MARCANO: Gambling is here, and it’s not going away



You can’t escape it.

Legalized sports gambling ads in Ohio have become as common as soda pop promotions. They’re on social media, television, and radio, tempting fans to place a bet on their favorite team.

Effective Jan. 1, 2023, bettors in Ohio can legally place wagers online or in certain retail establishments. Don’t worry about knowing where to find these sportsbooks; they’ll find you. Look at all the promotions with tempting free play, free cash, and other offers.

Gambling equals big business and big money. Ohio could bring in an additional $31 million in tax revenue through June 2024, according to the Ohio Legislative Service Commission. Sports gambling licensing fees in 2022 could add another $32 million, according to Play Ohio, which covers legal gambling. Play Ohio also projects Ohioans could place $8 billion in bets in 2023.

The financial windfall obscures the potential human costs of legalized gambling.

Ohio for Responsible Gambling estimates that more than 76,000 Ohioans are high-risk problem gamblers and another 919,000 problem gamblers. Gambling can lead to alcoholism, depression, and PTSD, the group noted.

Colleen Oakes worries about the damage that sports betting will do. She’s the coalition manager for the Montgomery County Prevention Coalition, which seeks to prevent substance misuse and promote positive mental health.

“It can be just as addictive as regular gambling, and my concern is that people are going to be doing this alone, with very little support, from their couches,” she said.

Sports gamblers can wager on everything from the point spread to the number of touchdowns thrown in a game to the number of walks in the baseball game. With sports, some people fool themselves into believing they’re not really gambling.

“People think of sports gambling as being skills-based because I know so much about this player, about this team,” Oakes said. “To them, it’s not gambling because you’re not just pulling the slot machine. It’s your knowledge. It’s a skills-based game at that point, so that also changes the way that they think about that addictive behavior.”

I’m a huge and informed sports fan and can’t predict, with any certainty, the over-under in an NBA game or the number of targets and catches in an NFL game. There are too many variables.

As Oakes noted, sports fans think they know their teams, but they don’t. Ohio State was an eight-point favorite against Michigan with an over-under of 56. If I gambled, which I don’t, I would have taken the points and the under and lost as badly as the Buckeyes. The Big Game, by the way, took in 10.2 million bets nationwide. Imagine what that’s going to do in Ohio.

States like Illinois, Pennsylvania, and New York reported that calls to their gambling hotline doubled after instituting legalized gambling, Oakes said. Michigan and Connecticut reported receiving three times the number of calls.

Oakes also worries about teenagers tempted to gamble, and that’s a significant problem in Ohio. According to Change the Game, which focuses on youth gambling, 65% of 14 to 21-year-olds are at risk for problem gambling. Yes, you’re supposed to be 21 to place a sports bet, but it’s easy to lie about your age when you download an app.

Gambling is here, and it’s not going away. There’s too much money at stake, and states are always looking for other streams of revenue.

Ohio does a good job of reminding gamblers of the free services available to help them if they need them. Just google “Ohio gambling hotline,” and dozens of services come up, most of which provide the phone number of the Ohio Problem Gambling Hotline (1-800-589-9966).

Don’t be afraid to call the number if you need it.

Ray Marcano’s column appears on these pages each Sunday. He can be reached at

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