The updated Ohio sports betting regulations draft includes new guidelines on sportsbook marketing. While that doesn’t sound groundbreaking for bettors, those guidelines determine whether Ohioans will see welcome bonuses everywhere.
Ohio, which will launch sports betting statewide on Jan. 1, 2023, has adopted slightly stricter marketing restrictions than other American markets. It seems to have learned from Ontario’s sports betting launch, which prohibits incentive marketing altogether. (Incentive marketing is when sportsbooks offer high-dollar welcome bonuses to new bettors.) Ohio doesn’t go as far as Ontario. But Ohio has made two key marketing rule decisions:
- Forbidding bet insurance deals from calling “risk-free bets”
- Allowing sportsbooks to advertise welcome bonuses to attract bettors
Ohio sports betting is showing other markets a middle ground between over-the-top bonus advertising for bettors and overly restrictive marketing rules for sportsbooks.
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No Calling Risk-Free Bets Risk-Free
In other markets, risk-free bets are bonuses that give bettors site credits equal to their lost stakes up to a certain amount. So, a $1,000 risk-free bet in Colorado would give a bettor who lost $500 on an eligible bet $500 in site credits. Bettors can only use site credits to place more wagers. Bettors can’t withdraw site credits like cash. So, if bettors “win” a risk-free bet, they’ve still lost however much they wagered in grocery or rent money.
In other words, risk-free bets are the opposite of risk-free.
That’s why Ohio is prohibiting those types of wagers from being called “risk-free.” It’s a misleading name for a bonus that works more like bet insurance than a free bet.
However, Ohio hasn’t prohibited sportsbooks from offering welcome bonuses. Bettors can still expect to see ads for deposit bonuses or bet insurance, the less misleading name for risk-free bets. Any “free” bets will likely be small amounts of site credits for signing up instead of full bet credits.
Regardless, Ohio sportsbooks will be able to acquire customers the way they’re used to in the rest of the United States — a heavy reliance on new bonuses to attract new customers.
Ontario’s Stricter Approach
The marketing section of Ohio’s sports betting regulations is a better deal for sportsbooks than Ontario’s. In Ontario, sportsbooks can’t advertise $1,000 welcome bonuses to attract customers. Instead, sportsbooks must rely on traditional and guerrilla marketing.
For example, theScore paid to hoist “skyline seats” 100 feet in the air at the Canadian Open. It’s a spectacle that attracts in-person signups. On its face, encouraging this kind of creative marketing seems great for the sports betting industry.
However, Ontario bettors also miss out on welcome bonuses that can cushion the cost of early betting activity. Ontario sportsbooks can offer welcome bonuses. However, bettors can’t take advantage of large welcome bonuses if they don’t know about them. Despite flaws in how those welcome bonuses are often marketed, eliminating incentive marketing altogether can keep potential bettors in the dark about the new sportsbooks’ best bonuses.
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What’s Missing From Ohio Sports Betting Regulations
Ohio’s sportsbook marketing regulations split the difference between prohibiting misleading marketing language and allowing sportsbooks to advertise the best bonuses to potential customers.
The way that sportsbook bonuses are advertised needs to improve. Ohio’s prohibition of “risk-free” language on bonuses that aren’t really risk-free is a good first step, but the draft master sports gaming rules fail to address the small print that crucial bonus details can often be hidden in.
For example, deposit bonuses have two steps. First, bettors make their first deposits, which set the number of site credits that bettors can redeem. But to redeem those credits, bettors have to bet. They’ll also only get site credits at a certain rate, meaning bettors may not be able to redeem the offer in full. Bettors don’t have to earn a deposit bonus in its entirety to benefit from it. However, sportsbooks often bury these terms in fine print or behind a terms and conditions link. The next step in effective marketing regulations will likely be improving bonus terms.
A great fix would be a customer flow dedicated to planning a bonus. For example, a bettor’s first deposit confirmation page could show the number of site credits available after the first lost bet or the number of site credits a bettor could redeem and how much money bettors would have to spend for a certain number of site credits. Bypassing bonus’ fine print improves bettors’ abilities to use and understand important bonus terms.
Ohio has taken an important step in advertising and marketing restrictions. It eliminates misleading language without removing the most popular marketing tactic for sportsbooks, but it still has room to improve bonus transparency for Ohio’s new sports bettors.
AP Photo/Andrew Welsh-Huggins