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One year of sports bets are on the books in Ohio. Lawmakers, stakeholders are looking ahead

The exterior of Hollywood Casino in Columbus
Daniel Konik
Statehouse News Bureau
The exterior of Hollywood Casino in Columbus

Although wagers on athletic events at the professional and collegiate levels went legal statewide at midnight on Jan. 1 last year, it's not a new hobby in Ohio or elsewhere.

In 1919, members of the Chicago White Sox were accused of losing the World Series purposefully for money. The fixed-series winners: the Cincinnati Reds. One hundred years later—give or take—Gov. Mike DeWine signed House Bill 29 into law.

“People have been betting on sports for well over a century,” said Dan Dodd, a sports gambling lobbyist with ZHF Consulting and former state lawmaker. “I think technology has caught up to what people are expecting and what is convenient for people.”

Only 14 of 132 state lawmakers voted against the law in 2021. Rep. Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville) was instrumental in its passage. Now, the southeast Ohio lawmaker and former football player said he believes the first year of legal sports gambling was a win.

“Revenues are way up, it seems like the regulatory body is doing a lot of great work,” Edwards said in an interview Monday.

Between brick-and-mortar casinos, online sportsbooks, and lottery kiosks in bars and restaurants, the program drew $936 million in 2023 taxable revenue from $7.6 billion in sports-related wagers, according to Ohio Casino Control Commission data.

All those first-timer promotional promises, however, were taxable, Dodd said. “You're not going to see as much of that in year two,” he said.

Edwards’ name isn't actually on HB 29.

“My name is forever on this gambling bill, and I get questions like this all the time,” said Rep. Scott Wiggam (R-Wayne County).

Wiggam had originally introduced legislation regarding veteran identification. But lawmakers cleared that language out of the bill to propose legalized sports betting—and in legislative lingo, HB 29 was the “vehicle” that got it to the end zone. He did vote for it at the time.

“There’s a few bills that you kind of regret sometimes that you may have voted for because you thought it was good at the time,” Wiggam said in a February interview. “This is one of those, as I’m going forward and you’re looking at the ramifications, maybe I’m starting to think that maybe that wasn’t the best way forward.”

One of the biggest ramifications, according to the mental health industry: essentially unfettered access to a hobby that can become an addictive habit, and one that is financially devastating.

Problem gambling, in general, can have the highest rate of suicidal ideation among addictive disorders, according to the state's website Pause Before You Play.

Even before the legal start date, a 2022 survey found that one-in-five Ohioans are considered at least “at-risk” gamblers. In 2023, calls to the state hotline rose significantly.

Matt Schuler is the executive director of the Ohio Casino Control Commission. Schuler himself doesn’t wager, but the board he directs regulates those wagers across the state.

“Bringing this out from the black market into the light has created a sound regulatory environment that provides safe gambling, and for the percentage of individuals who get into a problem, there really are abundant and free resources,” Schuler said in a February interview.

Early on, the OCCC penalized some of the biggest sportsbooks for what it said were advertising transgressions. The fines attached totaled more than $1 million.

The proprietors have been behaving better since, Schuler said. “And when they have questions, they're talking to us, and so there's good dialog,” he said.

Schuler issued the first big change to the state’s catalog of wagers on Friday. By request of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the program will prohibit bets on individual college athletes' performances—or player proposition bets. DeWine and some university athletic directors backed the call for it, citing threats to student athletes.

Edwards and a handful of other lawmakers are in the process of putting together a statewide plan for the future of gambling. The study commission is soliciting testimony on a potentially new revenue source for the state: legal online gambling and lottery games.

The commission, Edwards said, doesn’t have a legislative endgame. Instead, he wants it to look at the entire field.

He told attendees at its first meeting that conversations about iGaming and iLottery offerings in Ohio are if, not when.

Sarah Donaldson covers government, policy, politics and elections for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. Contact her at