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Casino Reopenings Bring Gambling Addiction Back Into Focus

The Hollywood Casino in the Hilltop neighborhood.
Adora Namigadde
The Hollywood Casino in the Hilltop neighborhood.

Ohio casinos are back in business after the pandemic shut them down for a few months. And while the spread of COVID-19 is a top concern, health professionals are also worried about how the closure and subsequent re-opening might have affected people who struggle with gambling addictions.

The treatment center Maryhaven says it lost touch with many clients during the shutdown, as counseling moved to a virtual space and casinos and racinos went dark.

But after reopening in mid-June, business is booming again, and counselors are concerned.

“Since they’ve reopened, our calls to the hotline number and to the agency have been on a steady increase,” says Bruce Jones, who heads the gambling program at Maryhaven.

That demand is reflected in big profits for casinos and racinos around the state.

“Keep in mind that because of COVID, they reduced numbers of availability on the machines and some of the poker rooms were closed, and they still set records, so they’re back strong,” Jones says.

Jones says that, according to figures he’s seen, Hollywood Casino Columbus brought in $18 million last month.

“People are venturing back, even taking the risk with the social distancing and everything,” he says.

Jones adds it’s not just the availability of gambling: an influx of federal cash may have contributed to the increase.

“I think it’s great that people received stimulus checks during this period, but it was not a good thing for a lot of people in recovery,” he says.

Jones says 10% of Ohioans are at-risk of gambling addiction, and urges anyone with concerns to call the National Problem Gambling Helpline, at 1-800-522-4700. 

Clare Roth was former All Things Considered Host for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU in February of 2017. After attending the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, she returned to her native Iowa as a producer for Iowa Public Radio.