Ohio grapples with problem gambling

Josh McClellan already had a gambling problem when Hollywood Casino opened in Toledo, giving the Army veteran a dangerous new place to play his money away.

He would start at the tables with anywhere from $300 to $1,500, working his way through poker and blackjack. When he lost too much money at cards, he would play the slots for a while, win some back, and return to the tables to lose the rest.

“I loved going to the casino,” he said. “I usually didn’t leave until the money was gone.”

Mr. McClellan’s story is similar to thousands of other stories from across Ohio. More than 76,000 people — or nearly 1 percent of the state’s population — admitted to struggling with a gambling addiction last year, according to data from the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.

It’s a problem that predates the rise of Ohio’s casino system following the passage of a state constitutional amendment in 2009. And while Ohio’s casinos may have made gambling more accessible, they’re also required by law to generate much-needed revenue — totaling $30.4 million as of March, 2018 — to fund gambling addiction treatment services. Without that revenue, experts said, organizations that help gambling addicts would receive even less funding and would help even fewer people.

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Kate Snyder at ksnyder@theblade.com