Ohio has become an oddball regionally in the world of gambling. The state doesn’t have legal and regulated sports betting despite being surrounded by states that do, with the exception of Kentucky.
At an Ohio legislative committee hearing last week, a service provider called GeoComply, which provides location verification services to the online gambling industry, gave Buckeye State lawmakers a peek at the number of Ohioans traveling to other states to bet.
From March 19-22, nearly 8,200 “unique devices” for gambling were logged in Michigan within 10 miles of the Ohio border. Those devices logged more than 210,000 geolocation transactions during the period, for an average of about 26 transactions per device.
“Based on our review of the data, it is easy to conclude that Ohio residents are regularly crossing the border into the four states to place an online bet,” GeoComply Managing Director Lindsay Slader said in testimony to the Ohio gaming committee.
It’s unclear how many of those roughly 8,200 devices were from Ohio or from people living very close to the Michigan-Ohio border. However, a relatively small number of Michiganders live within 10 miles of Ohio, so it appears safe to assume many were Ohioans.
The transaction total also appears to indicate back-and-forth travel between Michigan and Ohio.
Other states drawing in Ohioans
Michigan saw the most devices within a 10-mile zone from the Ohio border, but the other states also had similar activity during the four-day period.
West Virginia had nearly 8,000 devices and 384,000 transactions. Pennsylvania was third with nearly 6,800 devices and 116,000 transactions. Indiana had nearly 6,300 devices and 185,000 transactions.
Part of the reason why Michigan is leading in terms of unique devices is likely due in part to the newness of the market. Online gambling kicked off in late January, and so promotions are aplenty for bettors. Local advertising is also in high gear. Gambling apps seek to gain new customers as quickly as possible, as it’s widely known that most bettors will engage with only a small number of brands.
West Virginia, Indiana, and Pennsylvania have all had online sports betting since 2019.
How significant are these device numbers?
Over the first four days of the March Madness tournament, about 30,000 devices transacted for online gambling within 10 miles of the Ohio border. For the sake of analysis, let’s assume all 30,000 belonged to Ohioans. (There were about 900,000 total transactions.)
Ohio has a population of about 11.75 million people. Thirty thousand is just a drop in the bucket. In other words, a very small percentage of Ohioans left the state to place legal wagers during the start of one of the most popular sporting events of the year.
Some Ohioans are also placing wagers through offshore, unregulated sites, but there’s no data on how many.
While Ohio is feeding some players to bordering states, could one call it a feeder market? Arguably, no.
So, perhaps it’s most accurate to stress that Ohio is an untapped market. Yes, some bettors will travel to other states, but for the most part, Ohioans are staying at home. It makes sense considering that two of Ohio’s four largest cities are relatively far from a legal sports betting state. Toledo is right on the Michigan border and Cincinnati is about 30 minutes from Indiana, while Columbus and Cleveland require a farther drive to use a betting app.