Experts expect boost in Ohio sports betting with the return of college, NFL football

By Avery Kreemer  and Jeremy P. Kelley

With the return of college and NFL football, experts are expecting Ohio’s sports betting market to tick to levels closer to its launch in January of this year.

That month saw $1.1 billion in bets placed, but it also saw the final weeks of the NFL regular season and the bulk of the playoffs, when the Cincinnati Bengals made a deep run before bowing out in the AFC Championship Game at the end of the month.

Since then, the market has cooled significantly, according to data from the Ohio Casino Control Commission. Even with the Super Bowl, betting activity fell 43% from January to February. It ticked up again in March as a result of the NCAA basketball tournament, but since, activity has dipped every month. July saw just over $331 million in bets placed.

“That kind of happens across the industry,” said Jessica Franks, director of communications for the Ohio Casino Control Commisson. “Once you get into baseball, basketball, some of those other sports, those don’t drive wagering in quite the same way that football does.”

The college football regular season began last week with a handful of games and has its first major weekend beginning today. The NFL has played preseason games in August and has its first regular season games beginning Thursday, Sept. 7.

Steve Shult, managing editor for PlayOhio, a sports betting media company focused on the Ohio market, described the lull as a result of the “seasonality to sports betting.”

“It’s always going to be one of the bigger months. That’s because the sports books are spending hand over fist to attract customers,” Shult said. “You end up with a lot of promo spending. That attracts a ton of bettors, which inevitably inflates revenue whenever the launch happens.”

For some local businesses, the return of football isn’t just about bringing in customers to watch the games, it’s to bet on them.

One sports bar goes big

While some places have offered legal sports betting since January, the Elsa’s restaurant chain just “jumped in with both feet” in the past few weeks as football season is now kicking off.

Jason Hemmert, whose family has owned the Elsa’s chain for years, said in August they significantly changed the look of the Kettering, Sugarcreek and Springboro restaurants, all of which have more of a sports bar feel.

They still have dozens of TVs showing sports, and they added a sports betting kiosk. But they went beyond that, also turning two 65-inch TVs into electronic odds boards like you’d see at a casino and installed colorful sports news and betting “tickers” in multiple spots around the bar and patio.

“Now that the kiosks are out, we felt we had to make a splash,” Hemmert said. “You could still sit at your bar stool and bet on your phone, but this is more of a cash-oriented transaction and has more of the Vegas feel, rather than just sitting there on your phone on an app.”

Elsa’s customers can bet on individual games, or they can track long-term futures bets. Hemmert quickly rattled off Ohio State’s odds to win the college football national championship heading into their season opener Saturday.

Hemmert said one of the three updated Elsa’s restaurants has seen heavy sports betting already after just two weeks, but he said the betting is not the only thing. He pointed to the large, high-end sports ticker that grabs you right when you walk in the door.

“Now that sports betting is legal, even if it doesn’t get played a lot, it’s an attraction that we have,” he said. “It’s more about the look and feel we wanted to create.”