As Legal Sports Betting Nears, Here’s What You Need to Know

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Sports betting becomes legal in Ohio on New Year’s Day, and dozens of Mahoning Valley bars will be ready with wagering kiosks that can be operated by patrons.

So far, the state casino control commission has approved kiosks for 46 bars and restaurants in Mahoning County, 22 in Trumbull and eight in Columbiana. The kiosks are similar in size and appearance to the Ohio Lottery kiosks that are already common in bars.

Those who prefer the convenience of betting online will also be able to get in on the action through betting apps on smartphones and home computers.

Established sportsbook apps such as DraftKings, FanDuel, Bet MGM and Barstool Sports have been available to Ohioans for months. But after Jan. 1, wagers can be placed from within the Buckeye State. Bettors will not have to drive into Pennsylvania, or another state where sports betting is legal, to place a bet, as they currently must do.

The sportsbook apps are currently offering promotional deals to entice Ohioans to sign up with them.

House Bill 22, which legalizes sports betting in Ohio, delineates the type of state license required for each type of wagering. Online betting requires a Type A license, brick-and-mortar sportsbooks require Type B, and kiosks in bars require Type C. All professional and college sports can be bet on.

While kiosks will initially be the most visible indication of sports betting, a new experience will soon follow – the sportsbook parlor.

Opening first will be Hollywood Gaming Mahoning Valley Race Course and Casino’s Barstool Sportsbook. The Austintown racino will take sports bets at kiosks and possibly tellers at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Day. But a few weeks later, it will open the Barstool Sports sportsbook, bar and restaurant on the second floor. A large section of the floor has been walled off for months for reconstruction work.

A second local sportsbook betting facility will open at Covelli Centre in downtown Youngstown, operated by Phantom Fireworks. That license is still under consideration by the state casino control commission, and work has not yet started to transform the space, according to Eric Ryan, president of JAC Management, which operates Covelli Centre.

The Phantom Fireworks sportsbook will be in what is now the Huntington Bank VIP Lounge on the upper level of Covelli Centre. It will be open 24 hours a day, said William Weimer, vice president and general counsel for Phantom. Betting kiosks will also be placed in the concourse of Covelli Centre, he said.

Betting in bars

Betting kiosks began arriving at bars last week, and at least one bar owner sees it as a game-changer.

Steel Valley Brew Works received two kiosks on Wednesday, Dec. 14. The massive sports bar and restaurant in DeBartolo Commons at Southern Park Mall, Boardman, is planning to make the most of them.

It is installing a 160-inch projection screen for games, as well as two 85-inch monitors that will scroll betting odds, said Josh Langenheim, owner of Steel Valley.

Steel Valley already has a sports bar atmosphere, and Langenheim expects sports betting will only enhance that environment. “We have high hopes,” he said, which explains why he’s investing so much into sports betting.

“I’m not interested in doing the bare minimum,” he said. “I want to do it right. … I want [bettors] to be able to see the betting line and the odds.”

Steel Valley already has electronic Keno games, which – like the sports betting kiosks – are run by the Ohio Lottery. But Langenheim doesn’t think sports betting will take away from his Keno income.

“They are two completely different things,” he said, and attract different types of customers. “The Keno [usage] might actually see an increase, because now there’s more for that customer to do.”

Hollywood makeover

Hollywood Gaming’s Austintown casino and racetrack will be ready to take bets at the crack of midnight Jan. 1.

But the full extent of the casino’s makeover will be unveiled later that month. A date has not yet been announced, but it will be before the end of the month, said Kevin Brogan, marketing director for the racino.

The Hollywood Gaming sportsbook will be managed by Barstool Sports and will bear its branding. It will be located on the second floor of the casino, which already has a restaurant-bar, a live horse race viewing area, a horse racing simulcast theater and betting teller windows. The floor has been undergoing a makeover for the past few months to give it a sports bar atmosphere. Brogan expects it will draw a younger demographic.

Penn National Gaming, which owns the Austintown racino, recently purchased Barstool Sports, a national media and sports entertainment company. The Barstool Sports brand will take over the sports betting aspect at the casino, according to Brogan.

“Barstool already has a sports fan demographic,” Brogan said. It also has its own media personalities and a betting app that is now a Penn National property.

Brogan said “stoolies,” as Barstool Sports followers are known, will be attracted to the Austintown racino and feel at home there. “They’ve already lived the [Barstool] experience online,” he said.

The move will give the second floor of Hollywood Gaming a younger and livelier atmosphere, especially in the evenings. The clientele at the Austintown casino skews older, Brogan said, because it only has video gaming terminals and horse racing, but no poker or other table games that tend to draw a younger crowd.

“So we’re bringing in a sports bar experience,” Brogan said. “Now, there will be a reason for the younger demographic to come here. Most sports occur in the evening, and we did not used to have amenities for that [younger] demographic.”

The casino expects to see a lot more of the age 21-44 demographic when the Barstool Sports betting area opens in January, Brogan said.

“We won’t change the gaming experience for our core customers,” he said. But the second-floor space, usually underutilized after 9 p.m., will attract a new crowd in the evening, he said.

