COLUMBUS — Nearly 247,000 adult Ohioans were already problem gamblers or at risk of developing a gambling problem even before Ohio's first casinos and racetrack slot-machine parlors opened, a new study released Monday revealed.
Until now, Ohio's long-established state lottery was more likely to cause gambling problems, but the more are expected to be at risk as new gambling facilities open in the state.
That is primarily because, until casinos opened in May in Toledo and Cleveland, only those betting at horse-racing tracks could legally gamble in Ohio; others had to travel out of state.
The survey identified 2.8 percent of the state’s 8.8 million adults as having at least some risk of becoming gambling addicts.
“We have a clear picture of where we started in Ohio, and as these casinos come on line, we’re going to have something that we can measure against,’’ said Jo Ann Davidson, chairman of the Ohio Casino Control Commission.
The telephone survey questioned 3,600 adults between February and July, with a heavier sampling of Lucas and Cuyahoga counties before their casinos opened.
In 2009, Ohio voters approved the development four 24-hour, Las Vegas-style casinos on specific sites.
The first to open, Rock Ohio Caesar’s Horseshoe Casino, debuted in mid-May in a former downtown Cleveland department store. The second, Penn National Gaming’s Hollywood Casino, followed just after Memorial Day on the East Toledo riverfront.
Penn National is set to open its second Ohio casino later this month in west Columbus, followed by the last casino, from ROC, in Cincinnati next year.
Of the four host counties, Hamilton was found to have the largest current problem with gambling at 1.4 percent, or 11,955 people, despite the fact that Cincinnati doesn’t have a casino yet.
“We’re not sure why that is,’’ said Sanford Starr, of the Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services. “One of the hypotheses is that it may be a proximity effect with the existing casinos across the river in Kentucky, and [in] Indiana. We have some more work to do to understand why.’’
By comparison, Cuyahoga had the smallest gambling problem percentage-wise at 0.1 percent, or 1,251 people, while Lucas has the smallest problem in terms of raw numbers of people—0.2 percent or 847 people.
Franklin was at 0.2 percent, or 2,166 people.
In Lucas, 11.9 percent of its population, or 50,375 people, are considered to be at low risk of developing a problem while 2.7 percent, or 11,430, are considered at moderate risk.
Cincinnati attorney Tom Leksan, 60, faces a two-year suspension of his law license and possible disbarment for moving funds around in a trust fund he controlled to pay for his own gambling addiction at Indiana casinos.
“I’m not saying that casinos are evil,’’ Mr. Leksan said. “I’m not one of those kinds of people, especially with the state money crises that face all the states now. I’m telling you that if your picture of a compulsive gambler is a guy who’s got a five-day beard at 12 o’clock on Sunday night at the racetrack, that ain’t it.’’
The constitutional amendment approved by voters set aside 2 percent of wagering tax revenue generated by the four casinos for gambling-addiction programs. The law regulating the placement of slots-like video lottery terminals at the state’s seven racetracks requires 0.5 percent of machine wagering for that purpose.
“Anytime casinos open in an area, you going to see an increase in gambling,’’ said Rob Walgate, vice president of the Ohio Roundtable, a staunch gambling opponent. “That has to happen in order for them to be able to survive. But what also happens is when compulsive gambling increases, it will take money from other others where they were spending money before, so it’s a double negative effect in Ohio’s economy. We are going to see the numbers continue to rise.’’