Many organizations have submitted an Ohio sports betting application. They include sportsbooks in other states and businesses that want a piece of sports betting’s revenue stream. But one retail sportsbook applicant has raised eyebrows.
The SPIRE Institute applied for a retail sports betting license in Ashtabula County. It’s surprising because of its influential role in youth sports and its county’s population. Both factors seem to weigh against it in its application process. However, technicalities may redeem it in the eyes of the Ohio Casino Control Commission and industry critics.
The SPIRE Institute’s Youth Sports Programs
The SPIRE Institute offers expansive youth sports programs for many sports. Its compound sits on 177 acres of land and is 750,000 square feet. This massive space accommodates sports at the high school, college, and professional levels. However, most of its programs support youth sports.
With so many students at that complex, adding a retail sportsbook to that space raises concerns about exposing minors to gambling. Saturday Tradition quotes a SPIRE representative who claims that “all gaming operations will be strictly off campus, independently operated, separate from the athletic facility and properly secured.”
If true, a retail sportsbook could police its patrons and keep young bettors out. Separated from the athletic complex, prohibiting youth athletes from entering is feasible. But SPIRE should propose a plan to keep the gambling and the gamblers separate from the youth athletes before being awarded a license.
If awarded a license, this will be the detail to watch the most closely.
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Overcoming Population Restrictions
Ohio’s retail sportsbooks can only be built in counties with a population of at least 100,000 people. Erie County is the exception. Per the 2021 Census, Ashtabula County had a reported population of 97,337. At a glance, that seems to disqualify any organization from launching a sportsbook in Ashtabula County.
However, the retail sportsbook application determines population by the 2010 Census population, not the most recent estimates or figures. The county’s 2010 population was 101,497, which qualifies it to submit an Ohio sports betting application for a retail license.
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A Defensible Ohio Sports Betting Application
SPIRE has applied for both a retail and online sports betting license, but its retail license is more contentious. It just meets the population requirements, which may throw some analysts off, but the focus should be on a retail sportsbook’s proximity to a premier area for youth sports programs.
Sports betting is becoming increasingly integrated with mainstream sports. Major sportsbook brands advertise bonuses during broadcasts and sponsor VIP areas at popular arenas. It’s difficult to watch a modern sports broadcast without encountering sports betting content.
The sports industry tows a delicate line. It’s welcoming a popular form of gambling that’s been available in many other countries for decades. But the industry risks making sports betting seem like a rite of passage or an expected part of being a sports fan.
SPIRE will have to be extra mindful of the role sports betting plays in sports. If it allows the impression that sports betting is required to be a good sports fan to infect its culture, its promises to keep sports betting separate from sports will be worthless.
Every sportsbook has a responsibility to encourage responsible gambling. But SPIRE’s work with youth athletes demands a higher standard of responsibility.
AP Photo/Mark Duncan