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European gaming giant bet365 has applied for an Ohio online sports betting license, a key move toward what could be a long-rumored and far larger US expansion.

One of the world’s best-known online sports betting and casino gaming operators, bet365 is a relative afterthought in the US. Its sportsbook is live only in New Jersey and, aside from a few signs at Yankee Stadium, seems commercially non-existent, especially compared to its American competitors’ advertising deluge.

In New Jersey, bet365 significantly trails the market shares of FanDuel, DraftKings, BetMGM and Caesars, the four nationwide leaders by handle and gross gaming revenue, which combine for north of 80% in both categories in most states where they operate. The next tier of operators including Barstool, PointsBet as well as Rush Street Interactive’s BetRivers and PlaySugarHouse each have single-digit US market shares.

Other online sportsbooks that entered New Jersey (and additional states) with high expectations including WynnBet and TwinSpires have either curtailed marketing or exited the US entirely. The nation’s three-dozen or so remaining sportsbooks combine for less than 10% of the nation’s overall handle and GGR.

This dynamic plays out in Colorado, the only other state bet365 has earned a license; the “Big Four” dominate, a few sportsbooks get single-digit shares and the rest battle for a small slice of the remaining proverbial sports betting pie. Months after earning its sports betting license, bet365 still has no firm launch timeline in Colorado, which like New Jersey, also has more than two-dozen live digital sportsbooks that nearly all of which are better known to American audiences.

Bet365’s other serious American sports betting push was in New York, where it was not one of nine operators to earn a license.

Ohio could be different, industry figures believe, and could also be the beginning of a massive shake-up in American sports betting.

Founded in 2000, bet365 has grown into one of the major players in global online gaming. Industry analysts laud it for its cutting-edge tech platform, user interface and wide array of betting offerings. This has helped it grow into one of the world’s most lucrative gaming companies and made founder Denise Coats one of the UK’s highest-compensated executives.

In Ontario, where the platform offered iGaming and online sports betting for years in the province’s unregulated “grey” market, bet365 is projected as a market share leader in the newly established regulated commercial environment that launched earlier this year. Though officials haven’t reported revenue figures since its April launch, bet365 has been one of the province’s most downloaded apps (gaming or otherwise) in recent months.

Industry figures believe this will correlate with high market share rates despite competition from more than 40 other Ontario gaming sites, including the aforementioned US leaders.

Despite its success in Canada and overseas, bet365 has not aggressively pursued US expansion to nearly the degree of its major European competitors.

Flutter Entertainment, parent company of well-known European brands Paddy Power, Betfair and The Stars Group, acquired FanDuel shortly after the Supreme Court struck down the federal sports wagering ban in 2018. FanDuel has since grown into America’s leading sportsbook and iGaming platform by market share and GGR.

Entain, operator of major European brands including Coral and Ladbrokes, announced a 50-50 joint venture with MGM in 2018 to launch BetMGM in the US. William Hill, another venerable European operator, was acquired by Caesars and then rebranded solely under the Caesars banner.

Only DraftKings hasn’t affiliated with, acquired or been acquired by a major European operator, leading some to speculate it could be a target for bet365 should it look to rebrand in the US under a name better known by most Americans. Publicly-traded DraftKings’ value has plummeted in the past six months while privately held bet365 is believed to have a massive cash reserve, further fueling speculation.

It is far too early to tell if such massive rumors carry any potential, but bet365’s recent Ohio sports betting application makes it clear the company sees value in the US market.

The company has already begun investing in Ohio, despite not even having a license and being unable to launch until Jan. 1, 2023 should it earn one. Bet365 ads have become an inescapable presence at home games for MLB’s Cleveland Guardians, who will partner with the sportsbook for its online sports betting license. (Fanatics, another possible US sports betting upstart, has partnered with the team for its in-stadium sportsbook at Progressive Field).

Ohio also gives Bet365 equal footing in a US market. Unlike New Jersey (and eventually Colorado), bet365 is set to enter Ohio on New Years Day, 2023 at the same time as all of its major competitors.

Still, reaching the market share levels of  the current leaders will not come easily – or without a hefty price tag.

Bet365 does not have the US customer list of a DraftKings of FanDuel, which has a multi-million user data base built from daily fantasy sports players and bolstered by its seemingly ubiquitous advertising blitz in the previous decade. It also can’t match Caesars and MGM, which likewise have millions of customers apiece built from visits to their respective brick-and-mortar casinos.

Its partnership with a well-established pro sports team aside, bet365 also doesn’t have nearly the name recognition as virtually any of its competitors.

Bet365, however, has the money for a sustained advertising, marketing and promotional blitz, which is arguably the single most important factor for gaining market share. Executives from DraftKings, FanDuel and other gaming leaders are looking to slow down the massive spending of recent years, which could lead an opening for a deep-pocketed newcomer.

With spending expected to decline, US sportsbook officials say product and technology will keep long-term customers first acquired through ads or free bets. This strategy could also bolster bet365, well-noted in established markets for its elite product offerings and user experience.

Ohio itself presents an enticing market for bet365 due to its large population and business-friendly tax structure. It could become a launching pad for something greater.

Though bet365’s success in Ohio is no sure bet, it’s clear the company sees great potential in the state. It’s also clear that despite a slow start, bet365 is one of the few entities remaining that could fundamentally alter the current hierarchy of America’s multibillion-dollar regulated sports betting industry.

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