On Wednesday [March 15], BetMGM decided to waive any appeal of a $150,000 fine – and also to spend 25 minutes explaining to the Ohio Casino Control Commission board what steps they are taking to avoid any repeat offenses.
Ohio residents and visitors were permitted to start making legal wagers on a variety of websites on Jan. 1, 2023. Four days later, the commission levied fines on three companies, including BetMGM.
“The sports gaming industry has received multiple reminders of the rules and standards for advertising and promotions, yet continues to disregard Ohio law. These repeated violations leave the Commission no choice but to pursue administrative action to bring operators into compliance,”
Matthew Schuler, the commission’s executive director, said in a statement.
“The Commission takes responsible gambling seriously – and expects the industry to value the same. BetMGM, Caesars, and DraftKings – or their affiliate marketer – all ran sports gaming advertisements on several platforms that violated provisions in both Ohio law and the Commission’s rules that require sports gaming advertisements to clearly and conspicuously contain a message designed to prevent problem gambling as well as a helpline number to help access resources.”
“Advertisements from BetMGM, Caesars, and DraftKings lacking the appropriate responsible gambling messaging appeared after the Commission issued explicit guidance on the matter, on December 30, and directed all operators to immediately ensure that their advertising was compliant.”
“In addition to ads lacking the appropriate responsible gambling messaging, all three companies also advertised promotions or bonuses described as ‘free’ or ‘risk-free’ when patrons were required to incur a loss or risk their own money to obtain the promotion.”
“Commission rules on promotions and bonuses … prohibits the use of the word or phrase ‘free’ or ‘risk-free’ in sports gaming promotions where a patron must spend their own funds to obtain the promotional value.”
Improvements to website and customer awareness efforts were explained
Rhea Loney, BetMGM’s chief compliance officer, said the company “made an error,” while offered an apology and a promise that the company takes responsibility for its error.
She then detailed how BetMGM is undertaking “robust training for all employees” in terms of responsible gaming – including a new campaign called “Bet Responsibly – Take a Timeout.”
BetMGM officials also stressed that patrons will be made aware that “gambling should be treated as a form of entertainment” – not as a way to pay the monthly rent or to start building a college tuition fund for children.
The company’s website home page also was labeled as “too bland,” so improvements have been made – including a more prominent display of responsible gambling notifications in “bold green.”
Loney added that if a potential customer “self-excluded” on another gambling site to avoid financial peril, “we don’t want you on our site.”
BetMGM Responsible Gambling Program Manager Richard Taylor called Ohio “a very important state” as he also offered details on how BetMGM would avoid any further violations of commission rules.
The $150,000 fine of BetMGM is sent to the Ohio Sports Gaming Revenue Fund.
Details on other fines levied by the commission
In February, the commission fined DraftKings $500,000 and Penn Entertainment – the parent company of the controversial Barstool Sports brand – $250,000 for regulatory violations.
In addition to “risk-free” promotional material, DraftKings was found to have mailed out thousands of advertising materials to individuals under the age of 21. Barstool was found to have played host to a promotional event at the University of Toledo in November that encouraged students to sign up for the company’s sports betting app.
Caesars accepted its own $150,000 fine in January, blaming its marketing error about “risk-free betting” on an unnamed partner that the company said has been terminated.
At the recent commission meeting, Amanda Blackford – the commission’s director of operations and problem gambling services – noted that there was a 227% rise in calls to the Ohio gambling helplines in January compared to 12 months earlier.