Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb (right) talks with Ron Baumann (center), general manager of Indiana Grand Racing & Casino, and Shelbyville Mayor Tom Debaun in the sports betting area at the Indiana Grand Racing & Casino in Shelbyville, Ind., on Sept. 1, 2019. Holcomb placed the first sports bets after sports betting became legal in Indiana. Ohio is behind its neighbors in legalizing sports betting. Michael Conroy / ASSOCIATED PRESS
Photo: Columbus Bureau
Photo: Columbus Bureau

Will Ohio legalize sports gambling? Bet on it.

On a per capita basis, Ohioans spent $270 on lottery tickets, wagered $694 at casinos and bet $990 on video slots at racinos last year — nearly $2,000, according to state records.

The figure doesn’t include online wagering or illegal gambling, which are difficult to tally. And the total wagers could rise big time if Ohio follows 19 other states in legalizing sports betting.

TY GREENLEES / STAFF
Photo: Columbus Bureau

Gov. Mike DeWine said sports betting is eventually coming to Ohio but state leaders need to answer key public policy questions, such as how to address gambling addictions, whether it’ll be allowed on mobile phone apps and whether bets will be allowed on in-state inter-collegiate sports.

“I have not weighed in on these. I will at some point. Again, these are public policy questions that the public needs to look at and I would encourage anyone in the public who cares about this…to weigh in with their legislators and weigh in with us,” DeWine said earlier this month.

House Bill 194 and Senate Bill 111 each seek to legalize sports betting, though they would take different regulatory approaches. HB194 would give oversight duties to the Ohio Lottery while SB111 would give them to the Casino Control Commission.

State Sen. John Eklund, R-Chardon, sponsor of SB111, said Ohioans are already betting on sports.

“If there are billions of dollars, as they are, being wagered on sports by otherwise law abiding, sensible Ohioans, to have laws now that turns them basically into criminals is a little ridiculous,” Eklund said.

NICK GRAHAM/STAFF
Photo: Columbus Bureau

SB111 would permit current casino and racino license holders the ability to offer sports betting in person, online and via mobile devices. Betting on intercollegiate contests would be allowed but not on high school sports, Eklund said.

Ohio’s public and private colleges and universities oppose legalizing betting on intercollegiate sports.

In a letter signed by presidents of Ohio’s 14 public and 30 private universities, they argued that legal betting on college sports could compromise the integrity of the athletic programs, increase underage gambling and put additional pressure on students.

Another letter signed by athletic directors of Ohio’s 13 Division I NCAA institutions argues against legalizing sports betting on college athletics.

“We are opposed to any form of collegiate sports gaming in the state of Ohio,” said the Oct. 17 letter to lawmakers and state leaders.

The state leaders insist on legalizing sports betting on collegiate sports, the athletic directors recommend multiple restrictions, including limiting wagers to the outcome of games, prohibiting wagers using student financial aid money and prohibiting wagers by athletes and university athletics staff.

RELATED: Ohio moves closer to legalizing sports betting 

TY GREENLEES / STAFF
Photo: Columbus Bureau

The move to legalize sports betting comes after the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018 overturned a 1992 federal law that prohibited it other than in a handful of states.

Eric Schippers of Penn National Gaming, owner of the racino in Dayton, said sales of food and drinks and gaming revenues at its facilities in six states where sports gambling was legalized has increased.

Ohio’s licensed casinos are pushing for SB111, arguing that they’re well positioned to take on sports betting.

Adam Suliman of JACK Entertainment said in written testimony that Ohio’s licensed casino operators have the “well-established, rigorous compliance and responsible gaming protocols in place to ensure a safe wagering environment for consumers.”

Prevention Action Alliance, a non-profit focused on mental health, weighed in on HB194, urging lawmakers to limit sports betting to wagers at existing casinos and racinos and limit it to professional sports.

Sports betting would be the latest in a steady march toward expanded legal gambling in Ohio:

1973: Ohio voters by a 2-1 ratio approve the state lottery.

2008: Keno games added to the Ohio Lottery;

2009: 53% of voters approved a constitutional amendment authorizing four casinos;

2011: Video slots allowed at seven horse racing tracks;

2012-13: Four casinos opened;

2018: Betting on fantasy sports was exempted from Ohio’s gambling laws and subjected to oversight by the Casino Control Commission.

RELATED: Fantasy sports betting now legal in Ohio but subject to regulations 

Illegal sports betting is a $150 billion a year business in the U.S., according to the American Gaming Association.

NICK DAGGY / STAFF
Photo: Columbus Bureau

JACK Entertainment, in written testimony on SB111, said Ohio needs to offer sports betting online and through mobile devices to compete with other states.

If Ohio approves legalizes sports betting, problem gambling is likely to increase with that expanded access and availability of betting options, said Derek Longmeier, director of the Problem Gambling Network of Ohio.

A benchmark survey conducted in 2012 before Ohio’s 11 racinos and casinos opened found 1.1% of adults were at moderate risk for problem gambling while 0.4% were problem gamblers.

The survey was repeated in 2017 and found 3% of adults were at moderate risk and 0.9% met the criteria for gambling disorder. Longmeier attributed the higher percentages to the expanded legal gambling options in Ohio.

Longmeier said the biggest season for sports betting is bracketed by the Super Bowl in early February and the NCAA March Madness tournament that usually ends in early April.

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