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Ahead of Ohio's sports betting launch, groups warn of potential gambling addiction wave - 13abc Action News

TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - When Ohio lawmakers were debating what the state’s sports betting bill would look like, groups were pleading with them to keep gambling addiction in mind.

Addiction centers caution that Ohio’s new legal sports betting industry, set to launch sometime in 2022 and generate millions in tax revenue, could spark a rise in problem gamblers.

Lawmakers passed a bill later signed by the governor this year that will make sports betting legal in Ohio with a deadline of Jan. 1, 2023, to launch statewide. Bets will be taxed at 10%. Most of the revenue, 98%, will go to education. The other 2% is set aside for addiction services.

The Zepf Center in Toledo helps people struggling with gambling addiction. Steve Kapela, the manager of gambling treatment and prevention at the nonprofit, said the state estimates Lucas County has 3,700 problem gamblers.

“The farther you get in, the harder it is to get out,” he said of gambling addiction.

He believes that number of people who struggle with gambling addiction will increase with the introduction of legal sports betting. So does Derek Longmeier, the executive director of the Problem Gambling Network of Ohio.

He said Ohio’s Problem Gambling Helpline (1-800-589-9966) currently averages about 500 calls per month.

“We expect that number to increase,” Longmeier said. “What that looks like, we’re not sure. But we’ll have the appropriate people in place to be prepared for that uptick.”

He points to neighboring Michigan as an example. The state launched mobile sports betting in January, 2021.

Calls to Michigan’s gambling helpline increased five-fold from February 2020 to February 2021, one month after mobile sports betting launched in the state.

Longmeier said his organization is looking at continuing regular training for its counselors and those who answer calls 24/7 at Ohio’s Gambling Helpline. He said they’ll also be involved in the rule-writing process as the Ohio Casino Control Commission prepares to regulate the newly-legalized industry in the state.

Kapela anticipates an increase in addiction among young people with sports betting coming to mobile platforms in Ohio along with casinos. He said he believes the new industry will be largely targeted at the 18-40 age group.

“Young folks are being groomed to gamble in video games now,” Kapela said. “Sports betting will be a natural extension of that.”

He calls sports gambling the silent addiction - something you can’t smell or see. But he says gambling treatment is becoming more accessible. The state’s Problem Gambling Helpline is available 24-7 to people struggling with addiction or their families.

Longmeier’s advice for people considering jumping into sports betting in the new year: Keep it fun. If you or a loved one is showing signs of struggling with an addiction, don’t hesitate to seek out help.

“It is not a way to make money,” Kapela said. “It may require a great deal of skill, but at some point, at the end, it comes down to chance. That’s what makes it gambling.”

Kapela said the Zepf Center isn’t anti-gambling, but rather is pro-responsible gambling. Resources are available for people struggling with addiction or looking to get started with gambling.

Longmeier recommends to learn more about the warning signs of problem gambling or determine your problem gambling risk level.

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