Group Tells Ohio Lawmakers That 1-In-4 Sports Bettors Were At-Risk Gamblers In 2017

Ohio had to restart its sports betting efforts in 2021 after legislation advanced but ultimately fell short in 2020, but the silver lining is that it’s giving problem gambling advocates more time to discuss it.

As part of the process, Ohio lawmakers are currently holding meetings every week to study and gather input on expanding gambling in the state. One of the groups to provide written testimony this week to the Ohio Senate Select Committee on Gaming was the Problem Gambling Network of Ohio.

The group provided some data on the prevalence of at-risk/problem gambling in the state. The good news: Rates of such gambling are about the same for sports betting as they are for the one-armed bandits (slot machines). The bad news: It’s relatively high.

“We know that nearly 1-in-4 Ohioans (24%) who wager on sports have experienced a gambling problem,” the group said in its testimony. “A similar prevalence rate was found for those who play electronic gaming machines (slot machines at casinos and video lottery terminals at racinos).”

The survey the group is referencing was done with more than 24,000 Ohio adults aged 18 and up in 2017 using a relatively simplistic self-assessment called the Canadian Problem Gambling Index. The survey was conducted via cellphones and landlines by Strategic Research Group LLC.

Legal sports betting was virtually confined to the state of Nevada in 2017, so any sports betting in Ohio that was and is still conducted by Ohioans is done through local bookies, offshore sports betting websites, or, post-2018, in a neighboring state. Ohio’s first casino opened in 2012, and while illegal gambling dens exist, for the most part people play the electronic gaming machines in a legal environment.

Benefit of regulation

Unregulated online sportsbooks have scant if any assistance for players who are at-risk or have met the threshold of problem gambling, whereas regulated books are required to provide it (i.e., self-exclusion or deposit limits). States use some of their tax money, albeit a small fraction, to fund initiatives to combat addiction. Unregulated books are untaxed.

That said, potential Ohio licensing and regulation of sports betting would put the state’s stamp of approval on it, allowing advertisements to become commonplace. While regulation aims to capture an underground market that is already in existence, it also makes betting more mainstream.

Problem gambling advocates typically remain neutral to sports betting bills. The PGNO is no different.

“PGNO is unique as we take a neutral position regarding legalized gambling and engage with the spectrum of stakeholders  —prevention, treatment, recovery, operators, and regulators — who make up Ohio’s gambling services system,” the group said in its testimony.

The delay in sports betting legalization in Ohio is at least giving the PGNO and other advocates in the state a chance to continue to work with policymakers on crafting the best consumer protection provisions possible. More public testimony on gambling addiction is also good.

“For previous versions of the sports wagering bills we have worked with sponsors to enhance consumer protections, which included: dedicated funds specific to problem gambling services, publicizing of the Ohio Problem Gambling Helpline, and prohibiting wagering on sport or athletic events for certain populations,” the group said. “These measures are critical steps toward ensuring sound policy for this complex issue.”