Gambling in Ohio: Legality, Top Gambling Sites and Further Reading
Ohio Gambling Law Overview
Casino Gambling: Legal
Horse Racing Betting: Legal
Daily Fantasy Sports: Unspecified
Charitable Gaming: Legal
Social Gambling: Not Legal
Online Gambling: Unspecified
Ohio gambling law allows for a number of legal bets. The Buckeye State is sometimes lumped in with other “flyover” states in the American Midwest, and it is in some ways still a major agricultural producer.
But little Ohio is growing – it’s now the seventh most-populous state in America. Ohio is home to three huge urban cities and still home to many vibrant smaller towns and farming areas. The nation’s bread basket is quickly becoming one of its population centers.
Ohio is also one of the newest additions to the family of US states with legal casino gambling. Casinos were legalized just a few years ago, and the state is already home to a huge casino industry, with several major projects under construction at the same time in the state’s largest cities. While some of these venues are restricted to electronic gaming machines only at this point, that law is under consideration by the legislature in the next session.
What is the legal status of various forms of gambling in Ohio?
This page gives you the basics on gaming law in the state, as well as links to additional resources for readers who want to understand state gaming regulations a little better.
Ohio may be the unsung hero of the US gambling scene, at least on a state-by-state level. We’ve already discussed how the state has suddenly become one of the most-populated in the USA – we think the state’s sudden standing as one of the most liberal in terms of gaming law is a lot like that sudden burgeoning into a national population center. Little Ohio is growing, and becoming a low-key gambling Mecca, not just of the Midwest, but of the entire country.
Ohio Gambling Stats & Key Info
21 for casino gambling, 18 for other gambling
Approximate Annual Gambling Revenue
Approximate Annual Gambling Taxes
Casino Revenue Tax Rate
Number of Commercial Casinos
Number of Racinos
Number of Tribal Casinos
Casino Regulatory Body
Ohio Casino Control Commission
Lottery National Rankings
9th in overall sales
That annual revenue number may dwarf states like Nevada and New Jersey, but we’re not comparing Ohio’s gambling scene to those hotspots, which rank among the busiest in the world. Instead, compare the state’s $1.2 billion annual take to the $3 billion spent by bettors in Louisiana. Ohio’s casinos, racinos, and other gaming venues are pulling in about 1/3 of what the established and well-known gaming hotspots in Louisiana are averaging. It’s a state with a gambling industry on the rise, and all you have to do to see it is look at the numbers.
The Legal Status of Gambling in Ohio
We’ve analyzed the criminal codes of all fifty US states and we’ve yet to come across a code of gambling laws as complicated as Ohio’s. Though we believe the information on this page is accurate, we recommend that anyone researching state gambling law for legal reasons contact a lawyer familiar with the state’s code of laws. Use the information presented here for informational purposes, then contact a real legal professional.
Why is Ohio law so complex?
Unlike some other states we’ve reviewed, Ohio’s legislature is incredibly active, meeting annually to consider thousands of major amendments to the state’s constitution. That means their law books are a blend of old and new traditions, bent here and there to accommodate state legal precedent and changing political opinions.
Here’s the first hiccup you’ll run into when analyzing gaming regulations in the Buckeye State:
There’s no definition of the term “gambling.” Without that definition, it’s hard for us to say whether a bet is legal or not. What we do instead is dig deeper into other regulations to create a definition of the term that we believe fits into state legal tradition.
Look at the section related to the misdemeanor charge of simple gambling. In Section 2915.02, a section dedicated to “Bookmaking, promoting games of chance, and exchanging information that facilitates bookmaking or games of chance” declares that a person is guilty of simple gambling if they engage:
“… in any scheme or game of chance as a substantial source of income or livelihood.”
There’s an important distinction here – unless it can be shown that you earn a substantial amount of money from a game, you’re probably not guilty under the state’s simple gambling law. We believe that this law is written in such a way as to protect individual bettors, so long as they aren’t professional gamblers. Unfortunately, Ohio law lets us down again, failing to define the phrase “professional gambler.”
