CINCINNATI — Five days after applying for a sports-betting proprietor license in Ohio, the Cincinnati Bengals announced a partnership with Betfred, a UK-based sportsbook operator to develop "unique promotions and content" for gamblers.
The Bengals are one of eight companies to seek a proprietor license since June 15, when state officials made 85 licenses available in three different categories: Online betting, retail sportsbooks and kiosk betting for bars and restaurants.
Ohio was praised by the gambling industry for its relatively low tax rate and open-market approach, which led some to predict Ohio would grow into one of the nation’s biggest sports gambling markets. But that praise has yet to translate into heavy demand for licenses.
“We are talking daily with a lot of folks that are interested,” said Jessica Franks, spokeswoman for the Ohio Casino Control Commission, which imposed a July 15 deadline for its initial application window. “The deadline is just for those folks who want to be guaranteed to be considered for starting on January 1. We’re not going to stop accepting applications on July 16.”
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A journalist who followed sports-betting launches in other states said Ohio will probably see a flurry of last-minute applications by Friday. So, the low number of applicants might not be a cause for concern unless it continues.
“I’m actually planning a wedding right now. And if I had only 8 people out of 85 say that they were coming, I think I’d be having a panic attack at that point,” said Geoff Zochodne, who follows the sports-betting industry for Covers, an online publication. “But part of party etiquette is that you don’t want to show up too early. Some people even like to be fashionably late to parties.”
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State officials estimate Ohio sports betting will be a $1 billion industry in its first year, growing to $3.35 billion within a few years. But analysts have predicted Ohio could grow to between $8 billion and $12 billion because of its industry friendly approach.
“Every operator you can think of is going to be looking for a license in Ohio,” said Eric Ramsey, lead market analyst for the PlayUSA Network, in a March interview with WCPO.
Four months later, Ramsey isn’t concerned by Ohio’s lack of proprietor applications because three of the industry’s biggest betting apps have applied to be MMSPs, or service providers, when Ohio launches. That means FanDuel, Draft Kings and Bet MGM will be part of the action when Ohio’s sports betting market launches Jan. 1.
“Most of the MMSPs we're looking for are already present, with the notable exceptions of Caesars and Rush Street Interactive (BetRivers),” Ramsey said via email. “I'd expect to both of see those names on the final list, along with perhaps Tipico, Fubo, and betParx (which have all secured early partnerships with prospective Type A/B proprietors). As long as we have these 8 or 10 MMSPs ready to go, launch will be hugely successful.”
The Bengals initially declined to comment on its plans for a Type A license, which would allow it to partner with up to two service providers to share in the profits from sports-betting apps.
“They will probably wind up with a pretty significant partner,” Zochodne said. “This is an NFL franchise. There’s only so many of them in the U.S. They’re fresh off that Super Bowl run. There’s going to be a lot of interest in partnering with them.”
In a July 13 press release, the team said its multi-year partnership with Betfred will allow it to "create fun, fan-focused activations that add to the excitement on gameday."
Betfred Chief Operating Officer Mark Stebbings said his company introduce Bengals fans to "unique betting promotions and content throughout the year."
Zochodne said he was surprised the Bengals applied only for a Type-A license, which costs up to $3.33 million for sports teams that have two management partners. He thought it might opt for a $90,000 Type B license for retail sportsbooks.
Ramsey was also surprised by the lack of applicants for Type B licenses, which allow up to 40 brick-and-mortar locations for sportsbooks statewide, including 10 sports facilities, seven racinos and four casinos. So far, the only applicants in this category are the Hall of Fame Village in Stark County and two Cleveland-area locations owned by Jack Entertainment.
The Cincinnati Reds told state legislators last summer that it wants a retail sportsbook at the Banks. FC Cincinnati said it is considering a sportsbook inside TQL Stadium or in a commercial development next to it. But neither team has applied for a proprietor license.
“This application process amounts to a public disclosure of intent that some of these prospective proprietors may not be ready to make just yet,” Ramsey said. “The Bengals, for example, had not really provided any public indication that they're interested in participating in sports betting until they appeared on this list. So that was a surprise to me. It's possible that some of the other teams and venues may want to wait longer before they make their intentions publicly known by seeking licensure.”
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