A wider audience

The Barstool Sports and Skybox restaurant-bar area will also make the racino a more viable destination for groups of people with differing tastes, Brogan said. Those who prefer sports betting and the sports-bar atmosphere can go upstairs, while others in the same party can take a break and go downstairs to the main gambling floor, which also has a bar and food court.

Brogan points out that while the minimum betting age for horse racing is 18, it’s 21 for sports betting.
For those who just want to place a bet on a game and then leave, betting stations will be installed near both entrances on the main floor of the casino, Brogan said.

The second floor is accessible only from an escalator and staircase from the main floor, and it will remain that way. But much of the second floor will have a different look and layout.
The restaurant-bar will get fresh décor, furniture and flooring.

“The footprint of Skybox restaurant will be the same, but the overflow seating area [to the right of the escalator] will be pulled into the Skybox footprint,” Brogan said. “It won’t feel like two disconnected spaces.”

A row of teller windows that will accept both horse racing and sports bets is being constructed just beyond Skybox, and a wall of monitors is being installed. The existing simulcast horse racing theater just beyond it will remain as is.

“[The second floor] will have the Barstool Sports look,” Brogan said.

The Skybox restaurant will keep its core menu items, including steaks, but will add a few items, including shrimp-and-grits and pizza, and its wing menu will be revamped.

Betting options

Sports betting at the Austintown racino’s Barstool sportsbook will not just be based on the game’s outcome. There will be many ways to wager.

“You can bet on a game at halftime, you can bet on who’s going to win the first half or the second half,” Brogan said. The examples of “proposition” bets are endless, he said, including stats on an individual player, completions for a quarterback, the final score, over-under and parlays (multiple games).

The cap on how much money can be wagered per bet will also be “much higher” than at a betting kiosk in a bar, Brogan said. That alone adds to the lure of the casino sportsbook.

“It’s cool to go to a place where you know that someone just won “$25,000,” Brogan said. “Gamblers associate themselves with other gamblers. It adds energy.”

Ohio law caps anonymous wagers at $1,000 per bet at sportsbooks such as Hollywood Gaming racino and online. But larger bets will definitely be accepted at Hollywood Gaming.

For wagers greater than $1,000, sportsbook operators have discretion in setting the maximum amount that can be wagered by a patron, according to Jessica Franks, spokesperson for the Ohio Casino Control Commission.

For kiosk betting, the Ohio Lottery has set a $700 per week wager limit for each person. Additionally, no single wager can exceed $700.
Also, kiosk bets will be limited to moneyline (betting on a team to win or lose) or point-spread wagers; over-under (betting on the sum of the final score); and parlays (betting on two to four games in a single wager).

Though the Ohio Lottery has not set a maximum payout amount for a single wager, kiosk proprietors are able to institute their own maximum odds offered and overall payout amounts.

As for payouts, lottery retailers are permitted to pay prizes up to the reportable tax threshold, said Danielle Frizzi-Babb, Ohio Lottery spokesperson. For traditional lottery products, retailers will cash prizes up to $599. However, each proprietor has the ability to set an adjusted prize payment level for cash payouts with each host they partner with, Frizzi-Babb said. Prizes above the amount a retailer is able or willing to pay can be mailed directly to the proprietor for claiming.

Kiosk bettors actually have several options for picking up their winnings, Frizzi-Babb said, including:

• At the host location where the wager was placed, or an affiliated host location offered by the same business proprietor who holds the Lottery license.
• Mailing the claim to the proprietor.
• Claiming the prize at an Ohio Lottery office.
• Crediting the winnings to the credit card, debit card or electronic payment account that was used to place the wager.
• Placing the winnings back on the kiosk as a credit voucher to play again.
• Cashing in the prize on the Ohio Lottery mobile cashing app (if used by the kiosk proprietor).

Spire Institute

As of this month, the state Casino Control Commission has approved 21 sports betting parlors statewide, with five more awaiting approval.

The vast majority of licensees are the state’s existing professional sports teams, casinos and horse racing tracks, and – with one exception – they are all located in urbanized areas. In northeastern Ohio, these include JACK casino in downtown Cleveland and Thistledown Racino; Northfield Park; the Cleveland Browns, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Cleveland Guardians; Hollywood Gaming in Austintown; and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton.

The exception to the rule is Spire Institute and Academy in Geneva.

Spire is an athletic and academic institute for elite-level athletes of high-school age and above, located on a sprawling and wooded campus off state Route 534, adjacent to Interstate 90.

The Spire sportsbook parlor will not be ready to open on Jan. 1 but will open sometime in the first quarter of 2023, according to Holly Gross, spokeswoman for Spire. The building it will be in is still undergoing construction work, she said.

While northern Ashtabula County is not heavily populated, it is fueled by tourism. Spire’s sportsbook, which will be managed by Out the Gate, is in the thick of the tourism area and aims to take advantage of its location.

Geneva on the Lake is a few miles to the north, and the Grand River Valley winery region is a few miles to the south.

The Spire-Out the Gate sportsbook features a restaurant-bar with a full liquor license, Gross said. It will be physically separated from the Spire academic campus, and there are no plans to use it in any of the institute’s academic curriculum, she said.

Pictured at top: Bronson Hawthorne, facility manager of Steel Valley Brew Works in Boardman, and Edward Sigurani, bar manager, stand next to one of the two sports betting kiosks in the establishment.

Copyright 2023 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.