Three Ohio Lawmakers Join Group Urging Feds to Crack Down on Illegal Sportsbooks

Less than six months ahead of Ohio’s launch of its legal betting market, state legislators from across the country have raised a bipartisan voice to ask the U.S. Department of Justice to shut down offshore bookmakers.

Last week, 28 members of the United States Congress from 13 states both Democrats and Republicans signed a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland urging the Federal Government to pursue illegal sports betting operators who set up shop outside of the country.

The contingency of co-signers includes three members from Ohio: Anthony E. Gonzalez (R-16th District); David P. Joyce (R-14th District), and Steve Chabot (R-1st District).

According to the office of U.S. Representative Dina Titus (D-Nevada), the letter reads in part: “These predatory operations expose our constituents to financial and cyber vulnerabilities; do not have protocols to address money laundering, sports integrity, or age restrictions; and undermine states’ efforts to capture much-needed tax revenue through legal sports betting channels.”

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Bettors May Not Realize They are Wagering with an Illegal Sportsbook

Ohio will launch its sports betting market on Jan. 1, 2023, and lawmakers are concerned that offshore bookies would place unwitting Ohio residents in danger. The group also sees illegal sportsbooks as a threat to revenue that Ohio hopes to earn from taxing legal operators.

“These dangerous operators are not relegated to the dark web, but instead are easily accessed through any computer or smartphone,” the letter reads. “This creates confusion for many consumers who may not even know they are wagering illegally.”

As the seventh most populous state, Ohio will be one of the largest markets with legal sports betting when it launches on the first day of 2023. Leaders in the state have taken a deliberate path to open the market, and more than a full year will have passed between legalization and launch. The Ohio Casino Control Commission is mandated with governing the industry. Many of the most recognizable brand names of sportsbooks are expected to be in the market, but for some consumers unfamiliar with sports betting, it may be difficult to weed out legitimate from illegitimate operators.

In April, the American Gaming Association sent a letter to Attorney General Garland’s office urging increased efforts to shut down and prosecute offshore sportsbooks. The AGA pointed out that some of the illegal operators are even paying for advertising in the U.S. to attract customers, flaunting disregard for U.S. law.

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How Illegal Sportsbooks Prey on Bettors

Offshore sportsbooks operate outside the legal structure of the U.S., and they pose a serious threat to consumers. Some illegal operators have also been linked to criminal enterprises.

Illegal sportsbooks set up offshore fail to adhere to U.S. Federal and financial regulations mandated by individual states. This poses a risk to consumers because your wagers and money are not protected from fraud, and should you have a dispute over an outcome, you will likely not have any recourse to protect your interests.

Because there’s no way of knowing who is operating illegal sportsbooks or what servers or technology they use, your personal information is placed at risk. Unlike with legal sportsbooks, your privacy is not ensured.

Offshore bookmakers have been known to ignore age restrictions, allowing vulnerable underage consumers to open accounts and place their money at risk. These illegal operators also do not offer self-exclusion options, nor do they function inside a market that has problem gambling resources.

About the Author

Dan Holmes

Dan Holmes has written three books about sports. He previously worked for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Major League Baseball. He enjoys writing, running, and lemon bars. He lives near Lake Michigan with his daughters and usually has an orange cream soda nearby.