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SPIRE Institute applies for Ohio sports betting license

SPIRE Institute applies for betting license

A sports facility in northeast Ohio disclosed on Tuesday that its intentions to host a retail sportsbook and mobile sports betting app will not involve the boarding school for teenage athletes that is situated at the property.
Proponents for safer gambling policies and others who have voiced concerns about increasing gambling disclosed their skepticism on the matter and raised questions as to whether sports betting was the right move for the organization. 
Geneva Sports LLC, also known as SPIRE Institute, applied to the Ohio Casino Control Commission (OCCC) last Friday with an offer to partner with a retail sportsbook and an online sports betting operator. In either case, the institute intends to work with a new face in the sports wagering industry, Out the Gate. 
The Executive Director of Stop Predatory Gambling, Les Bernal, expressed his dismay that an organization that is meant to educate children would want to delve into sports betting, and he urged SPIRE to retract its application.

“They need to live up to the mission of what an educational institution is supposed to be about. That’s not supposed to be about greed,” he said.
The institute is 45 minutes from Cleveland in Geneva, where SPIRE houses a multipurpose stadium on its 800-acre site. The stadium can reportedly cater to “national championship” events and has a seating capacity of around 20,000. 
In addition to its stadium, SPIRE has training programs for professional athletes, Paralympians, Wounded Warriors, and Olympians. The institute has a boarding school, SPIRE Academy, where high-school students can work on their athletic skills by engaging in sports like soccer, basketball, swimming, wrestling, and track and field. 
The managing partner of SPIRE Institute, John Ehrenfeld, mentioned a recent study which disclosed that the Ashtabula County Complex annually brings in around $95 million. Tourism played a significant role economically, whether in the area of local wineries, recreational areas, or just visits to the institute. 
The Baltimore-based entrepreneur said, “We feel like having a sports gaming option for them somewhere nearby would be just another activity that could be interesting and inviting and exciting for somebody that wants to participate. We want to be able to offer different kinds of activities as part of our offering.”
Ehrenfeld further revealed that the location for sports wagering would be outside the institute if the application is approved. Other security measures include not letting anyone under the legal Ohio sports betting age of 21 get in or partake in placing bets. 
He also mentioned that the organization has a liquor license, which allows them to serve drinks for weddings, receptions, or other occasions held at SPIRE. Despite this, alcoholic beverages are not sold to the students during youth sporting events.
Ehrenfeld said, “We have a liquor license, and we have a high school, but those two don’t conflict because of responsible management and never have, really, in SPIRE’s history. We have a liquor license, and we have a high school, but those two don’t conflict because of responsible management and never have, really, in SPIRE’s history.”
Besides SPIRE, several organizations in Ohio with ties to youth sports have indicated an interest in acquiring a sports betting license. These include FC Cincinnati and Columbus Crew, both Major League Soccer (MLS) teams with academy programs for teen athletes. 
Despite Ehrenfeld’s arguments, opponents of the move insist it is not suitable for sports betting to be associated with a group that deals so closely with high-school students. They claim that any connection between the sports academy and a sportsbook could cause uneasiness and raise questions concerning the normalizing of the act for youths who were legally not old enough to partake. 
A consulting firm that aims to promote responsible gaming told the public that the mere act of becoming an operator could have significant, far-reaching effects on children.

“Just by nature of becoming an operator, the business is happening around them, and this really isn’t a business that’s appropriate for children. We know that it can have significant consequences on their mental health and their overall well-being,” said Brianne Doura-Schawohl, a representative of the firm.
Keith Whyte, the Executive Director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, suggested that having underaged athletes and sports betting together could lead to assumptions that when people patronized the sportsbook, they were also helping the children.

He said, “A lot of gambling is marketed this way.”

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