The images presented in films and television shows of back-alley entrances to bustling rooms where clerks take bets on sporting events – usually illegally – end in Ohio on Jan. 1, when sports gambling becomes legal here.
And local casinos, pro sports teams and even the Pro Football Hall of Fame are poised to capitalize on that.
More than 30 states currently have legalized sports betting or – like Ohio – are on the verge of it, coming on the heels of the Supreme Court striking down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act in 2018, opening the floodgates.
Gov. Mike DeWine signed the House Bill 29 on Dec. 22, 2021, legalizing and regulating gambling in the state. Interested businesses have taken the time to plan.
MGM Northfield Park anchors Summit County
Walk amid the whirring, bleeps and bloops of video terminals at MGM Northfield to the center of the casino to the Tap Bar. Just to its left sits its sportsbook – five windows for placing bets and 10 nearby betting kiosks.
MGM Northfield is one of three businesses in Summit County granted Type-B licenses, which allow for brick-and-mortar sportsbooks.
With Tap, a sports bar, already serving as an anchor along with Center Bar, MGM Northfield, consistently the No. 1 or No. 2 gambling venue in the state month to month, held an inherent advantage in that a sportsbook blends right into the theme.
MGM removed a gift shop at the Northfield racino and developed an area with 58 seats – some theater style and others booths in the rear of the space that could be configured according to party. They all sit in front of a massive 29-foot-wide-by-8-foot-tall viewing screen that can be arranged to watch multiple sporting events with ancillary televisions off to the sides and servers to take drink orders. For sports fans who dabble in gambling, it could represent nirvana.
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Jack Thistledown Racino has constructed something similar in its North Randall location 8 miles to the north.
Nestled in a corner of the North Randall racino is a setup similar to MGM’s, where visitors already can view sporting events on a massive wall of televisions in advance of the launch of sports betting on Jan. 1. Seating capacity also is similar, but there are a few more televisions. It’s set up to take advantage of the racino’s nearby restaurants.
MGM spokesman Joshua Lewis said one draw for potential customers is convenience in placing bets.
“Guests will have the option to download the BetMGM app and use it to place bets from their seats in the sportsbook, place a bet at our ticket counter or through our BetMGM kiosks,” he said.
However, there is always the challenge of keeping customers in those seats watching, betting, eating and drinking. MGM finds itself in a unique situation in that it may be the closest to a complete Las Vegas-style venue with several restaurants and a concert theater, and although it’s missing table games, there are an ocean of video lottery terminals.
For those who prefer to be near the actual sports action, there will be options.
The Cleveland Cavs get in the game
This summer, the Ohio Casino Control Commission approved sports betting licenses for a number of sports teams statewide, including the Browns, Guardians and Cavaliers. Those licenses include approval to open brick-and-mortar sportsbooks and to partner with companies that specialize in mobile betting.
The Browns partnered with Bally Bet. The Guardians have yet to announce a partner.
The Cavs are joining forces with Caesars Entertainment for a sportsbook, which is currently undergoing finishing touches. The 10,000-square-foot space at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse will be accessible from inside the arena and from an entrance at the Huron Road and Ontario Street intersection.
Senior vice president and chief retail sportsbook officer for Caesars Entertainment, David Grolman, is well aware the Cavs’ sportsbook will be in close proximity to Jack Casino, which also will have a sportsbook. The Rocket Mortgage location will be the second arena location for Caesars. The company opened a sportsbook in Washington, D.C.’s, Capital One Arena in May 2021.
“Cleveland would be a little different, right?” Grolman said. “Because there’s a casino across the street, so it might be the first test anywhere in the country. I would say that if you create the right environment, being in an arena or in the casino outside of the arena both have merit. Really depends on the environment you create for your players.”
There will be a competition factor for retail sportsbooks
Some might view this explosion in sports betting as a license to print money. However, the numbers may tell a different story.
PlayOhio, a gaming industry news website, estimates $9 billion to $12 billion will be bet in the state after a 12- to 18-month customer acquisition period with average revenue of $650 million to $850 million.
The kicker: PlayOhio expects online betting to account for 90-95% of the total. The national average among states with both retail and online betting is 93% online.
The leaves a significant sliver of a pie for retail sportsbooks.
“Just like any other modernized consumer industry, the convenience and responsiveness that online betting offers simply make it more accessible than retail betting,” PlayOhio’s lead analyst Eric Ramsey said. “Even patrons that are already sitting at a sportsbook watching the games will sometimes prefer to open an app and bet electronically rather than wait in line at the window with cash in hand.”
That means the overall experience will make a difference, said MGM’s Lewis. It’s something that Grolman emphasizes given the proximity of Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse to the casino.
The Caesars Washington, D.C., sportsbook is more than 20,000 square feet; Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse’s will be half that. Still, he’s optimistic.
“It’s interesting, because the one in D.C. sometimes can feel big on non-game days. Ten thousand feet’s still a pretty big space,” Grolman said. “Upstairs we’ll have a ton of TVs, lots of seating, wagering kiosks. I think people are going to be really impressed with what they see there.”
There is a vibe they’re going for.
“We would like for people to think it’s a sports bar where you can bet,” Grolman said. “Maybe the difference might be that a sports bar typically has more – the seating tends to be more geared towards dining. We try and mix the sitting places up.”
The Pro Football Hall of Fame is on an island
The Hall of Fame’s sportsbook will find itself in the enviable position of being the only game in town – literally. The state’s regulation, which is based on population, only allows for one location in Stark County.
Part of a $600 million-plus entertainment campus built around the Pro Football Hall of Fame, BetRivers will be a 10,000-square-foot sportsbook site where wagers can be made on sporting events.
Comparable to traditional sports betting, BetRivers will be managed by Rush Street Interactive under a 10-year agreement with Hall of Fame Resort and Entertainment Co., which is building the Hall of Fame Village project.
BetRivers is in the Village’s Fan Engagement Zone, which will include a Don Shula restaurant, The Brew Kettle, Pizza Oven eatery, Topgolf Swing Suites and a Helix Esports Center. BetRivers also will offer food and drinks.
Hall of Fame Village is also partnering on an online sports micro-betting app used on smartphones and managed by Betr, a startup company whose founders include Cleveland-area native Jake Paul, a YouTube star, boxer and entrepreneur.
Micro-betting examples include what player will score the next touchdown, whether a football team will run or pass on the next play, and if the next at-bat will be a single, double, triple, home run, walk or out.
“In today’s world, technology plays a big part of how guests and fans sort of engage,” said Michael Crawford, president and CEO of Hall of Fame Resort and Entertainment. “So our sports betting partner with Betr (is) … one of a kind again. The only micro-betting (app) out there, and I absolutely love it.”
The mobile sports betting app is expected to be available starting Jan. 1. BetRivers, however, isn’t scheduled to open until the summer, Crawford said. Betting online and at the retail sportsbook will be two distinct experiences, he said.
“We think you’re going to have a great time no matter where you’re at on campus, and you can walk, (with) a lot of engaging digital boards where you can watch games and things,” he said. “You can watch a game and place a bet wherever you wish.”
What’s clear: Customers in the area won’t lack for choice.
Ed Balint of the Canton Repository contributed to this report. Reach George M. Thomas at email@example.com.