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Business & Economy

Ohio saw $6 billion in wagers, more calls to helpline during first year of legal sports betting

A man places a bet at the counter at a retail sportsbook as three screens overhead display game stats.
Allie Vugrincic
/
WOSU
Adam Journic of Columbus places a bet at the counter at Fanatics Sportsbook near Nationwide Arena.

With one year of legal sports betting under its belt, the state of Ohio has seen billions of dollars in wagers placed, as well as a rise in calls to its gambling helpline.

Sports betting became legal in Ohio as the clock struck midnight on Jan. 1, 2023, just as The Ohio State University missed the would-be game winning field goal against the Georgia Bulldogs in the final seconds of the Peach Bowl.

In the first month of legal betting, Ohioans wagered over $1 billion and generated around $200 million in tax revenue for the state.

“And I don't think we'll see another January that's that high going forward,” said Matthew Schuler, Executive Director of the Ohio Casino Control Commission, which regulates sports betting.

Schuler attributes last January’s flood of bets to the novelty of legalized betting, excitement and a slew of promotions from sportsbooks. While things slowed down, Ohio kept betting throughout the year, wagering about $6 billion total.

Around 98% of those bets were placed online, Schuler said. He noted that Ohio’s sports gaming patrons tend to be younger. The average sports better in the state is 21 to 35 years old, male and college educated, with some disposable income.

Football and basketball are the biggest draws for sports betting, with NFL’s season and March Madness being the “bread and butter” for sportsbooks, Schuler said.

Screens reflect on a row of betting kiosks.
Allie Vugrincic
/
WOSU
A row of betting kiosks line a wall at Fanatics Sportsbook near Nationwide Arena in Columbus.

Sports betting in the state

Ohio law allows up to 25 online operators, that can each run two sportsbooks, but Schuler said the market can’t really support 50 providers. The Ohio Lottery Commission offers kiosks at certain bars and taverns and some grocery stores that have the right type of liquor license. The state can also set up as many as 40 brick-and-mortar retail locations.

“But really there are very few of those to date,” Schuler said.

Several do exist, though, like Fanatics Sportsbook near Nationwide Arena in downtown Columbus. The bar has 11 kiosks downstairs and three upstairs in its VIP lounge, as well as four windows to place bets in person.

With many large TVs, big, comfortable chairs and a full bar with a food menu, the sports bar, which has been open since August, is gaining popularity, said its General Manager Gibson Milburn.

“I feel like the hockey season definitely helped us for sure. But yeah, we're good (on) weekends and (with) Ohio State, we’re fine,” Milburn said. “Weekdays, it’s a little harder.”

He added that the Crew is a big draw, too, because fans like to gather to watch the game and talk about their wagers.

Milburn has worked in sports betting in several states and said the Ohio sports betting market has met expectations, especially on the Fanatics phone app. He said the location near Nationwide Arena is currently meeting expectations, “but as we grow, we’ll raise our expectations.”

Comparing Ohio to states like Maryland, West Virginia and Washington, Ohio’s betters have the most passion.
 
On a weekday, regular sports gambler Adam Journic walked in to place a bet on NBA basketball.

“You definitely get more invested in that, like sometimes you bet on games that you would never even think about watching,” Journic said.

But Journic admitted that the main reason he bets is, “You can win money.”

“Since sports gambling is now legal in the state of Ohio, we have seen a surge of individuals that are now reaching out."
Casino Control Commission Executive Director Matthew Schuler

Problem gambling

And sometimes, you lose.

Schuler with the Casino Control Commission said surveys starting in 2011 showed Ohioans bet on sports well before it was legal to do so in the state.

He said those who bet on sports tend to have a higher rate of problem gambling than people do with other types of gambling. Until recently, however, the state’s gambling helpline received relatively few calls for sports gambling.

“Since sports gambling is now legal in the state of Ohio, we have seen a surge of individuals that are now reaching out,” Schuler said.

The Problem Gambling Network of Ohio reports it received almost 1,500 calls from Ohioans looking for support in January 2023 – three times more than the previous year. During the rest of the year, monthly call numbers dipped to around 600, but stayed higher than 2022.

Ohio’s gambling law allows people to wager on so-called proposition bets on individual plays and things that happen in a game. At the Super Bowl, some sportsbooks even let players bet on the coin toss or length of the National Anthem.

Shuler says the often fast-paced betting can have a similar effect as a slot machine.

“You just keep doing it and doing it and doing it and maybe not fully processing how much is being wagered, how long you've been on the app,” he said.
 
The Casino Control Commission is working with online sportsbook operators to make changes to apps to help customers be more aware of their wagers and the amount of time they’ve been on apps.

The Casino Control Commission and the Ohio Lottery also offer an app of their own. Time Out Ohio allows people to voluntarily ban themselves from casinos, racinos and sports gaming around the world.

A screen shows a bet placed on the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Allie Vugrincic
/
WOSU
A screen at the betting counter at Fanatics Sportsbook shows a wager placed on the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Integrity

You can also be involuntarily banned, though not for problem gambling.

Schuler said that practice is “a tool for the commission to be able to place individuals who compromise the integrity of sports gaming on that list.”

To date, two people have been served notice for doing so: former Alabama University baseball coach Brad Bohannon and former college pitcher Bert Neff. The pair are accused of using inside information to place wagers in Cincinnati.

“It's about integrity and the reputation of sports gaming in the state of Ohio,” Schuler said.

Allie Vugrincic has been a radio reporter at WOSU 89.7 NPR News since March 2023.