Ohio Online Gambling Laws – Legal or Illegal?

The Buckeye State is not only mother of presidents, but mother of some serious poker daddies as well. Not only that, but Ohio has a fine range of gambling options available, including commercial casinos, a state lottery, pari-mutuel wagering on the horses and charitable gaming exemptions. The law allows for social home games, although those practicing gambling for a living may fall foul of the law.

The biggest name in poker history to have come out of Ohio is in fact one of the biggest names in poker history period. Chip Reese was the youngest player to ever be inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 1991, at just forty years of age. This record was broken fifteen years later by Phil Hellmuth. Chip, born David Reese, learned to play cards with his mother aged six while off school for a year with rheumatic fever, and later called himself a “product of that year”. Chip became known as the greatest player of seven card stud of all time, and spent many a night playing in the “Big Game” with the likes of Brunson. Often his contemporaries referred to him as the greatest all round player who ever lived. This hero of the game passed away just a few years ago in 2007, and will be sadly missed.

The Letter of the Law

If you’re looking to pin down the gambling laws of Ohio and make sure you’re wagering within those limits, Mike DeWine, Ohio Attoney General and his online summary [1] are a decent starting point. DeWine himself mentions that local residents might be somewhat confused following the passing of a law allowing four commercial casinos in 2012, and falsely assume that gambling has expanded still further than it has. There are also a number of charitable forms of gambling allowed including bingo. DeWine’s summary gives guidance that licensed bingo and instant bingo are permitted in Ohio, as are certain raffles and games of chance run by charities.

There is also pari-mutuel wagering on horseracing in Ohio, with wagering in a number of “satellite facilities” available as well as on-track, and a state lottery which also provides Keno. While slot machines are not generally permitted, actual skill-based amusement machines are allowed, for example “pop-a-shot” basketball games. Prizes for these games may not include cash or vouchers, nor exceed cash value of $10. DeWine notes that some operators are also running machines whose skill element is likely not demonstrable and hence these would likely qualify as illegal slot machines.
Ohio is not home to any tribal casinos, although a law was passed in 2012 permitting four commercial casinos, the last of which opened in February 2013. A constitutional amendment by the name of Issue 3 was passed by popular vote allowing these to be built in the cities of Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland and Toledo. The vote passed with a majority of 52.97%. For those interested in finding out more about the ballot which included a provision for taxing the casinos – head to Ballotpedia .

Betting on games of chance outside of the exceptions provided in law is illegal, with “games of chance” defined in section 2915.01(D) as including poker, craps, roulette, or other game in which a player gives anything of value in the hope of gain, the outcome of which is determined largely by chance, but does not include bingo”. Most penalties for participation are misdemeanors, and some charges for hosting games can run up to felonies.

Home games appear to be implicitly permitted within the law provided no host or house consideration is taken, although there is no specific exemption, and poker does not enjoy an exemption for charity gaming, in fact facilities have recently been deemed illegal which were offering charity poker games. Gambling in a public place is also specifically illegal under state law.

Ohio Gaming Law provides a neat summary of the charitable gambling laws in state, but it’s hard to keep these up to date as they are constantly adjusting back and forth. In March 2012 the charity gaming world in state looked to expand, as covered by Springfield News [4]. Very recently the state clamped down on charity poker, closing “Buckeye Charity Poker” in September 2013 after notification of illegality from the Attorney General. The website for the poker room states that they “hope to re-open in the near future” and encourages fans to get in touch with their State representatives and senators.

For more up to date events in the gambling laws of Ohio, Ohio Gaming Law carries a useful feed of events.

Legalized Online Gambling Within Ohio

The Ohio State legislature is said to be making forays in the world of online gambling regulation, or at least to be opening the topic for discussion in the wake of the now well-known Justice Department’s statement on the UIGEA back in 2012. Cincinnati Business Courier carried a story on this in January of 2012 [6], quoting the interim director of the Ohio Lottery Commission as saying “We’re exploring this topic…We want to be at the forefront…”.

As racinos and commercial casinos begin to compete for brick and mortar gambling revenue in the state, it remains to be seen exactly how any possible bill for online gambling regulation would fit in, but it seems likely that movement will occur in that direction with time.

According to coverage by Cardplayer, one obstacle to iGaming in Ohio is contained in the very constitutional amendment which allowed the creation of the four new commercial casinos in state, which specifies a limit to “casino gambling” restricted to these four locations. For more on this legal complication, Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer has all the gritty details [7].

For now, the door remains closed, and recent events seem to have wedged it somewhat more firmly shut, as Ohio makes a move some consider unnecessarily heavy-handed, and bans not just sweepstakes Internet cafes, but all Internet cafes in state, claiming that they are “hubs for illegal gambling”, as recounted in this article from The Daily Dot [8].

Casino Connection [9] covers the death knell of the movement fighting this, which failed to collect the 400,000 plus votes needed to put a challenge to the law on a 2014 ballot, and over 600 internet cafes must now close down or risk violating the law if they continue to run in Ohio.

