When legal sports betting in Ohio goes live on January 1, 2023, it will do so without many limitations. Contrary to other rollouts, Ohio retail sports betting will be offered both on-site and online and at everything from casinos, card rooms, small businesses with specialized liquor licenses and even professional sports venues.
The latter locations are considered a particularly lucrative source of sports betting revenue. Gamblers are expected to spend billions of dollars across the United States at betting kiosks and sportsbooks located on the site of very events they're attending. This is why so many Ohio sports teams applied for legal betting licenses. The financial upside is tremendous. They don't even have to create their own sportsbooks. Rather, they can partner up with existing sportsbooks and receive both a flat fee and a cut of the profits.
Not surprisingly, Ohio retail sports betting licenses are being awarded to professional sports teams without much issue. Everyone from the Cleveland Guardians (MLB) and Cleveland Cavaliers (NBA) to the Columbus Blue Jackets (NHL) and Cincinnati FC (MLS) have been approved for one.
However, two teams are noticeably absent from the extensive list of franchises that have been green lit for Ohio retail sports betting licenses. Indeed, they might be the two most popular organizations in the state: The NFL's Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals.
Do you find yourself asking something to the effect of "What gives?!?" If so, you're not alone. The issue is further complicated knowing both the Browns and Bengals applied for and were approved for a sports betting license. But neither submitted an application for an Ohio retail sports betting license. This is all to say, the Browns and Bengals didn't seek the ability to offer sports betting at their stadium venues. And now, on the heels of some research, we've figured out why.
The Browns and Bengals are Ineligible for Ohio Retail Sports Betting Licenses
The absence of Ohio retail sports betting applications from the Browns and Bengals has almost nothing to do with the state itself. They would allow both franchises to apply for one. And they most definitely would have approved both organizations to set up shop, just like they did for pretty much every other major sports team in the state.
Instead, this has everything to do with the National Football League.
As we amble through the latter half of 2022, the NFL still doesn't allow its teams to offer on-site betting at in-stadium sportsbooks. Many will be quick to point out that the Arizona Cardinals have a BetMGM sportsbook on premises. Anyone who does so, however, will be mistaken. The BetMGM sportsbook is technically located off-site in Arizona and not directly affiliated with the Cardinals.
Reasonable minds are probably wondering why the NFL prohibits in-stadium sportsbooks—which include betting kiosks—for all of their 32 franchises. After all, doesn't the league have a handful of lucrative partnerships with sportsbook conglomerates DraftKings, FanDuel and Caesars? They do. And that's the point.
If teams are allowed to open up their own sportsbooks in each stadium, they will no doubt outsource the job to a host of various partners. But the NFL sold FanDuel, DraftKings and Caesars on the idea of exclusivity among them. Those three alone are the official sportsbooks of the most popular pro league in North American sports. If the NFL permits teams to partner up with companies outside this trio, their current agreement loses luster—and therefore value.
Will the NFL Ever Change Their Stance on In-Stadium Betting?
Forced to choose, we would bet on the NFL eventually softening their stance against in-stadium Ohio retail sports betting as well as in-stadium sportsbook betting in general. At the same time, we cannot say that for certain. Nor can we pinpoint an exact timeline for change.
Truthfully, the NFL may not ever shift its model. It all depends on how much exclusive partners are willing to pay. According to The Washington Post, the NFL was expected to make $270 million in revenue for the 2021 season off its agreements with Caesars, DraftKings and FanDuel. Not only that, but at the time, many experts estimated a similar deal for exclusivity could be worth more than $1 billion annually to the league as more and more states legalize sports betting.
Will DraftKings, FanDuel and Caesars be willing to pay the NFL $1 billion per year between them as time goes on? Who knows. But if they're not, another coalition of sportsbooks could offer to beat their top-dollar proposals.
This is all a roundabout way of saying the NFL may never be incentivized to allow in-stadium retail sports betting—no matter how common that practice becomes across other professional leagues.
Are the Bengals and Browns Allowed to Offer On-Site Mobile Sports Betting?
For those in Ohio hoping to place bets while attending Browns and Bengals games, we have some good news: You can still do it!
Mobile sports betting will still be allowed inside the stadiums for both teams. And though the franchises will offer special promotions in hopes you place wagers with one of their mobile sports betting partners, you will have the freedom to use whoever you want.
Feel like signing up with one of the mobile providers who appear in our reviews of the top online sportsbooks while attending a Bengals home game? It won't be a problem—so long as you're submitting wagers after January 1.
Unfortunately, for anyone chasing instant gratification in the form of an in-person sportsbook or betting kiosk, you're out of luck. Heading to a casino or a licensed bar near where the Bengals or Browns play is the closest you'll get to Ohio retail sports betting inside an NFL stadium—for the time being, anyway.
Take a look at this list of the top online sportsbooks so you can decide which one to use for all of your sports betting needs: