Legal Gambling in the State of Ohio

An Overview Of The Gambling Laws In The State Of Ohio

Ohio is one of those States who had limited options for gambling fans for many years – and then suddenly liberalized casinos. For many years, Ohio residents were restricted to horse-racing bets, charity bingo, lottery or social poker games. This all changed in 2009 with the licensing of casinos and ‘racinos’. The rapid pace of liberalization of gambling statutes does lead to hope that internet gambling will be next on the statutes. This article gives you a detailed overview of the gambling laws in Ohio.

First of all below you will find a rapid-fire history of gambling in Ohio – from the earliest legislation to the present day. After this I have gone through the different gambling games, and provided the legal status and playing options of each. Next are the important extracts from the Statute books, plus a timeline of the key legislative changes. At the end of this page is an overall summary, plus a look to possible future scenarios for the State of Ohio.

Ohio Gambling Laws – A Brief History

The early history of Ohio, first as a frontier State and then as part of the booming Mississippi river group was of crack-downs and prohibitions. After a law in 1790 levying fines on gamblers proved hard to enforce, the implementation was handed to private firms – who shared the fines with the State. Lotteries were banned early in Ohio, and did not have the same corrupt history as they did in the southern States.

Like many States, the first relaxation after the prohibition era in the first part of the 20th century was for horse-racing. A 1933 constitutional amendment allowed pari-mutuel betting at racetracks and led to a booming industry. Later remote betting and then electronic lottery games would be allowed at the racetracks – that still thrive today.

Good-cause gambling involving bingo and raffles came more than 50 years later in 1975, preceded by a lottery 2 years earlier. The carve-out for good causes includes veterans, volunteer firefighters and education groups.

Casinos had to wait a lot longer. There are no tribal casinos in Ohio, which meant trips to Indiana or West Virginia were common. In 2009, an amendment led to the licensing of 4 casinos (one for each of the biggest cities). These have attracted a lot of investment from the major players in the industry and now boast huge slots halls and plenty of table games too.

Poker players can enjoy brand-new card rooms at these casinos, which is a step up from the charity or home-games that were the only realistic choices before the recent legislation.

What Types Of Games Are Currently Legal?

Casino Gaming: Yes, Ohio has 4 commercial casinos, one in each of their major cities, these are recent developments and are still busy running promotions to get Ohio residents into the habit of visiting them. Class 3 gaming action is available, which includes slots and casino table games.

Online Casinos: No, as with many States, the statutes do pre-date the internet – yet are considered broad enough to make internet gambling illegal. There are currently legal challenges surrounding ‘internet sweepstakes cafes’ which offer prizes won from time at internet connected terminals. There is a risk that the current crack-down on these games could explicitly make all online gambling illegal.

Live Poker: Yes, you can enjoy live poker games in the 4 State-licensed casinos. You are also free to play social home-games in Ohio, as long as nobody is profiting from running the game.

Online Poker: No, again, no specific restrictions but assumed to be banned under the existing broad statutes.

Sports Betting: Yes, pari-mutuel betting on horse racing, including remote betting and prior-deposit options is available. The racetracks also feature class 1 ‘lottery’ type slot machines, making them into ‘racinos’.

Lottery Betting: Yes, Ohioans can enjoy lottery games including instant-games and inter-State games too.

Bingo Games: Yes, there are 3 categories of bingo halls running, each with their own rules. These are controlled under the charity gambling laws in this State, along with raffles.

Ohio Gambling Laws – Statutes And Legal Timeline

The key factors in the Ohio statutes are the ‘bet’ and ‘game of chance’ element. Like many States, gambling (based on those terms) is considered illegal unless there is a specific carve-out on the books. Changes to the Statutes are decided by referendum.

Here are the key definitions from the Ohio state statutes,

“”Bet” means the hazarding of anything of value upon the result of an event, undertaking, or contingency, but does not include a bona fide business risk.” (From 2915-01)

Poker fans looking for the ‘skill game’ carve-out will be disappointed, this is explicitly covered under the ‘game of chance’ definition. Uniquely, bingo is not considered a game of chance in this State, though I can’t imagine what skill you might use to have an advantage in this game.

“”Game of chance” means 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. “ (Also from 2915-01)

Below is the gambling timeline in Ohio, who got started with prohibition very early in their history – and have only recently loosened the laws concerning gambling.

1790: The very first legislation covering gambling makes all forms of gambling for money illegal, levying a $200 fine. At the same time gambling losses are declared unenforceable.

1807: Lotteries, which were prevalent at this time, are blanket banned.

1933: Pari-mutuel betting at horse racing tracks becomes legal for the first time.

1973: Constitutional amendment made that kick starts the Ohio lottery, this includes scratch-off games, a draw and electronic terminals. The first tickets went on sale in 1974.

1975: Another amendment makes Charity bingo and raffles (which are counted as a form of bingo) legal for the first time.

2004: Lottery commission takes over responsibility for charity gambling.

2009: Referendum approves licensing of 4 commercial casinos, one each in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Toledo and Columbus.

2012: Racetracks start to offer Video Lottery Terminals (a class of slot machine which combines lottery type betting with instant prizes and entertainment). This turned them into ‘racinos’. There are plans to license 3 more racetrack-casinos during 2014.

2012: Internet Sweepstakes Cafes become a legal issue, which is still being dealt with via the legislature in 2014. These games offer time at a computer for the chance to win prizes, and argue that they do not need to be licensed under the gambling statutes.

Ohio Gambling Laws – Summary And Look To The Future

The recent pro-gambling Governance in Ohio seems keen to take advantage of new revenue sources, both for the State coffers and for the benefit of good causes. The success of the new casinos will go a long way to help these laws progress still further. The one issue at the moment is that the legislature is dealing with bills to clamp down on the Internet Sweepstakes games. Once an agreement is reached on these games, who knows whether Ohio will consider the regulation of online poker games and /or casino games next?

Useful Resources:

Ohio Codes


PDF Charitable Gambling History

Ohio Gaming Law Website (Charity Rules)


News, Harrah’s Opts For Ohio After Vegas Cools