Australian-based PlayUp has reached a settlement with the Ohio Casino Control Commission (OCCC) after the latter raised questions about its sports betting license application. Under the settlement terms, PlayUp has agreed to pay $120,000 in fines and refrain from re-applying for an Ohio gaming license for four years.
The fines consist of a $90,000 payment to the state and $30,000 to Ohio residents who used its PlayUp Slots+ app. That gray market product was at the heart of the OCCC’s objections. PlayUp has since taken Slots+ off the market.
The OCCC denied PlayUp’s sportsbook license application because it deemed the Slots+ games illegal. The withdrawal means the company won’t have a license denial on its record, but the settlement may still damage its future business.
PlayUp and its partner JACK Cleveland Casino initially requested a public hearing. The partners later decided to settle with the state and not pursue a license. As part of the settlement, PlayUp must give at least 90 days advance notice if it plans to file for an application after its four-year cool-off period elapses.
The Ohio settlement marks another misstep in PlayUp’s US expansion.
PlayUp’s Ohio Troubles Began With PlayUp Slots+
In December, the OCCC issued a cease and desist order to PlayUp for its Slots+.
Despite providing slots-like gameplay, the app attempted to use federal parimutuel betting laws to circumvent prohibitions on casino gambling. PlayUp’s legal logic was similar to the historical horse racing (HHR) machines found in some states.
HHRs allow betting on races that have already occurred using anonymized historical data. They then present the outcomes in the form of slots-like graphics. Slots+ was similar but used current race results to determine the outcome of its games in place of a random number generator.
More importantly, HHR is usually a concept explicitly endorsed by a state to avoid the need for a constitutional referendum on new forms of gambling. PlayUp ran afoul of the OCCC by attempting to use the same loophole without obtaining regulators’ or lawmakers’ blessing.
The OCCC determined that PlayUp has been offering “slots, lottery, virtual sports, match 3 and scratchers” illegally in Ohio since Apr. 16, 2015.
The regulator also stated that PlayUp used “false, deceptive, misleading, or otherwise impermissible advertising by advertising the Slots+ product as legal gaming in the state of Ohio.”
PlayUp immediately took down the website and the app in the state. But that was not enough to convince the OCCC. The regulator informed PlayUp that it would deny its sports betting application.
A Stain on PlayUp’s Reputation
While it won’t officially have a license denial on its record, PlayUp hasn’t emerged squeaky clean. It must still notify every jurisdiction where it wishes to operate that it has decided to withdraw its application in Ohio. That includes anywhere it currently holds a license, and anywhere it might apply.
Concerned regulators won’t have a hard time determining why that is. Some state regulators might view the withdrawal the same as they would a denied application, mainly because the move was made to avoid a denial.
PlayUp Sportsbook is live in only two states: Colorado and New Jersey. It also expects to launch soon in Iowa and aims to enter Indiana afterward. The company’s racebook is available in 27 states.
Ohio Troubles Add To PlayUp’s US Failures
The settlement in Ohio is not the first time PlayUp has been in the news for the wrong reasons. In 2021, the company was close to reaching an agreement with the now-infamous cryptocurrency exchange company FTX. However, after FTX pulled out of the $450 million deal, PlayUp blamed former US CEO Dr. Laila Mintas, saying she derailed the agreement.
PlayUp filed a lawsuit against Mintas, who filed a countersuit. Both parties pointed the finger at each other for the failed deal. That legal battle is still ongoing.
Meanwhile, PlayUp found another potential buyer in September 2022. The gaming company and special purpose acquisitions company IG Acquisition Corp. agreed to a nearly $400 million deal. The agreement would have allowed PlayUp to trade as an Irish entity on Nasdaq. However, in January 2023, IG Acquisition Corp. announced it had terminated the relationship. The company stated that PlayUp failed to provide the required financial documents on the agreed-upon terms.
Two failed acquisitions and pulling out of Ohio means PlayUp may have a long road ahead to solidify itself in the US and find a potential buyer.