Ohio is continuing to take a hard line with its regulated gambling market, authorizing the state regulator to issue a gambling ban to those threatening violence against sports figures, alongside other policy changes. That rule is part of the 2024-2025 budget bill signed by Gov. Mike DeWine on July 5. It protects athletes and others involved with sports like referees, coaches, team owners, and executives.
Any bettor found to have issued threats will be prohibited from using any retail or online sportsbook in Ohio. However, it is unclear how the Ohio Casino Control Commission (OCCC) or operators will determine or monitor a threat deemed worthy of a ban.
The new law comes after rising concerns about violent threats against athletes. In Ohio’s case, an incident in January—just weeks after the launch of sports betting—had lawmakers looking into the issue.
On Jan 17, University of Dayton men’s basketball head coach Anthony Grant raised concerns after he said players were subject to social media abuse from gamblers after a loss. The coach was particularly worried because the players were “kids.”
That was not an isolated incident. According to ESPN, college athletes often receive abuse from gamblers, including death threats. ESPN said an FBI agent told them that the agency considers threats to athletes on social media to be a growing issue.
Ohio’s new law makes it the first state to try to fight the concerning trend. West Virginia also introduced similar legislation this year.
The new law also enhances OCCC’s image as a strong regulator.
OCCC Has Been a Tough Regulator From Day One
OCCC set the tone that it will play hardball with operators since sports betting launched in Ohio on Jan 1. On Jan 5, the agency handed a $350,000 fine to DraftKings for advertising to minors and a $250,000 fine to Penn Sports for hosting a pregame show at the University of Toledo campus.
In addition, OCCC fined DraftKings, Caesars, and BetMGM $150,000 each for using “risk-free” and “free bets” language in their promos. The state banned that wording at the outset, and operators were aware.
OCCC was at the forefront of strict regulations for such wording. That led the American Gaming Association to move away from using the language and other states to pass similar measures.
OCCC upheld its reputation by denying a sports betting license to PlayUp, an Australian company. The rejection came after OCCC found that the Slots+ games that the operator offered in Ohio resemble casino games and violate state law.
As a result, PlayUp settled with OCCC and agreed not to pursue a license in the state for four years.
Ohio To Ban Gambling Promos In Non-Gambling Spaces
At the end of June, OCCC proposed a new regulation to limit gambling promotions on non-gambling websites and transactions. The move comes after the regulator asked Fanatics Sportsbook to remove a promotion it offered in May.
The promotion gave Fanatics’ sports merchandise customers a bet credit for the size of their purchase. So if someone bought $20 worth of Cleveland Browns or Cavaliers gear, they could get a $20 bet credit at Fanatics Sportsbook.
While the Fanatics promo is the most prominent example, OCCC said that other operators were doing similar promos. One example is a promotion for BetMGM on a food delivery app.
OCCC has a problem with gambling promos spreading outside the sports betting universe. The regulator says responsible gambling is a “cornerstone” of sports betting in Ohio. It added that these promos normalize gambling, threatening the industry’s integrity in the state.
OCCC cites research which shows that normalizing gambling leads to an increase in problem gambling, especially among youth. OCCC also says that these promotions lack the necessary measures to verify age or comply with self-exclusion lists and opt-outs.
According to the communication OCCC sent to stakeholders, they had until July 7 to remove any promotions deemed unlawful by the regulator. OCCC suggested new language to clarify any confusion in the future:
“Sports gaming proprietors may not offer a promotion or bonus in connection with or as a result of a non-gaming consumer transaction. This paragraph does not prohibit a sports gaming proprietor from participating in a consumer loyalty program, as approved by the executive director.”
Under the new language, sports betting operators like Fanatics can still advertise on their sports merchandise websites. However, it’s still unclear how they would avoid advertising to minors.
Ohio Increases Sportsbooks’ Tax Rate
The $190 billion 2024-25 budget also includes a tax increase on sports betting operators. The move was expected, as the governor pushed for the increase from 10% to 20%. The new tax rate puts the state around the average across the U.S.
However, while the move intends to help Ohioans with an increase in tax revenue, it might force operators to cut costs to offset the increase. DraftKings already did that in Connecticut.
Some experts add that the new tax rate might force smaller brands to leave the state. That will create less competition, which can mean worse odds for bettors.