Ohio spends $6.2M on aid for gamblers

Resources earmarked for addiction programs

A state study last year estimated 250,000 Ohioans are problem gamblers or at risk of developing an addiction.
A state study last year estimated 250,000 Ohioans are problem gamblers or at risk of developing an addiction.

COLUMBUS — Before any of Ohio’s casinos opened, state officials knew the time would come when they would have to deal with problem gamblers.

The day has arrived.

Addicted gamblers are beginning to show up at treatment centers statewide.

By the end of the current fiscal year, Ohio will spend nearly $6.2 million, most of it earmarked for county mental-health and addiction boards to use for prevention and treatment.

A state gambling help line received nearly 5,000 calls over 12 months, 90 percent of them from Ohio.

Nearly 450 people have told the state they cannot stop gambling and voluntarily asked to be banned from the four casinos in Ohio.

An additional 635 Ohioans, including 399 from Hamilton County, are on Indiana’s ban list.

The voluntary exclusion list, as it’s called in Ohio, and the disassociated persons list in Michigan trace back to Canada in the 1980s.

Michigan has about 3,200 people on its list going back to 2001. Pennsylvania has 5,000 on its list, while Indiana’s exclusion last, dating to 2003, has 4,792 people.

“From the very beginning, we felt we needed to get ahead of the game on this and not wait until the problem came to us,” said Laura Clemens, responsible-gaming coordinator for the Ohio Casino Control Commission. “The casinos don’t want pathological gamblers. That’s not good for their business. They want responsible gamblers.”

The problem is expected to grow as gambling expands in Ohio.

A state study last year estimated 250,000 Ohioans are problem gamblers or at risk of developing an addiction.

When the survey was released, Tom Leksan, a Cincinnati lawyer, said his life was ripped asunder by his gambling habit.

“The career is gone. The marriage is ended. I’m 60 years old, and I don’t know what the hell I’m going to do,” Mr. Leksan said.

That kind of destructive behavior is what officials with 50 mental-health and addiction boards hope to prevent or at least slow.

They benefit from the state setting aside 2 percent of casino-tax revenue to pay for prevention and treatment programs. The state allocated $1.5 million to counties on a per-capita basis in the fiscal year ending June 30, with $3.8 million due this year.

The Logan and Champaign Mental Health, Drug and Alcohol Services Board used $5,000 to help pay for a survey of students in grades 8 through 12 about their attitudes on substance abuse and gambling, board spokesman Tammy Nicholl said.

“It wasn’t something they focused on before,” Ms. Nicholl said of the gambling issue. “But we’re noticing more responses than we would have guessed.”

That’s not surprising since studies consistently show the 18-to-24 age group is most at-risk to develop gambling-addiction problems.

Franklin County officials used some of nearly $290,000 from the state to work with Maryhaven, a Columbus gambling-addiction treatment center, on “community-based prevention, intervention and treatment for clients identified with problem gambling.”

In Fairfield County, a social-media campaign is aimed at 18 to 25-year-olds.

Lucas County tapped state funds to get 2,000 young people to sign the Toledo Gambling Pledge to recognize warning signs of problem gambling.