Phantom Fireworks Says Proposed Ohio Sportsbook Would ‘Give Back’ to Youngstown

When the Ohio Casino Control Commission (OCCC) released the names of the latest sports betting applicants that had submitted their paperwork by Friday, many familiar and expected names were on the list. Sports teams and casinos were on there, as were several national sports betting operators.

Phantom Fireworks
Phantom Fireworks
The Phantom Fireworks showroom in Youngstown, Ohio, where the retailer is based. Last Friday, the company filed an application with the Ohio Casino Control Commission seeking to host a retail sportsbook at the Covelli Centre in the northeast Ohio city. (Image: Phantom Fireworks)

Then, toward the bottom of the list for the Type B proprietors, those entities wishing to host a retail sportsbook, was Phantom Fireworks. The pyrotechnic retailer is based in Youngstown and seeks to offer a sportsbook in its home base of Mahoning County.

So, why would a company that sells mortar shells want to open a brick-and-mortar sportsbook? William Weimer, the vice president and general counsel of Phantom Fireworks, told that the company believes it’s a way to pay back Youngstown.

Decades ago, when Bruce Zoldan founded the company, fireworks weren’t necessarily a popular business in Ohio. Still, Weimer said Youngstown, located just minutes from the Pennsylvania state line, embraced the company, which has grown to become a leading national retailer with more than 75 permanent stores.

Bruce has tried his best to give back to the community that supported him all along from the beginning… Bruce has loyalties, and he believes that this gaming license will benefit the city,” Weimer said. “It may be a profit maker. Hopefully, it will, but he’s not looking at it initially from that point of view.”

Ohio will allow up to 40 retail sportsbooks, and those facilities have been slotted for the state’s largest counties. Mahoning County could be approved for up to two retail sportsbooks based on its population. The county is also home to Hollywood Gaming at Mahoning Valley, a Penn National Gaming thoroughbred track and video lottery racino. For its Type B license, it would partner with Penn’s Barstool Sportsbook.

Youngstown Arena Intended Sportsbook Site

If approved by the OCCC, Phantom would locate the sportsbook in the Covelli Centre, a multipurpose arena owned by the city of Youngstown that seats up to 7,000 people depending on the event.

“We think it will be an additional draw for people to come to the downtown area,” Weimer said.

He said the company is still working on finding a management service provider (MSP), Ohio’s term for a retail sportsbook operator, and hopes to have an announcement in the near future. Of the 24 entities that have applied for retail sportsbook proprietor licenses, Phantom is among four that do not have an MSP connected with their application.

The arena is also home to the Youngstown Phantoms, a team that plays in the top-tier junior-level United States Hockey League and is co-owned by Zoldan. The team’s logo is based on the Phantom Fireworks.

Junior hockey is for amateur hockey players mostly between the ages of 16 to 21. Many who play in the league go on to play at the college level, and some even make it professionally.

Concerns have been raised about exposing underage youth to sports betting, with responsible gaming advocates saying such exposure makes teenagers and younger children more prone to developing problem gambling issues.

Weimer said Phantom Fireworks’ desire to get a sports betting license “has nothing to do” with the hockey team. In addition, he said there’s no intent to lobby the state to allow for betting on junior hockey.

OCCC No ‘Rubber Stamp’

The OCCC held a meeting Wednesday, and Executive Director Matt Schuler gave the commissioner a sports betting update.

Friday was the deadline for entities seeking a Type A, Type B or Type C (bar kiosk operator) license and be assured they could start on Ohio’s universal start date of Jan. 1 if they are approved. MSPs and Mobile MSPs were also supposed to file by Friday.

Last Friday, the application process started for the state’s bars to apply to host kiosks and for Type A proprietors seeking to partner with a second sports betting app.

Schuler made it clear to the commissioners that the OCCC will not be a “rubber stamp” organization as it reviews applications.

Among the criteria commission staff must consider as they review applications include the applicant’s reputation and financial integrity, their history of any criminal, civil, or bankruptcy proceedings, the applicant’s impact on the local and state economy, and the economic development impact of the proposed sportsbook.

While the state’s major professional sports teams and its licensed casinos and racinos will receive preference for licenses, preference does not guarantee acceptance.

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