Nearly four decades after Pete Rose got in trouble for betting on his team playing baseball in Cincinnati, attendees at Great American Ball Park for the Reds’ season opener Thursday afternoon have a chance to bet on the team like he did — only without any repercussions.
The Reds are one of three MLB franchises to have embraced a retail sportsbook operation in states whose sports betting laws have allowed that option. The club’s retail betting partner, BetMGM, also has a sportsbook at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., while the Arizona Diamondbacks have teamed with Caesars Sportsbook for a retail operation at Chase Field in Phoenix.
The one hitch is that MLB rules bar back-and-forth access to a sportsbook for fans within the stadium on game days. They must use the same exterior entrance as the public visiting the sportsbook uses throughout the week, as is the case with visitors to the BetMGM Sportsbook in Great American Ball Park’s Machine Room, which is open until 10 p.m. or midnight every day on the stadium’s northeast side.
While many of those attending Thursday’s Reds opener vs. the Pirates might make a side trip on their way into the ballpark to get a bet down on Hunter Greene to lead Cincy to its first win (BetMGM had the Reds favored -140 Wednesday morning), a similar opportunity won’t be available to Guardians fans when Cleveland opens against the Seattle Mariners on April 7.
That day for Guardians-betting fans attending games is evidently not far off, however.
While Cleveland’s franchise was slower than Cincinnati’s to take advantage of the legal retail betting that started Jan. 1 across the state — which supplements the more widely used online sportsbooks — it is preparing to announce details Thursday of how that will happen this season.
“Working with our retail partner Fanatics, we plan to open a small in-person betting location in close proximity to Progressive Field middle of the ’23 season,” a Guardians team spokesman told OH Bets this week.
Betting activity comparably small so far
BetMGM’s operation in the home of the Reds fits a broader description than that of “small in-person betting location.” It involved adaptation of the existing Machine Room sports bar/restaurant, which since Jan. 1 has had three betting windows and 15 betting kiosks to go with some 50 TV screens that surround a large central bar.
Even if customers can’t walk directly into a stadium concourse on their way to a seat, the large-ceilinged betting room on the ballpark’s second level has a wide-window view of the action on the field along the third base line.
For patrons who must be 21 or older, it’s an attractive area for a drink or a bet regardless of whether a ball game is taking place, but in the middle of winter it was not among the most popular venues in which to place a bet in Ohio. In January, it took a total of $119,802 in bets (and lost $8,646 to customers on them), which was less than that of any location except the temporary SuperBook location of FC Cincinnati within Taft’s Ale House.
Unlike the Machine Room and BetMGM Sportsbook, most other retail operations are within casinos and racinos that have large volumes of gambling-minded customers within them on a daily basis in January just like June, and their new sportsbooks add one more reason to be there. BetMGM’s other retail book at MGM Northfield Park, for example, took $2.1 million in bets in January, nearly 20 times as much as at the ballpark.
With the Reds starting their season, that gap should narrow at least somewhat.
Foot traffic will be different now
Johnny Grooms, BetMGM’s director of East Coast retail sportsbook operations, told OH Bets that with the start of baseball season, “The expectation is we’re going to see more betting, just because of the amount of foot traffic that will be generated now. … I can’t share just how much, but we think it will be a good increase.”
BetMGM has arranged various promotions marketing the possibility of betting at the ballpark, including giving away a T-shirt, $10 online bonus bet, and a chance at premium Reds tickets for those who take a selfie at the sportsbook and post it on social media. A special “Legends of Cincy” event was held at the sportsbook Saturday night, with onetime local stars Sean Casey, Kenyon Martin, and T.J. Houshmandzadeh promoting the venue while sharing stories.
Grooms has had experience learning how Washington Nationals baseball fans have taken to betting in BetMGM’s similar sportsbook at the D.C. stadium. In both cases, fans can also bet by phone before, during, or after games, but that’s not what everyone wants.
“The ability to be inside the sportsbook, to feel the vibe, that adds to the experience,” he said. “It’s pretty neat when you’re in there and there’s a popular bet on Joey Votto to hit a home run, and he comes to the plate and everyone’s going, ‘Come on! Come on!’”
It is not projected to be a great year for these Reds, with BetMGM among sportsbooks setting the over/under on their win total at 65.5 after they won 62 last year. That pessimism doesn’t worry Grooms about the level of support the Reds will receive from their fans, which he expects to spill over to the sportsbook.
“The fan base for the Reds is extremely passionate,” he noted. “They support the Reds, Bengals, and local collegiate teams in Cincinnati, and it typically turns out very well. My expectation is that like in any year, the Reds will field a team competitive in many ways. Yes, they’re rebuilding, but who knows?”
Photo courtesy of Cincinnati Reds/BetMGM