Home Opinion Should Ohio do more to legislate on betting and gambling?

Should Ohio do more to legislate on betting and gambling?


At the last count, the global gambling market had an estimated worth of $525 billion. It’s one of the world’s true economic success stories – even in the past few years of decline and stagnation – and is tipped to become even more of a juggernaut in the coming years. This global demand has had many US states scrambling to review their gambling laws – including Ohio.

Although the Buckeye State is relatively new to legal gambling, it has adapted to its recently relaxed gambling laws quickly. Revenues are on the rise – both for the industry and for the state’s tax coffers – as they are across the US and across the world.

It’s a state where people wishing to gamble had very limited options for years, then in 2009 a whole new world of possibilities opened up with the new licensing of so-called ‘racinos’ and casinos. The state still doesn’t really compare to hotspots like Nevada and New Jersey, but the business is growing fast and there’s an appetite among legislators for more.


A brief history of gambling in Ohio 

Ohio’s early history starts with its status as a frontier territory and moves into a period of rapid economic growth as part of the booming period of trade and commerce along the Mississippi River. Like other states that match that description, however, that period came with a wave of prohibitions and crackdowns.

The first gambling laws in Ohio were put into place way back in 1790, when fines were charged against gamblers and private companies were given rights to enforce the fines in exchange for a cut. It wasn’t until after prohibition that the first relaxation of the laws came into place with the 1933 amendment to the constitution enabling pari-mutual horse betting at racetracks. That would later lead to remote betting then electronic lottery games at the tracks, traditions that still thrive today.

40 years later, good cause lotteries were allowed, followed by bingo and raffles two years later in 1975, with beneficiaries including education groups, volunteer firefighters and war veterans.

It was another long wait for the next round of legalisation, and with no tribal casinos allowed those looking for casino action would have to travel over state lines to Indiana or West Virginia. That all changed in 2009, however, when a casino for each of Ohio’s large cities – four in total – was licensed.


Ohio’s gambling boom

The casinos attracted major investment and shot up quickly, and they now boast plenty of table games, massive slot halls and new card rooms for poker players and their ilk. 

As of a couple of years ago, business was good for the gambling outlets of Ohio. Total annual gambling revenue for the state was $1.2 billion, with approximate tax revenue of $396 million based on a tax rate of 33 per cent. While it hardly stands up to the comparatively more established Nevada, New Jersey or even Louisiana, it’s not bad for such a latecomer to the market.

There is still, of course, room for growth. At just four casinos and seven racinos for a population of 11.7 million people, there’s plenty of scope for more facilities.


Comparisons with other gambling nations


The UK, which has a well-established gambling industry, which includes everything from high street bookies to online casinos, makes for an interesting comparison with Ohio’s current state of affairs. After all, the UK was in a similar position prior to the passing of the 2005 Gambling Act, which saw it embrace gambling and become a market leader.

The total gross gambling yield for the UK’s gambling sector was £14.4 billion in the financial year from April 2017 to March 2018 – up a significant 4.5 per cent from the previous year. £1.5 billion was generated for good causes by the National Lottery, with a further £296 million in contributions from large society lotteries. These are undeniably impressive numbers.

Online casinos are the biggest winners at the moment. They alone account for more than one-third of all revenue. Online operators have come on leaps and bounds since the basic gaming experience they offered in the past – there’s now hundreds of online casinos out there offering a varied selection of casino and slots game, all at the touch of a button. While the games are super-convenient to play – anytime, anywhere and on any device – there’s also more engaging than ever before.

With the online casino industry so lively, operators need to stand out from the crowd to enjoy success. With unique features such as chequered flooring and a Wurlitzer soundtrack, plus a range of immersive games, here’s one UK online casino that’s determined to do just that.

It’s not just revenue gambling brings the UK – it’s jobs, too. The industry employs 107,940 Brits, and the bricks-and-mortar element of the sector had 152 casinos, 644 bingo premises and 8,406 betting shops as of September last year.

Those numbers are all the product of a legislative environment that has been broadly permissive and, as such, the public purse has been benefiting from tax revenues from the sector for decades.


Online casinos in Ohio

In Ohio, the law is fuzzy on whether online gambling is allowed. There hasn’t been any legislation specifically legalising online betting or gambling, but neither is it specifically forbade. The law says a person is guilty of a misdemeanour if they “acquire, possess, control, or operate any gambling device”. A gambling device is defined as “any equipment, device, apparatus, or paraphernalia specially designed for gambling purposes”.

That description doesn’t cover a phone or personal computer as they certainly aren’t specifically designed for gambling. It might, however, stretch to a specifically designed piece of software for accessing online casino games or poker rooms such as an app. It might even extend to a website offering online gambling.

It’s worth pointing out that the state of Ohio hasn’t ever pursued an individual for placing a bet online and it’s unlikely to muster the resources to start doing so. Exact figures for the number of people doing this kind of ‘grey market’ online betting are not available, but it’s safe to say that it’s high and that Ohio’s state legislature is leaving tax revenue on the table. That could be set to change, though.


Looking ahead to the future


 In May 2018, the gambling landscape dramatically shifted with the overturning of the PASPA ruling, which had effectively banned sports betting nationwide. Today, some experts and commentators are predicting the floodgates to open and all forms of gambling across the nation. It’s beginning to happen in the likes of New Jersey, Maryland and West Virginia, which have all progressed legislation to make sports betting available to the public.

The previous governor of Ohio, Republican John Kasich, was on record for thinking Ohio wasn’t getting a big enough slice of the gambling pie, despite Ohio’s 33 per cent revenue tax being the third highest in the United States. Similarly the new governor, Mike DeWine (also a Republican) has stated the importance for Ohio of getting out in front of sports betting so it can be properly legislated.

While it’s unclear precisely what this will mean for online betting and gambling, it seems plausible that with the new governor keen to regulate the industry overall he might want to bring the online sector under state oversight, too. It’s a side of the industry that, with more and more states legislating around it, looks unlikely to go away.