Ohio law honors the playing of skill-based games with an exception to their anti-gaming laws. By Ohio law, “games of chance” include:
“… poker, craps, roulette, or any other game in which a player gives anything of value in the hope of gain, the outcome of which is determined largely by chance.”
It’s right there in Section 2915.01. As far as we can tell, this implies that if a game can be shown to be determined “largely by skill,” it is not an illegal game of chance in Ohio.
So what bets are legal in the state?
There are several forms of legal gambling in Ohio. Let’s take a look at each one of these.
The most recent development was the legalization of a limited form of casino gambling. This vote came after two decades of legislative efforts to legalize casino gambling in the state. In late 2009, Ohio voters approved (by a narrow margin of 3%) a constitutional amendment to authorize the operation of casinos in the state’s four largest cities. Since 2012, the cities of Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus, and Toledo have seen the development of several casino gambling venues.
Ohio casino gambling is a bit different from what you’d find in states like Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Nevada. Not every venue in Ohio is licensed to operate table games or poker. Just two Ohio casinos host games beyond slots and video poker, and this is by design. For the foreseeable future, the bulk of Ohio gambling venues will be limited to machine games only.
The Ohio Lottery is the oldest regulated betting market in the state, having been legalized in 1973 as part of a wave of lottery regulations popping up all over America. Since that time, the lottery has grown to the point that the proceeds cover more than 5% of the state’s total education budget. Some 10,000 retail shops and kiosks sell Ohio Lottery tickets, and participation is such that Ohioans spend about $200 each year on lottery tickets.
Charitable gaming is allowed in more formats than we’re used to seeing – clearly Ohio is big on charitable fundraising. Non-profit groups can host a variety of games – bingo, pull-tab games, raffles, and casino-style games for Vegas Night fundraisers. So long as the proceeds go 100% to benefit a charity, and the host earns no money for hosting the game, it is a legal contest.
Social gambling is allowed in the Buckeye State, so long as it follows a few restrictions. First, the game has to take place entirely in private, in a home or business, with a locking door and closed windows. Second, all participants must have a “legitimate social relationship” not based on their desire to play in a private game together. Finally, the host cannot charge admission, earn rake, post house odds, or earn any special consideration in exchange for hosting the game. By these laws, most home poker games and private office sports pools would be legal.
Is Online Gambling Legal in Ohio?
Ohio’s state legislature may be peripatetic, but so far, they’ve been mute on the subject of online gambling. You’d think a legislation-crazed state governing body would have addressed the issue by now, especially with such a strong land-based gambling lobby present in the state. No – online gambling is not explicitly illegal by Ohio law.
But as we’ve said time and again, that doesn’t mean the activity is fully legal, either.
Ohio has a clear-cut set of laws related to the operation of “gambling devices.” If you’ve read many of our other state law summaries, you know that we often look at these laws as a potential source of prosecution for a person charged with the crime of online gambling. Ohio law says a person is guilty of a misdemeanor if they:
“acquire, possess, control, or operate any gambling device.”
Further down in the same section of law, a gambling device is defined thusly:
“Gambling device means … any equipment, device, apparatus, or paraphernalia specially designed for gambling purposes.”
In our opinion, this definition of gambling device would include casino gambling software, an online poker room’s software, or even the website used by an online sportsbook to accept bets. Under this law, your laptop or smartphone wouldn’t be the illegal gambling device, since they weren’t designed “specially for gambling purposes.” However, online gambling requires the use of any number of gadgets and software which were designed for that purpose.
It’s important to point out here that Ohio has never pursued charges against a person who placed a bet on the Internet. Ohio has a huge population, one of the fastest-growing in the country. Though their law enforcement agencies are effective, we doubt they’re effective enough to launch a special online gambling unit tasked with finding people laying $10 NFL bets from the privacy of their home. We think it is unlikely in the extreme that anyone in Ohio will be charged with a crime for playing online games of chance and skill.
What about daily fantasy sports?
