SPIRE Institute Represents A Most Unusual Applicant For A Sports Betting License

Sports-focused prep school looks to somehow be part of Ohio's new sportsbook industry
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To think that a high school institution would be mentioned in the same conversation about gambling with the Hollywood Casinos, Hard Rock Casino, and the Cleveland Browns would seem unlikely.

Well, think again.

SPIRE Institute, a college prep school that focuses on sports performance and training, applied for Type A and Type B sports betting licenses this summer, just like nationally recognized sports gambling entities and Ohio-based  professional sports franchises. It expects like them to become part of Ohio’s sports betting industry when wagering officially launches on Jan. 1, 2023.

“Nowhere else have I’ve heard of this happening,” said Problem Gambling Network of Ohio Executive Director Derek Longmeier, referencing a school such as SPIRE submitting applications for sports wagering licenses. “It did catch me by surprise. Nowhere else can I find that this can happen.”

The Ohio Casino Control Commission received applications for Type A and Type B sports betting licenses from SPIRE, under the name Geneva Sports LLC, on July 15. SPIRE, which is located nearly 50 miles east of Cleveland in Geneva, submitted applications on the final day of the first application window designated for several type of sports betting licenses, including Type A and Type B.

Type A licenses authorize sports wagering proprietors to offer betting through one or two online sportsbooks. Type B licenses authorize a sports wagering proprietor to offer betting at an approved retail facility. The commission received 22 applications for Type A licenses and 25 applications for Type B licenses during the first installment window.

Making a huge financial statement

There’s nothing in SPIRE’s history to suggest it would want to become a part of the sports betting business in the Buckeye State. Yet, the sports-focused prep school applied for licenses that carry a non-refundable application fee of $150,000 for a Type A license and $20,000 for a Type B license.

“Not only did they make an effort to apply for a sports betting license, they were willing to pay the expense,” Longmeier noted. “That’s [money] they’re spending, so there was some planning that went on to do this.”

OH Bets made several attempts to speak with SPIRE officials, who did not respond to phone and email messages.

Longmeier believes there is plenty to be concerned about with a high school looking to become involved in the sports betting business. He thinks it conveys  the wrong message to student-athletes when an academic institution is willing to take part in a gambling business. Could it lead to teens trying to place wagers on sports? Could it lead to gambling harm for some student-athletes down the road?

Longmeier believes the fact that a school has applied for a sports betting license is reason enough for the casino commission to possibly rethink the application  and eligibility process.

“It really makes you think about what other things that might come up with the way [the law] is loosely drafted,” Longmeier said. “If I were other sportsbooks, I would wonder how is that good to run a sportsbook in Ohio if a high school could also run a sportsbook?”

SPIRE looking to jump into new arena

Based upon the law, enacted as HB 29 and signed by Gov Mike DeWine on Dec. 22, SPIRE could be approved to offer sports betting on one or more online sportsbooks or at an approved sports wagering site. As a prep school that attracts students seeking to specialize in a particular sport, it seems an unlikely fit with other establishments more commonly suited to offer sports wagering. 

“I think that’s very much outside of what the General Assembly had anticipated,” Longmeier said.

SPIRE bills itself on its website as one of “the most unique and comprehensive Athletic, Academic, Personal and Career Development organizations in the world.” A 750,000-square-foot, indoor, multi-sport, training, and education facility exists on the property, which totals 300 acres. It caters to 9th- through 12th-graders focused on honing their athletic skills.

SPIRE offers specialized training in basketball, lacrosse, soccer, swimming, track and field, and wrestling, as well as esports. Tuition reportedly costs in the $50K range per year.

It also lists on its website a lineup of notable athletes who serve as SPIRE ambassadors, including Olympic swimmers Ryan Lochte and Elizabeth Beisel, former NBA All-Star Dikembe Mutombo, and Olympic gold medalist long jumper Dwight Phillips.

The training facilities include a 25,000-square-foot performance center that can host events on up to six basketball courts or a dozen volleyball courts. SPIRE also has both an indoor track-and-field facility and an outdoor track-and-field venue. Amenities also include a 4,500-square-foot power-lift strength center and an aquatics center for swimmers to train and compete. It even lists the Cleveland Clinic as the school’s official medical provider.

Playing the waiting game

The Ohio commission is in the process of reviewing the applications submitted during the first installment window. The review process includes conducting criminal and financial background checks. The commission hasn’t announced a specific date when applicants will be notified if they’ve been approved for a sports wagering license.

Commission Executive Director Matt Schuler said the plan is to make sure that applicants will be notified of the decision well in advance of Jan. 1 to give those that receive approval time to get ready to begin operations on the start date.

Schuler also noted that submitting an application isn’t a guarantee of approval for a sports betting license. Each applicant is to be vetted closely. So, it may be a while before it’s known whether SPIRE will be issued a sports betting license.

“What the General Assembly put in that log is what we’re going to look at, fairly and impartially, [for] every applicant,” Schuler said. “Every applicant is different, but they’re all required to provide the commission with the same information.”

No matter if the applicant is a well-known sports betting business entity or a unicorn looking to become an unlikely entrant.

Photo: Ken Blaze/USA TODAY

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