Ohio responsible gambling org. urges care in legalizing sports betting

An exterior view of FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio. Professional sports stadiums like this may wind up adding sports books under a proposal from Ohio lawmakers. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images).

A nonprofit organization dedicated to helping Ohioans with gambling addiction is concerned the legalization of sports betting and electronic bingo could parlay into broader problems across the state.

The Problem Gambling Network of Ohio takes no position on the question of expanding the state’s legal gaming opportunities, its executive director Derek Longmeier said. But if Ohio does — and lawmakers are rapidly working toward this goal — the organization believes this legalization effort should include an adequate level of consumer protection.

That means dedicating some of the proceeds toward gambling addiction resources, instituting sports betting limits and publicizing the Ohio Problem Gambling Helpline, Longmeier said.

More than two-dozen states have moved to legalize sports betting in the few short years since a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling made regulated sports books legal. 

Ohio may be next. Senate Bill 176 was introduced last week to legalize sports betting on mobile applications and at Ohio’s casinos and racinos. There may also be sports books at other brick-and-mortar locations like professional sports stadiums.

The bill would separately allow lottery retailers to sell $20 tickets for bettors to predict a certain “outcome of a sporting event.” 

Besides sports betting, SB 176 would legalize electronic bingo at charitable organizations such as veterans halls. Lawmakers are also considering whether to introduce iLottery to Ohio, an online lotto game that users can play on their computers and cell phones.

The bill is scheduled to have its first hearing Wednesday afternoon.

Sen. Kirk Schuring, R-Canton, who leads the Senate Select Committee on Gaming and helped draft the bill, described the legislation as being “malleable.” The Ohio House of Representatives is reportedly drafting its own version.

Derek Longmeier, executive director of the Problem Gambling Network of Ohio, is seen testifying at the Senate Select Committee on Gaming in February 2021. Courtesy OhioChannel.

Problem gambling up since casinos opened

For decades, Ohio has provided resources for those with gambling issues. An earlier organization morphed into the Problem Gambling Network of Ohio (PGNO) about a decade ago right as citizens opted to legalize casinos in the state.

Currently, 2% of casino revenue is set aside for a “Problem Gambling and Addictions Fund.” Longmeier called Ohio “unique” in this regard, as other states with casinos allocate less money toward these resources (or none at all). There are no federal dollars spent in Ohio for this purpose.

PGNO works to connect those who have gambling problems with trained counselors that can provide support. The nonprofit also advocates for a well-regulated gaming landscape that can mitigate harm as much as possible.

“We know the more access to gambling there is, the more people will be impacted,” Longmeier said.

There is data to support this assertion. 

In 2012, the state commissioned an “Ohio Gambling Survey” before the 11 casinos and racinos first opened. A follow-up survey was conducted in 2016-17 to compare the results with casino gambling in place.

More than 24,000 Ohioans answered questions about their own gambling habits. Answers were scored on an index to assess their level of risk.

In 2012, just 0.4% of respondents were found to be in the most severe designation as a “problem gambler” — meeting the diagnostic criteria for gambling disorder.

In the later survey, this figure increased to 0.9% of respondents.

The survey also asked respondents about their involvement with different forms of gambling, such as lotteries, casinos, sports betting and stock markets. 

Around 1-in-4 Ohioans (24%) who reported visiting casinos/racinos were found to have at least some problem with their gambling, such as wagering more than they planned to spend.

An identical percentage was found for those who bet on sports — noteworthy because sports gambling was not legal in Ohio at the time. These respondents either were betting online (many doing so illegally) or traveling out to Las Vegas where sports betting has long been allowed.

The next gambling survey is planned for 2022. 

The impacts of legalizing sports betting and electronic bingo is enough to have PGNO concerned about crafting a responsible system. Here are some specific issues at play:

‘This isn’t a process that should be rushed’

The gambling landscape outlined in SB 176 would make betting more accessible than ever before. No longer would interested players have to travel to a casino — or even to a lottery retailer such as a local gas station.

Instead, bettors could place action on baseball games, auto races and just about any other type of sporting event from the comfort of their living rooms. Depositing money would take mere seconds.

Players of these online sports books have more to bet on than predicting a game’s winner and loser. Mobile clients have rapid play to allow wagering on individual moments. Next up to bat is Joey Votto — want to put a dollar on the first baseman hitting a home run? 

The Race & Sports SuperBook at the Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino. Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images.

The quickness of play can be a major trigger for those with gambling disorders, Longmeier said. His organization supports instituting a legal limit on how much money can be deposited per day. From there, the applications should allow users to set their own personal limits on betting and frequency of play.

Security is another concern, one that casinos have tried to allay in assuring lawmakers they will use their industry experience to put adequate protections in place. SB 176 would place a 21-year-old requirement to bet on sports, the same as with casino play. 

If sports betting will be expanded to lottery retailers, Longmeier said the state should make sure underage players cannot place bets using mobile kiosks (such as those at grocery stores or restaurants).

As mentioned, the state already allocates 2% of casino revenue toward gambling support services. SB 176 proposes a similar 2% of sports betting revenue go toward this purpose.

Longmeier is glad for that, but notes the bill as introduced does not direct any revenue from electronic bingo toward this. Nor does the bill require eBingo offerings to publicize resources like the Problem Gambling Helpline.

PGNO sees this legislative effort as a prime opportunity to straighten up the state’s gambling regulatory framework, which is currently split up among four different agencies.

Most of all, Longmeier wants lawmakers to be deliberate in coming up with a suitable plan. 

“This isn’t a process that should be rushed,” said Longmeier, emphasizing that officials should always keep the interests of Ohioans in mind.

In first presenting the bill, Schuring said lawmakers wanted to get the bill passed by June. But he too noted it is important to get things right.

“Gaming is here today in Ohio,” he said, “and all we want to do is put guardrails around it to make sure it’s done correctly.”

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