SBC Rewind: Ohio goes live and operators debate “risk-free” lines

Ohio flag
Image: Shutterstock

2023 has been a whirlwind year for US sports betting and online casino, with huge industry-defining narratives keeping us busy all year long. 

So, as the year comes to a close, SBC Americas recaps the biggest stories shaping the sector over the last 12 months.

In this edition, January and February, we look back at new market launches, advertising and marketing standards and a change of direction at Bally’s

Ohio launches sports betting

2023 kicked off with a bang. As celebrations were getting underway on Times Square as the clock struck midnight, legal sports betting began in Ohio.

Operators were ready with sign-up offers and promotions, such as FanDuel’s shoo-in of a wager that there would be at least one passing yard in Sunday’s game between the Washington Commanders and the Cleveland Browns. New bettors could wager $50 on the promotion to win $100.

Operators “made” $200m in revenue during January, mostly propped up by high levels of promotional credit spending. This was rolled back during the year, but the Buckeye State has become one of the most intriguing markets to watch.

Massachusetts retail betting goes live

While the online market was not to go live until March, retail betting opened on the casino floors in January. 

Wynn Resorts’ Encore Casino operates the WynnBet sportsbook brand, MGM Springfield uses its BetMGM JV brand, whilst Plainridge Park later opened a sportsbook using the Barstool Sportsbook brand. Caesars also partnered with Raynham Park casino to operate its retail sportsbook. 

Retail bets are taxed at 15%, a lower rate than online bets. The retail betting industry has been quieter than the online counterpart in 2023, though there were notable hiccups at the start when two licensees took bets on unauthorized games early into market launch.

Operators ditch risk-free terminology

Following high-profile criticism of industry advertising practices in 2022, operators did their best to fight back at the start of 2023. 

But while firms such as FanDuel and DraftKings rolled back the use of terms such as “risk-free” and “free bets” from their marketing material in 2022, regulators began to weigh in during this year. 

The New York State Gaming Commission was the first to assert its force, approving an addendum to existing marketing rules to crack down on misleading terms like “risk-free”.

There are also measures in place limiting any sort of advertising that promotes irresponsible gambling behavior or gambling as a right of passage. Operators are no longer allowed to advertise specific bets to bettors in the state as well.

Whether this has had the desired effect is yet to be determined as operators, instead of pulling back “risk-free” type messaging, have reinvented the wheel and used phrases such as “bonus bets”.

Bally’s initiates refreshed leadership to save interactive unit

After revealing a dreadful 2022 for its online business in North America, which lost over $400m, Bally’s Corporation replaced its CEO Lee Fenton with North American Interactive President Robeson Reeves

Reeves was tasked with turning around the fortunes of the failing business, cutting down costs while growing revenues in a meaningful way. 

While 2023 later saw Bally’s ditch its in-house tech stack and migrate to a Kambi sportsbook platform, the year began with Bally’s cutting the life support on Monkey Knife Fight. The fantasy sports platform, which it acquired for around $90m just 18 months prior, was the first victim of Bally’s cost-cutting endeavor that would define its 2023. 

The fantasy site posted: “When Monkey Knife Fight launched in 2018, we wanted to revolutionize the daily fantasy sports game. Through COVID and Crotchball and multiple Tom Brady retirements, we did just that. 

“However, as Yogi Berra once said: ‘the future ain’t what it used to be’. And so, with a heavy heart, we regretfully announce that Monkey Knife Fight has shut down permanently as of today.”