It looks like DFS fans in Ohio are (for now) free to place wagers on daily fantasy sports bets. This came about because of an announcement on the part of The Ohio Casino Control Commission that that body has no authority over daily fantasy sports bets, and that the state would (for the time being) go with the federal government’s position, whatever that might be.
Unfortunately for fans of DFS bets in Ohio, a select committee created to look into DFS issues returned an absolute dud of a report in early 2016 that basically whiffed on the issue and recommended (get this) another panel investigate the issue in the year 2016. It’s almost funny – but, again, not a surprise when you’re researching US gaming law.
The Governor’s Stance on Gambling
John Kasich, Governor of Ohio, thinks Ohioans should pay more for the privilege of having access to legal gambling. He has gone on record as saying “I think the taxpayers of Ohio got a bad deal,” but he’s not referring to the hard-working (and tax-paying) gamblers that visit and live in the state. Instead, he was referring to the state’s revenue from gambling taxes.
Even though the state’s 33% revenue tax is the third-highest in the country, Kasich isn’t satisfied.
The state’s $50 million per-casino licensing fee is among the highest in the country, but still the Governor wants more.
Kasich goes on to complain that the casino operators are getting access to a $1.2 billion industry for what he calls “$200 million in licensing fees,” though we think his numbers are a bit off. Since the industry is just a couple of years old, you have to figure that the $200 million paid in those per-casino fees are still averaging out to about $70 million a year in revenue for the state.
Once you throw in the actual tax revenue number, hovering closer to $400 million each year, and gambling is worth nearly half a billion dollars. That’s a pretty big piece of the pie for lawmakers, who even now are pushing to reform the 2009 laws that led to the state’s new casino industry.
Gambling laws in America are funny things. You’ll find that’s a theme of this guide. Though online gambling is not technically legal, it isn’t expressly forbidden. It exists in a gray area. Also, don’t forget, the majority of online casinos are operated offshore, from outside US borders.
Technically, you can gamble online at any website that’s operating from outside the borders of the United States without fear of recrimination in Ohio, and it’s unlikely that the site offering you the game would face any realistic penalty, either. That’s not happened yet, and it seems unlikely that a state law enforcement agency would trigger a move against a foreign entity, especially since most of the bets we’re talking about involve low dollar amounts.
If you stick to legitimate online casinos, operating from offshore, there’s no way you’ll be the target of law enforcement attention in Ohio. It’s far more likely that an illegal operator would face charges than that a player would come under any scrutiny at the state level. Don’t play at sites that are operated from somewhere on US soil, and you won’t run afoul of Ohio law.
1990Voters in Ohio vote against legalized casino gambling.
1996Voters in Ohio vote against legalized riverboat gambling.
2009Casinos authorized in four cities in Ohio.
2011Video lottery terminals authorized at Ohio racetracks.
Further Reading On Ohio Gambling Law
Ohio Gambling Law Revised Code
A listing of all gambling laws in Ohio in an updated format that takes into account all legislative revisions. This is an important tool when researching gaming regulations in the state, since major changes to the law over the years has left the pool a bit muddy.
The O-Triple-C is more than a cool name – it’s the agency tasked with enforcing casino gambling regulations for the entire state. Their homepage includes links to contact information for various state gambling authorities, an FAQ on Ohio casino gambling law, and some industry statistics. If we were writing this article over again, we’d probably start with this resource, as it cleared up a number of confusing items from the Ohio constitution.
OH Attorney General Mike DeWine on Charitable and Private Gambling Law
This comprehensive page released by the Ohio AG’s office outlines the state’s opinion on various common questions related to the practices of charitable and private gambling. This page also helped us clarify the state’s official position on certain specific games of chance and the issue of the Dominant Factor test.
We don’t know of any new land-based casino project in the state, at least nothing large-scale. It would be tough for a new casino to open. Remember that the state has limited the number of casinos to four, and the law is explicit about in what cities those venues can exist. The law is also explicit about the number of slot machines that can be active in the state at any one time – 5,000 is the current limit, and the four casinos in the state are already at that number. Since it would take a change to state law, and since some lawmakers have been underwhelmed by the numbers so far, we think it’s unlikely that any large land-based venues will be breaking ground or opening any time soon.
