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OCCC fines BetMGM, Caesars & DraftKings for violating marketing rules

January 6, 2023

Yesterday, the Ohio Casino Control Commission announced that it intends to take administrative action against three of its licensed online sports betting operators for violating its marketing rules; BetMGM, Caesars and DraftKings. (Read the original OCCC release.) The crux of the administrative action comes down to two main issues, both of which appear to have been caused by an affiliate marketer that was working with these operators. 

Firstly, the appropriate Responsible Gambling compliance language was not made to accompany the various promotions or ads in the required manner.  Secondly, bonus offers or promotions cannot refer to terms such as "free" or "risk free" when the customer is actually required to risk their own money in order to gain the value of the promotion.  The OCCC notice reads as follows:

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 (Ohio Adm Code 3775-16-09(D)) prohibits the use of the word or phrase “free” or “riskfree” in sports gaming promotions where a patron must spend their own funds to obtain the promotional value.

Each of these operators was fined $150,000 for this violation.  In the wake of this action by the OCCC, at least one of the operators severed their relationship with the affiliate marketer in question.  All licensed licensed Ohio online sports betting operators witnessed this incident and moved very quickly not only to adapt their Ohio sportsbook bonuses and language, but all of their US state new customer offers.

While Ohio is generally now treated as its own market in terms of the available new customer promotions, all operators have moved away from using offer language that uses the terms "risk free" or "free" in order to prevent similar problems in the future in other state jurisdictions.  Instead, most licensed sports betting operators have moved to use the terms like "Bonus Bets", or "Bet Credits", or "Bet and Get" in all their offers, across geographies.


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