All Bets Are Off: Examining Ohio’s proposed sports betting legislation

By: Bruce Jones

Gambling is often accurately referred to as the “World’s Oldest Pastime.” And, for as long as it’s been around, governments continually double down in one of two ways: they either tax it or ban it.

Examples abound. The Egyptians outlawed gambling some 5,000 years ago (it didn’t go well). Queen Elizabeth I set up the first government-sponsored lottery in 1567.

True to historical form, the State of Ohio is on the cusp of enacting legislation similar to other states that legalizes—and capitalizes on—more gambling options. Senate Bill 176, introduced earlier this month, would permit both electronic bingo and sports betting, with sports betting licenses for both brick-and-mortar establishments and mobile outlets starting at $1 million for three years. Ohio would also tax 10% of the approved sportsbooks’ net revenue, with 2% of those proceeds funding gambling addiction services.

Many experts are concerned that the State may be tiptoeing across a tight rope without a safety net. “The number of gambling opportunities will explode while protections to deter and treat problem gambling could implode if the current legislation is enacted as is,” said Derek Longmeier, Executive Director of the Problem Gambling Network of Ohio (PGNO). Longmeier argues the bill does not meet the minimum standards PGNO outlined to mitigate harm to Ohioans caused by expanded gambling.

Longmeier proposes three key amendments to SB176:

  1. Focus on Sports Wagering and hold E-Bingo for further policy review: Both issues are far too complex to be combined into a single piece of legislation and the e-bingo consumer protections fall far short.
  2. Allow sufficient time for the legislative deliberations: Arbitrary deadlines are neither helpful nor necessary. Both issues should be given sufficient consideration and due diligence so that Ohioans can provide input.
  3. Engage subject matter experts: Those who are knowledgeable about the impact of gambling expansion, NOT special interests, should lead the discussion.

And as Derek reminds us, there’s another part of the past we should not forget. The more ubiquitous gambling is, the easier it is to access and the more socially acceptable is seems, the greater the numbers of people who develop gambling addictions. This too is De’ja vu all over again.

As one of six gambling addiction treatment centers recognized by the State, we at Maryhaven think it’s important to amplify the voices of those we serve. Like substance abuse disorders, gambling addiction occurs from a complex brain disorder that includes triggers, dependency and withdrawal symptoms. Many pathological gamblers suffer from a simultaneous mental health or addiction disorder such as depression or alcoholism. People with gambling addictions are at highest risk of suicide among all addictions.

Consider the recent stories of clients like Mark, who has worked on his recovery for six years, all while trying to avoid the growing temptations that arise when the society around him demonstrates greater comfort with universal gambling. The same is true for Jess Stewart, featured in that same Columbus Dispatch article and in a recent interview on WOSU with our own Maria Garner. As if living with gambling disorder wasn’t lonely enough, now folks like Jess and Mark have to disconnect from friends, family and other fun events like sports too.

And I’ve already witnessed how sports and technology are changing the game. My sports betting clients are much more likely to already use mobile methods to further fuel their addiction. More widespread legalization certainly won’t be a benefit for this group, not to mention many others who recently told NBC News that their gambling problem was exacerbated by the pandemic. Again, the more gambling “is trending,” the greater the number of folks who can come unplugged.

We believe all of these stories reinforce the need for comprehensive, carefully considered regulations.

Maryhaven stands ready to make sure we get this complex issue right, too. That’s a bet you can count on.

About the Author

Bruce Jones

Administrative Coordinator LSW, LCDC III, NCGC II

Bruce is a Licensed Social Worker (LSW) and a Nationally-Certified Gambling Counselor Level II who has worked for Maryhaven since 2000. He saw the need for gambling services in Central Ohio in 2009 and asked Maryhaven to apply for a private grant from the Columbus Foundation to target help to those struggling with gambling addiction. The state then supplied funding after his vision was verified with the amount of clients seeking services that first year and Bruce has been working with individuals, family members, and communities ever since.


Have a question for our experts? Call us at 614-324-5425 or submit it here:

    To Schedule an Appointment, please click "Contact Us" above.

    Ask the Experts