COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — As violation notices and looming fines start to stack against some of the most popular Ohio sports betting proprietors, the state’s gambling regulatory agency said it is still closely watching all licensees for transgressions just ten days after the universal launch.  

Jessica Franks, director of communications for the Ohio Casino Control Commission Communications, said that several licensees did not take proper action after general warnings went out about advertising that broke state law and commission rules and regulations. 

“We have been very disappointed that for all of the talk that the industry has about wanting to ensure that only those over the age of 21 can place a wager, and that they’re not targeting folks that they shouldn’t, their actions right now don’t seem to be really matching up with the words,” Franks said in an interview with NBC4. 

The disconnect has been met with threats of fines levied at four sports betting companies that total more than $1 million so far. The proposed penalties are some of the heftiest the commission has ever issued. 

“The commission takes this really seriously. We would like the industry to do the same,” Franks said.

She said, however, that no breach has reached a level where the commission would pull a proprietor’s license — although it did deny a license application for the first time in December.

String of violation notices

The commission sent notices Thursday to the licensed service providers of BetMGM, Caesars, and DraftKings, or their marketing affiliates, alleging all three advertised across platforms without visible mandatory problem gambling messaging. Other ads also promised potential bettors “free” or “risk-free” promotions and bonuses if they put a certain amount of money down, the commission alleged. 

The notices sent out by the commission warned each of a $150,000 fine. 

But it wasn’t the first violation notice for DraftKings, which the commission accused in late December of sending around 2,500 mailer ads to Ohioans younger than 21. DraftKings is currently staring down $500,000 total in possible fines — the other $350,000 would be the biggest in Ohio Casino Control Commission history.

The commission issued its first notice in mid-December to Penn Entertainment, the parent of Barstool Sports, for alleged violations stemming from an in-person episode of Barstool’s College Football show. 

All four were given the choice to either request a hearing or settle the matter directly with the commission, which will vote on the final outcome. Hearing requests must be made within 30 days of receiving a violation notice. Penn Entertainment already requested a hearing, Franks said. 

In statements, both Penn Entertainment and DraftKings said they could not comment on in-progress regulatory matters. BetMGM and Caesars did not respond to a request for comment. 

OCCC: Fines should not be “cost of doing business”

In other states with a slightly lengthier history of legalized sports betting, companies have already doled out money after being issued fines — whether it be for accepting wagers before they legally could or taking bets on college athletics in states where it is illegal. 

Virginia lawmakers barred proprietors in their state from advertising with the slogan “Virginia is For Bettors” last April. But relatively few companies have been fined for their advertising. 

Since December, however, Ohio’s regulatory body has pursued administrative action against these advertisements that they believe are targeting people under 21 or missing problem gambling messaging. “Every state’s rules are a little bit different,” Franks said. 

But both she and Derek Longmeier, the executive director of the Problem Gambling Network of Ohio, argued fines have to be substantial enough to avert a situation where proprietors brush off the penalties.

“We need to make sure that the fines are at a level that it’s not just a cost of doing business,” Longmeier said. “I think it’s very clear that the commission is done with talking, that they want to see action.”

Any money from resulting fines will pour into the sports gaming revenue fund — most of which is allocated toward education. Two percent goes toward problem gambling resources.