Geneva Sports LLC, the parent of Northeast Ohio-based SPIRE Institute which hosts youth sports events and runs a sports academy for about 80 student-athletes, was awarded a license for Ohio sports betting by the state Casino Control Commission today.
The actual sports betting – whether online or retail -- would be operated by Geneva Sports’ partner, Out The Gate, which was approved as a management service provider.
Ohio is scheduled to start a wide range of sports betting on Jan. 1, including retail sportsbooks in casinos and other facilities, Ohio mobile betting apps, and kiosks sports wagering in hundreds of small businesses.
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Over the last few years, SPIRE has been assembling 800 farmland acres to build its sports facility. So far, it includes 800,000 square feet of dedicated athletic space, both indoor and outdoor, as well as resident buildings.
What's the Connection?
The connection between an organization that provides sports opportunities and facilities for young people and a sportsbook is this: SPIRE provides market access for Out The Gate, and if the sportsbook is successful, that will provide more financial resources for SPIRE to pursue its core missions, which includes helping the economic development of Ashtabula County, where the Institute is located.
“We are grateful for all of the local and regional support we’ve received in this endeavor. It’s a very exciting time for the State of Ohio and for Geneva,” said Jonathan Ehrenfeld, managing partner of SPIRE Institute.
“We are pleased to be awarded what we consider a great opportunity and responsibility. We believe we have strong partners in OTG (Out The Gate) in overseeing our sports gaming operations and look forward to further building on our economic impact in the region.”
For its part, Out The Gate sees itself as being able to appeal to what it contends is an underserved customer base in sports betting. OTG hopes to attract savvy sports bettors who some contend have a tough time getting more recognizable sportsbooks like BetMGM Sportsbook Ohio to take their action.
To get that market share, OTG hopes to offer better odds and higher wagering limits.
"We are very happy for our partners at SPIRE,” said Lee Terfloth, Chief Operating Officer at OTG.
“They have put so much of themselves into growing their business in Ashtabula County, and the Gaming Commission's approval of their license is another tool they can use for further economic development in the county. We are looking forward to helping them in every way we can to build on their success."
Beneath the Surface
Previously, the association between Geneva Sports/SPIRE — with a business model and operation built on youth sports — with Out The Gate raised eyebrows.
In an interview in September, SPIRE’s Ehrenfeld addressed the issue.
“On the surface it can appear unusual, but if someone were to really look at what’s happening in Geneva, Ohio, and at SPIRE and what we’re building, they would understand more clearly what this is about,” Ehrenfeld said.
“SPIRE is an Academy, this is what we are, this is all we are. Our expansive world-class campus allows us to host national events. But the Geneva Sports entity is invested in a lot of different elements around sports. … Our efforts are wide-ranging and our investments are wide-ranging in correlation with the sports industry.”
The emphasis on regional economic development was a large part of the pitch being made by Geneva Sports/SPIRE in pursing the licensing.
Ehrenfeld has noted that SPIRE already attracts about 400,000 unique visitors accounting for about one million visitations to the region.
Having the sportsbook and the resources it potentially contributes is a lift to Ashtabula County overall, Ehrenfeld said.
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