The Ohio Casino Control Commission completed a million-dollar-plus round of early penalties against mobile sportsbook operators by imposing a $150,000 fine on BetMGM Wednesday for irresponsible marketing.
As with DraftKings, Barstool Sportsbook, and Caesars Sportsbook before it, BetMGM did not contest the hefty fine for violating regulations during the startup of legal sports betting in the state.
The OCCC announced Jan. 5 that BetMGM, DraftKings, and Caesars each faced $150,000 sanctions for failure to provide proper responsible gambling messaging in their marketing, including the lack of sufficient attention to a helpline number for problem gamblers. They also promoted bet offers as “free” or “risk-free” when customers had to post money to take part, and the OCCC has declared the terminology unacceptable when tied to such requirements.
BetMGM officials on Wednesday were the last to appear before the commission to acknowledge the punishment without protest.
“BetMGM takes responsibility that we made an error, and we apologize for that error, and we’re going to remedy that,” Rhea Loney, BetMGM’s chief compliance officer, told the commissioners before they approved the fine unanimously at their monthly meeting.
Loney and Richard Taylor, BetMGM’s senior manager of responsible gaming, gave a detailed presentation about the operator’s training of employees on the issue, its messaging to its affiliate partners, its funding of problem gambling research, and its overall efforts to identify and address gambling problems among customers.
Taylor noted the company has updated its online platform in recent months to make information relating to responsible gambling both more prominent and readable for customers, while making use of the GameSense program developed in British Columbia to offer fuller education about gambling odds and risks to the public.
On top of the three $150,000 fines now issued to BetMGM, DraftKings, and Caesars, DraftKings has paid an additional $350,000 fine and PENN Entertainment paid a separate $250,000 fine for improper promotional activity. The total fines of $1,050,000 connected to the operators’ Jan. 1 launch in Ohio is unlike anything that has occurred in any prior state that legalized and implemented sports betting.
Efforts to address problem gambling outlined
Issues connected to problem gambling received special attention for the commission Wednesday in connection with March’s role as Problem Gaming Awareness Month. The majority of the seven-member commission, including Chairman Thomas Stickrath, were attending their first meeting as new gubernatorial appointees, and they received an overview from Amanda Blackford, the OCCC’s director of operations and problem gambling services.
She noted that as part of the commission’s collaborative efforts with the Ohio Lottery and state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, a third statewide survey was recently completed of the level of gambling and problems related to it in Ohio.
Blackford said a study completed in 2017 showed increases in the prevalence of gambling and related problems compared to a prior one in 2012, which is when casino gambling began in the state. Data from the latest survey conducted in 2022 is undergoing analysis, she said, with a special emphasis on sports betting, as numerous questions were added to the survey to establish a baseline before its Jan. 1 legal launch.
The rate of problem gambling disorder in Ohio’s adult population was identified as 0.9% in the 2017 survey, up from 0.4% five years earlier, and an additional group labeled as at “moderate risk” for addiction increased to 3% from 1.1%.
“There are more Ohioans at risk for problem gambling than there are residents of Columbus,” Blackford said in outlining the various ways in which Ohio tries to address the issue by educating the public, funding treatment, arranging voluntary exclusion through the Time Out program, and promoting phone helplines (either 800-589-9966 or 800-GAMBLER).
She reiterated previously publicized information that January saw a 227% spike in calls within Ohio to the problem gambling helplines from the year before, which can be tied both to the advent of legal sports betting and the wider publicity that helpline numbers are now receiving from operators’ messaging.
Photo: Courtesy of MGM