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Ohio Gambling and Casinos

Ohio

Ohio is only a recent entrant into the world of casino gambling, but it has the potential to be a big player in the industry. With over 11.5 million people, this is one of America’s largest states, with large metropolitan areas that are perfect settings for resorts, especially in the face of regional competition for gambling dollars.

On the other hand, Ohio hasn’t yet shown as much initiative when it comes to legalizing Internet casinos . That may eventually come to pass as well, but it will take some time, with overseas sites being the only option for players here for the time being.

Recent Legislation Expands Industry

For most of Ohio’s modern history, there wasn’t much in the way of a gaming industry. Sure, parimutuel wagering was allowed here, as it is in many states, since a 1933 amendment to the state’s Constitution approved horse racing betting. But that was virtually the only way to place a bet in the state until the 1970s.

It wouldn’t be until 1974 when the first lottery drawings were held. A campaign to allow for a lottery had begun in 1971, and state voters approved its formation in a 1973 vote. By the next year, drawings had been established, and the agency continues to regulate the practice here to this day. Now, residents can buy tickets for local drawings and instant scratch off games, participate in Mega Millions, Powerball and Lucky for Life, and even play keno in restaurants and bars, which broadcast the results of draws every four minutes.

Around the same time, some limited forms of gambling began to crop up. In 1975, charities began authorized to hold limited raffles and bingo nights, something that is more or less taken for granted in most states these days. But that would be the last time gambling expanded here for more than 30 years.

After some minor reforms in the 2000s (such as the previously mentioned introduction of keno), the subject of casino expansion became a hot topic. There were few options for Ohioans who wanted to gamble here: with no tribal resorts available, residents were forced to travel to nearby states, and many of them did so, visiting Indiana, Michigan, and – more recently – Pennsylvania casinos instead.

In 2009, supporters of a plan to finally bring casinos to the Buckeye State spent tens of millions of dollars on a campaign to convince the public to approve the plan. Such efforts had been defeated in 1990, 1996, and 2008, but 2009 was another story. In a narrow 53%-47% victory, voters approved four casinos for the state on promises of huge tax benefits to the state and the creation of more than 30,000 new jobs.

Today, there are four resorts that have opened: Hollywood venues in Columbus and Toledo, as well as two Horseshoe resorts, in Cincinnati and Cleveland. Because voters also approved the expansion of video lottery terminals, there are also several racinos at existing race tracks around the state, many of which have reopened or relocated since 2012.

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Online Expansion Considered, But Little Movement

Once land-based expansion efforts had proven successful, there was some talk about making a similar effort to push for Internet gaming as well. In fact, operators, such as Caesars, which managed three of the casinos in Ohio (that management has since been transitioned to Caesars’ partner, Rock Gaming), were among those floating the idea of also allowing for online expansion.

But those efforts didn’t really go anywhere. They haven't been hearings or votes on the issue, and there isn’t a sense that lawmakers (or even the public) are clamoring for such a move. There is no regulated Internet gaming at the moment, and there are no signs of an imminent change in that policy.

However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t play online if you want to. Like many states, Ohio is as a grey market where there are plenty of online gambling sites to choose from. And with no laws criminalizing the activity from the player’s end of things, plenty of residents take part in Internet casinos, betting and poker every day.

Questions About Casino Impact Remain

Several years into Ohio’s casino era, there remain plenty of questions about what impact the resorts have had. Many have questioned exactly how much benefit taxpayers have seen, and whether the promises made about gambling would be realized.

Certainly, some of the figures that were bandied about have failed to materialized. Instead of 34,000 jobs, only about 15,000 were created, including temporary construction jobs during the building of the new facilities. Less than half of the expected tax revenues have been brought in in the first few years of operation.

Casino supporters, however, point out that there’s still plenty of money coming in, even if it falls short of the lofty figures that were promised before the resorts were built. They also point out that the expectations were set before it was known that seven racinos would be authorized, which has created more competition for gaming dollars. Fears about crime related to the new gambling now seem unfounded, and it may still be too early to project the long-term economic impact of the resorts. Regardless, the casinos aren’t going away any time soon, so Ohio will simply have to wait and see what the eventual impact will be.

In the meantime, it seems unlikely that online casinos in Ohio will be regulated any time soon. As we mentioned earlier, there hasn’t been any movement towards such regulation, and the general uncertainty about the land-based industry probably won’t help rally support behind a virtual casino expansion.

On the other hand, the long-term prospects could be better, especially if competition continues to increase. In particular, Pennsylvania has been seriously considering an Internet gambling plan, and if they do so, it could put pressure on Ohio to follow suit. After all, that was what finally got us to consider brick-and-mortar expansion, and a similar pattern could play out in the virtual world.

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