Do Ohio Casinos have any special rules I should know about?
Ohio casinos are 100% non-smoking. You can’t smoke indoors, anywhere, except for cigar-smoking at the sports bars on the properties, which are clearly marked by the casino staff. Don’t expect to light up while you play video poker, like you’re in Atlantic City or Macau or something. Also – don’t expect to order an adult beverage after 2:30 AM. Bars in casinos close at 2:30, and don’t open again until late the next morning, depending on the bar and the property. Oh, and no Ohio casinos is allowed to give alcoholic drink comps, though at least one casino is said anecdotally to comp with free spiked drinks – Coca-Cola is a rum & coke, orange juice is a vodka & orange, etc. Don’t EXPECT a comp’d drink, but, being that these are casinos, and it’s tough to police …
When can I gamble in Ohio?
The answer depends on how you want to gamble. If you‘re just looking for slots and video poker, with maybe a horse race thrown in for good measure, you can do that 24 hours a day at the state’s racinos. If you want to play casino games, the state’s four casinos have games that are available 24 hours a day, but their poker rooms are open for just a few hours a day, most often 5 PM to midnight or a few hours later in the morning. Actual horse racing and horse race betting is limited to between 10 AM and 5 PM.
How does the government of Ohio spend taxes from gaming?
We wish every state was as transparent about this information as Ohio – we can tell you exactly where the money goes. According to the Ohio Department of Revenue, its split up according to the following schedule:
51% goes to the Gross Casino Revenue County Fund, which is distributed to county governments to pay for various projects, mostly educational and infrastructure-related. Last year, $198 million went to this fund.
34% goes to the Gross Casino Revenue County Student Fund, which supplies (among other things) college scholarships and additional funds for school districts with deficits. Last year, $53 million went to this fund.
5% goes to the Gross Casino Revenue Host City Fund, which distributed to the four cities that hot land-based casinos in the state. Last year, each city got $19.9 million to spend as they saw fit.
3% goes to the Casino Control Commission Fund, for reimbursement, salaries, training, and other necessary expenses. The CCCF earned just under $12 million from this fund last year.
A further 3% goes to the Ohio State Racing Commission Fund, which promotes Thoroughbred breeding and racing. This is the worst kind of legislative pork, a garbage fund puts about $12 million a year into the hands of already-wealthy Thoroughbred owners.
2% goes to the Law Enforcement Training Fund, a valuable investment of about $8 million in the recruitment and training of various Ohio state law enforcement bodies. You’d think the state would spend more recruiting and training cops than padding the pockets of horse breeders, but such is the bizarre nature of American gaming.
The final 2% goes to the Problem Casino Gambling and Addictions Fund, which works to counteract the negative impact of legal gambling in the state, to the tune of more than $7.5 million a year.
If I have an issue with a casino or racino in Ohio, how do I make a complaint?
For the vast majority of gaming-related issues in Ohio, you should contact the Ohio Casino Control Commission immediately. These are the real bad boys of the Ohio gaming scene. The Commission (as they like to call themselves) is a compliance and enforcement body that was designed to maintain integrity in Ohio gaming. They do everything from testing game fairness to ensuring best practices in casino restaurants and hotels. “The Commission is encouraged by state lawmakers to use discipline to force compliance,” this from their own website. They regularly impose financial sanctions and suspend the licenses of rogue operators, and are among the most active of all American gaming regulatory bodies in revoking gaming licenses. Here’s their contact information:
Ohio lawmakers have been trying to add new forms of regulated gambling to the state’s offerings for more than two decades. The huge number of racinos, OTBs, and casinos in the state is due to a direct campaign for legalization on the part of like-minded politicians from both sides of the aisle.
The fact that online gambling is not yet legal in the state makes gambling regulations a bit more troublesome for the modern gambler than they should be. But remember, Ohio’s gaming law is always subject to change. Now that Ohio legislators see the positive effects of legalized casino gambling on the state’s budget, we expect they’ll be more open to gaming law regulations changes in the future.