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Gamblers in Ohio have lost $9.7 billion over four years

By Alan Johnson • Aug 28, 2016 at 6:00 PM

People love to gamble in Ohio. From a $1 scratch-off lottery ticket to a $10,000 bet at a casino, we have it all.

The lure of gambling, of course, is winning big. That’s the dream.

Most of us have pondered, “What would I do if I won the lottery?”

But those betting at the state’s four casinos, seven racinos at horse-race tracks, and the Ohio Lottery have lost $9.7 billion in the past four years, according to a Dispatch analysis. Including all major forms of legal gambling, nearly $62.9 billion was bet and $53.3 billion was won from 2012 to 2015.

Gamblers’ losses have a silver lining, however, because much of the money provides a financial boost to Ohio schools, cities and counties. The lottery sent more than $1 billion this year alone to public education.

Casino proceeds are taxed at a 33 percent rate, which produced $1 billion for four host cities, schools, and municipalities and counties statewide in four years. The city of Columbus alone receives more than $2.5 million quarterly from casino cash.

State Sen. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican, said he supported adding casinos and racinos to Ohio’s gambling portfolio in part because of the “outflow of money” to casinos in surrounding states, particularly Indiana.

“Call it a necessary evil,” Seitz said. “We recognize it’s got its downsides.”

Still, critics say the gambling surge in Ohio has put a strain on individuals, families and communities.

While the winning percentage at casinos is very high — up to 90 percent of the money bet on slots — losses add up when so much money exchanges hands.

In calendar year 2015 alone, $535 million was lost on slot machines and $273 million on table games at Ohio casinos.

Casino officials declined to comment for this story.

An updated study done for the Ohio Department of Mental Health & Addiction Services this year concluded that 4.7 percent of Ohio adults are at risk of becoming problem gamblers. That works out to more than 400,000 people. The percentage of people who become gambling addicts is far smaller, however, less than 1 percent.

“Gambling and good government don’t mix,” said Rob Walgate of the Ohio Business Roundtable, a public policy group that fought — and lost — expansion of gambling to the seven racinos.

Walgate said gambling creates two kinds of addicts. One kind is gamblers who “are losing money they can’t afford to lose.” The second kind is state officials who become addicted to the revenue produced by legalized gambling.

Tom Smith, director of public policy for the Ohio Council of Churches, compares gambling addiction to drug addiction.

“There are certain people who can keep it under control. They go out and buy a Powerball ticket and it doesn’t affect their family,” Smith said. “Then there are people who gamble on everything, buying 10 or 20 tickets at a time. Those are the people who can’t afford it.”

Seitz points out, “We do earmark a portion of the proceeds for those who have a problem with gambling.”

Ohio officials set aside 2 percent of the casino proceeds for a fund that totaled $21 million in the past few years. The money is used for treatment, training and public education.

The National Council on Problem Gambling describes “problem gambling” as “the urge to gamble, despite harmful negative consequences or a desire to stop.” It is estimated that about 2 million U.S. adults are “pathological gamblers,” with another 4 million to 6 million considered problem gamblers.

Bob Cabaniss, founder of Williamsville Wellness, an addiction-treatment center near Richmond, Virginia, said the lottery in particular is “a huge tax on the poor.”

Cabaniss said gambling addicts often can’t stop even if it means using credit cards, stealing or embezzling.

But Seitz said, “On a selfish note, for those of us that don’t gamble, we don’t pay a penny in tax.”

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©2016 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

Visit The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio) at www.dispatch.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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