target individuals under the age of 21.
The timing of the memo makes sense. With 16 mobile sportsbooks expected to go live in Ohio on Jan. 1, regulators want to ensure responsible gambling provisions aren’t skirted.
“These tenets comport with a stance the industry repeats itself over and over again; namely, that the industry does not want to have people participating in gaming if they are underage or have a gambling problem,” the memo continued. “As such, the Commission is disappointed to be seeing apparent consistent violations.”
The OCCC’s letter also asked stakeholders to immediately review responsible gambling messaging used in advertisements to reduce shortcomings in the future.
“We understand mistakes happen, but it is not a mistake when it appears to be this consistent,” the letter noted.
At the same time, it’s fair to question just how much impact the punishments really have on the major operators. For PENN Entertainment, does a $250,000 fine do much to change its advertising behavior? Clearly the OCCC wants to encourage responsible gambling best practices, which is important, but will operators go beyond the legal necessities to encourage their bettors to wager responsibly?
“We’ll pay the fine and move on,” PENN Entertainment CEO Jay Snowden said when discussing the penalty at a recent Massachusetts Gaming Commission meeting. “It won’t happen again.”
Widespread access a concern?
Ohio represents an interesting responsible gambling case study, as the state is allowing widespread access to legal sports betting.
Casinos and professional sports arenas are among the locations expected to have retail sportsbooks. Hundreds of sports betting kiosks will also be allowed across the state at smaller establishments, including bars, restaurants, bowling alleys, and grocery stores.
Over 15 mobile operators will launch in the coming days, giving bettors across Ohio access to digital wagering platforms. With such widespread access to betting, will problem gambling issues grow in Ohio?
Amanda Blackford, the OCCC’s director of operations and problem gambling services, mentioned possible concerns stemming from widespread wagering when recently discussing Pause Before You Play, a responsible gambling campaign from Ohio for Responsible Gambling. The campaign focuses on helping users build responsible betting habits.
Ohio has legalized sports betting, which has led problem gambling groups to redouble their prevention efforts. One such effort is Pause Before You Play, a campaign and community toolkit to encourage responsible sports betting. Access the toolkit at https://t.co/UkamHcmKzf. pic.twitter.com/ggyOtL6hdc
— Ohio Behavioral Health Prevention & Promotion COE (@OHpreventionCOE) December 8, 2022
“In other states that preceded Ohio in legalizing sports betting, we’ve seen higher interest and more struggles with problem gambling,” Blackford said. “We want people to have fun and be responsible.”
The OCCC hopes better advertising practices from operators can prevent possible problem gambling behavior. The OCCC is also stressing the importance of directing those in need to proper resources, like responsible gambling hotlines.
“An advertisement should not have to be zoomed in on, slowed down, or the volume turned up for an individual to see or hear a helpline number,” the letter said. “Our expectation is that the helpline number be at least nearly as clear, legible, and audible as the advertisement, whether advertised directly by the operator or through an affiliate marketer. To be clear, conspicuous certainly is not having the responsible gambling tagline in the smallest font, lowest voice, or fastest speech in the advertisement.”