What Forms of Gambling Are Legal & Regulated in Ohio

The obvious starting point and most popular gambling option in state is of course the lottery, which has run since 1974 after approval in a popular vote. In that time the lottery has raised over $17 billion for public education and sells tickets through over 8,000 licensed retailers. The benefits seen from this funding are on display on the “supporting education” page of the official lottery site.

Horseracing has been part of Ohio since 1933, and Cleveland, Cincinnati and Columbus are home to some fine thoroughbred racing, with short quarter horse meetings and harness tracks across the state as well. Numerous county fairs run through the summer months featuring harness racing as well. Off-track and “satellite facility” wagering is permitted, and horseracing in the state is said to create 16,000 jobs according to the Ohio State Racing Commission [11]. Several tracks also function as “racinos” as occurs in many other states as a means of boosting racetrack revenue.
Charitable gaming including bingo and raffles is also available, as are “skill-based” wagering games, both real and electronic.

Casinos and Poker

If it’s poker tournaments you’re looking for, Cardplayer provide their usual tight summary of the regular tourney options in state, and it appears unsurprisingly that all four commercial casinos are in contention. Of the four, the Hollywood Casino Toledo seems to have the busiest schedule, with seven regular tournaments running per week, while Hollywood Casino Columbus runs the highest weekly buy-in, a $240 10k starting stack event running every Saturday.

If you’d like more in-depth coverage of the four poker rooms, PokerPlayer’s Ashley Adams provides it in a two part post from May 2013. Additionally, while Ohio itself doesn’t seem to have a regional community page on Twoplustwo, Columbus does [12], and there are twelve pages of hearty discussion to be found on it, running over two years.

The 500 nations’ website provides a quick run-down on the four casinos, providing links to further data, addresses and opening dates.

Recent Developments in Ohio’s Legislation

There has been plenty going on in Ohio with regard to gambling recently. The first three of the four new casinos in state are said to have taken in over $235 million over their first nine months, according to Cincinnati.com [14].
At least two of the four new commercial casinos have had costly teething problems however.

The Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati apparently made a $1 million mistake, awarding a seven figure prize to the wrong person in a loyalty card contest. This human error saw two men named Kevin Lewis, roughly the same age and living in similar areas both awarded with the hefty prize.

Meanwhile the Hollywood Casino Columbus reportedly ran a game of “Crazy 4 Poker” where the odds actually gave the players the advantage normally retained by the house! In this rare incident, gamblers were able to take the casino for thousands of dollars, even selling their seats to one another, according to The Columbus Dispatch [15], before the casino caught on to its mistake.

To keep abreast of the latest casino and gambling news in state, Cleveland.com runs a dedicated feed.

Busts and Arrests

Plenty of action in terms of illegal gambling busts goes down in Ohio, as we’ll explore briefly here.
An Ohio club owner was indicted by a federal jury in early November 2013, for running illegal poker games for profit. If convicted he may face up to five years in jail, and a fine of up to $250,000, according to the National Council on Problem Gambling [17].

The Columbus Dispatch reports a New York gambling ring as having hit all four of Ohio’s new casinos in a roulette scam, which reportedly involved palming chips to one another in the restroom, and revolved around a rule allowing players to specify the value to color ratio of chips when they start play. Thirteen arrests have been made in connection with the incident.

David Hayes of Ohio has filed a lawsuit for negligence against Hollywood Casino Columbus after winning $35,800 at blackjack and later being the victim of an armed robbery in his home. He says he asked for the money as a check, not cash and was refused, and that the cage cashier then made his address visible to other gamblers.

Summary

Ohio has a really nice spread of gambling options resting comfortably within the law, including a state lottery, pari-mutuel wagering on horseracing and charitable gaming including bingo and raffles. If you’re after casino games or poker, while there are no tribal casinos there are four commercial casinos which have all opened in the last two years, offering a good spread of games and some poker tournaments. Social home games are tolerated within the law provided they are rake free. There’s no online gambling yet, though there has been some discussion – and no internet cafes allowed at all in state since a 2013 law was enacted, so for now online is certainly lagging behind real world gambling in this state.

Sources for this article

  1. TheNews-Messenger.com
  2. SpringfieldsNewsSun.com: Charity gambling looks to expand
  3. Bizjournals.com: Is online poker headed to Ohio?
  4. Cleveland.com: Online gambling could face constitutional questions in Ohio
  5. CasinoConnectionAC.com: Ohio Internet Cafes Abandon Fightt
  6. OhioLottery.com: Supporting Education
  7. 500nations.com: Ohio Casinos
  8. Twoplustwo.com: Columbus, OH
  9. Dispatch.com: Rules goof gives poker fans edge over casino
  10. Cleveland.com
  11. Dispatch.com: New York ring linked to roulette scam at Ohio casinos