Ohio gambling survey gives pre-casino picture

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- As casinos begin to open around Ohio, Tom Leksan provides a cautionary tale.

The 60-year-old attorney from Cincinnati lost his marriage, his happy home and expects soon to lose his law license as a result of a gambling addiction.

"I'm not saying that casinos are evil. I'm not one of those kinds of people _ especially with state money crisis facing all the states now," Leksan said.

"But I'm telling you that if your picture of a compulsive gambler is a guy that's got a 5-day beard at 12 o'clock on a Sunday night at the racetrack, that ain't it. In going to Gamblers Anonymous for 10 years, there are doctors, there are lawyers, there are nurses, there are housewives, there are school teachers. This disease can affect anyone."

About 250,000 Ohio adults, just less than 3 percent, are either problem gamblers or at risk of gambling problems as casinos open around the state, a figure that's expected to rise as casinos and racetrack slots proliferate in the state.

The statistic comes from a first-of-its-kind survey released Monday by the state's addiction services agency, in conjunction with the Ohio casino, racing and lottery commissions _ which have launched the initiative Ohio for Responsible Gambling under the new state casino law.

Casino Control Commission Chairwoman JoAnn Davidson said the poll marks a starting point for state policymakers as they begin to regulate four new casinos _ in Cleveland, Toledo, Columbus and Cincinnati _ and new slots-like video lottery terminals at seven horse racing tracks.

"So we have a clear picture of where we started in Ohio, and as these casinos come on line, then we're going to have something to measure it against," Davidson said.

Toledo and Cleveland casinos, approved by voters in 2010, opened in May, and a Columbus casino opens Monday. Cincinnati's casino is scheduled to open in the spring.

The review, conducted with help from Kent State University, found only 6 percent of Ohioans who gamble say their primary venue now is casinos today. Lottery and other scratch-off games are the preferred game for 72 percent of Ohioans who wager. Eleven percent play dice, craps or poker in a non-casino setting.

About 8 percent of those Ohio adults responding saw casinos as riskier for addiction than the lottery. Males are more at risk than females.

People who abuse drugs and alcohol are more likely to be problem or pathological gamblers, said Sanford Starr, chief of research and planning for the Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services that led the survey.

Laura Clemons, who leads the Casino Commission's efforts against problem gambling, said the study was extensive. It includes demographic and income data as well as information on where, when and why Ohioans gamble _ and how much they spend.

Results will be used in about four years to identify pockets of need around the state as they arise, and to make the best use of the 2 percent of casino proceeds that are being directed to tackle gambling addiction. Davidson said that could amount to $10 million to $20 million a year.

"The thought is we're going to know which areas of the state we need to focus on. Do we have enough treatment providers in Hamilton County? Do you have enough in Lucas County?" Clemons said. "Are 18- to 24-year-olds more at risk in certain areas of the state than in others?"

Paul Coleman, president/CEO of Maryhaven, a central Ohio treatment facility, is one of six providers of addiction treatment through ODADAS around the state. He said income-eligible Ohioans receive free treatment and others have the treatment subsidized through government grants.

Clemons said the state expects to initially invest its problem gambling revenues into prevention efforts. Those include a statewide problem gambling hotline, an educational web site that includes warning signs to watch for, and a voluntary exclusion list for gambling addicts who want authorities to keep them out of the casinos.

Counties that will house the four new casinos _ Hamilton, home to Cincinnati; Lucas, home to Toledo; Cuyahoga, home to Cleveland; and Franklin, home to Columbus _ were oversampled in the survey to get maximum information about those closest to the new facilities. Hamilton was found to have a higher prevalence of at-risk residents than the other three counties.

The poll of 2,400 residents in Ohio's four casino counties plus 1,200 residents statewide was conducted from February through July and had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.75 percent. Results were finalized in Lucas and Cuyahoga counties before casinos opened there.