PlayUp Says Sports Betting Rebuke in Ohio Being Treated with ‘Utmost Seriousness’

The brushback pitch by Ohio regulators comes as the state is getting closer and closer to its Jan. 1, 2023, start date for legal sports betting.

Dec 21, 2022 • 17:07 ET • 4 min read
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An Australia-based bookmaker is taking seriously the allegations and actions leveled against it by the regulator of sports betting in Ohio and is working with the watchdog to address the matter. 

The Ohio Casino Control Commission recently took issue with PlayUp regarding its “slots+” offering, with the regulator sending PlayUp notice that it intended to reject its application for a license to run online sports betting sites in the Buckeye State. 

PlayUp told Covers that the “pari-mutuel slots+ product” was run in conjunction with a third party under a North Dakota pari-mutuel wagering license held by another company and following advice that the business was operating legally. Even so, the operator, which currently offers online sports betting in New Jersey and Colorado, says it has shuttered the product.  

“PlayUp has taken the OCCC request with utmost seriousness,” a spokesperson said recently in an emailed statement. “We are committed to full compliance with all Ohio laws and have suspended the product indefinitely.” 

New Year, new wagering

The brushback pitch by Ohio regulators comes as the state is getting closer and closer to its Jan. 1, 2023, start date for legal sports betting. When the clock strikes 12:01 a.m. on January 1, there will likely be several online sportsbooks ready to take wagers from Ohio bettors. 

Judging from the names and number of operators seeking licenses in Ohio, the state is shaping up to be a major market for sportsbooks. PlayUp, though, may have a bit of convincing to do before it can launch there. 

The Australian firm also announced in July that its board of directors had begun a process to look at "strategic alternatives," including a possible sale of the company. In September, it was announced PlayUp was planning a merger with IG Acquisition Corp., a special purpose acquisition company (or SPAC); however, earlier this month, the agreement was amended to allow IGAC to discuss alternative deals.

Cease and desist

Ohio Casino Control Commission Executive Director Matt Schuler said during a meeting last week that staff came across information regarding allegedly and potentially illegal gambling activity by PlayUp as part of a licensing suitability investigation.

PlayUp is seeking a so-called mobile management services provider license in Ohio, which would allow it to offer online sports betting in the state on behalf of JACK Cleveland Casino. 

The Ohio Casino Control Commission sent notice to PlayUp on December 2 that it intended to deny its application because the operator was allegedly not suitable or eligible for the permit under state law. The reasons for this, the OCCC said, included "accepting illegal wagers" from bettors in the U.S. after April 16, 2015, "specifically any wagers PlayUp accepted through the slots+ product" from anyone in Ohio after that date.  

Another violation the regulator alleged was "conducting, participating in the conduct, or facilitating the conduct of the slots+ product" in Ohio by or through affiliates or those in control of PlayUp. The last allegation was "engaging in false, deceptive, misleading, or otherwise impermissible advertising" by advertising the slots+ product as legal in Ohio. 

According to Casino.org, a cached webpage for slots+ "described the game as using 'results from real life events to power fun and exciting slots.'"

It was also reportedly touted as being available in multiple states.

As part of the commission's proposed denial of PlayUp's license, a cease-and-desist notice was issued to PlayUp and a technology partner, Schuler said. The OCCC noted that PlayUp is entitled to a hearing on the issue, which PlayUp wants.

“Both parties have already taken steps to comply with the cease-and-desist letter and PlayUp has requested a hearing on the proposed denial,” Schuler said. “Before any potential adverse action is taken against PlayUp, the company will have the right to a hearing and due process. Once that process has taken its course, the commission members will vote on any action to take against PlayUp in a public meeting. In the meantime, PlayUp will not be licensed nor permitted to operate in this state.” 

Schuler also noted during the same meeting that Ohio Casino Control Commission staff issued a notice of violation to Barstool Sportsbook after its namesake media company held a college football show on the University of Toledo campus that advertised the sports-betting site. The matter is separate from that of PlayUp.

“We look forward to having the opportunity to address the matter directly with the Ohio Casino Control Commission through its regulatory process,” said Jay Snowden, CEO of Barstool Sportsbook-owner PENN Entertainment Inc., during a Massachusetts Gaming Commission meeting this week. 

“That said,” Snowden added, “we do acknowledge we're not perfect. We own up to our mistakes. We certainly learn from them. And I would proudly put our historical regulatory compliance track record up against any other commercial operator in the industry.”

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