CLEVELAND — Legal sports betting in Ohio is still just over five months away from going live on January 1, but we now know who the major day one players will be. It's a group that includes some familiar Northeast Ohio names.
To be eligible to take bets on day one - January 1 — applications for licenses needed to be in by July 15. There are three types of licenses in Ohio, Type A is for online sportsbooks on computers and mobile devices. As expected, the two JACK properties and MGM Northfield Park applied for three of the 25 licenses, as did Cleveland's three sports teams — the Cavaliers, Browns and Guardians. Each is partnering with an online betting company to handle the action.
"All of the big guys are there — DraftKings, FanDuel, betMGM," said Geoff Zochodne, who covers sports betting for Covers.com. Online is where most sports betting is now done.
"Depending on where you look it will be 80 to 90 percent of the handle, so the total wagering in the state on any given month," he said, pointing out that recently released numbers in New Jersey for June show 93% of sports bets were made online.
Still, Type B licenses, or brick-and-mortar sports books, are equally important and all of the major players in Northeast Ohio applied for them.
"We're really excited to debut the Caesars Sports Book, which is about 10,000 square feet of space," said Cleveland Cavaliers CEO Nic Barlage while showing off the area inside the atrium of the Sherwin-Williams Northwest entrance of Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse, where their Caesars Sportsbook will be located. An outside entrance will be added for the space, which will be open year-round, not just during events — something they envisioned during the arena's transformation.
"We didn't want to be a bunker, right? But we did want to be able to keep a heartbeat, and as we said coming out of the pandemic, restore the heartbeat of downtown by bringing content, bringing shows, concerts, games, events through our doors," Barlage said. "We look at the sports book as a very similar opportunity to that."
In addition, the Cavs will have a second sportsbook inside, in what was the overlook bar near Loudville, which will be open around events and run by their mobile partner Fubo. The Browns and Guardians are still working through their plans.
Meanwhile up the street at the JACK Casino, they continue their work to get ready for January 1 while getting future customers up to speed on their BetJack app, where people can get bet for free using tokens to get a feel for how it will work.
"I'd like to think that people are getting some practice rounds in and starting to figure some things out," said Adam Suliman, JACK's Vice President of Online Gaming. "I don't know about you, but the first time I went up to a craps table I was terrified. I had no idea how to play the game and I think for a lot of folks sports betting the same way."
Among the other entities submitting for a Class B brick-and-mortar license are Geneva Sports LLC, the Spire Institute in Ashtabula County, Phantom Fireworks in Mahoning County, the Harry Buffalo Restaurant and a group called Ravencrest Partners in Cuyahoga County. The latter two may be an issue, because although the legislation allows for up to 40 Type B licenses, it limits the number in Cuyahoga County to five with preference given to casinos, racinos and professional sports teams.
Zochodne says to look for these lists to grow.
"You could also see some late applications coming in from companies, maybe it wasn't as important to them to be there on the starting line but they still want to be involved, there's still that opportunity to get your applications in," he said.
Now the Casino Control Commission has the monumental task of tackling the approval process.
"They have cited industry estimates that they may have to sift through as many as 3,000 licensing applications, so that's employees, operators and suppliers, vendors and just everyone," Zochodne said. "These are just the applications that have been filed now; the regulator has to take a look at them, make sure that everything's above board and then just decide whether or not to grant approval to those entities."
The licensing application process is now open for Type C licenses as well, which would be the kiosks, either self-service or clerk-operated, at establishments with D-1, D-2 or D-5 liquor permits.