COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — The emerald-and-gold Caesars Sportsbook-branded corner of Scioto Downs sat vacant Thursday — the kiosks idling, the soft-white underlit counters beckoning to bettors ambling around the rest of the racino.

Last Thursday, a semi-clear plastic construction tarp concealed where the Barstool Sportsbook will permanently reside at the Hollywood Casino. Construction began in August and is scheduled to finish in early February. In the interim, what was a live poker table accompanied by a nearby fleet of kiosks stands ready for soon-to-be-wagered bets. 

More than a year after House Bill 29 cleared the Ohio General Assembly, legalizing sports gambling in Ohio, the state’s universal launch day is less than 48 hours away. Managers at both area casinos are waiting with bated breath for the first crack of New Year’s fireworks, when Ohioans can legally place sports bets at 12:01 a.m.

“As soon as we do the countdown at midnight, we are headed straight over to the sportsbook, to place our first wager,” said Amy Ankerson, the senior vice president and general manager at Scioto Downs. 

Some enthusiasts already mounted an effort at petitioning the Ohio Casino Control Commission to move the legal start a few hours earlier, with the Ohio State Buckeyes scheduled to play in the Peach Bowl at 8 p.m. But the midnight kickoff is codified, according to the commission, and it hasn’t put too much of a damper on proprietors. 

“This is going to be huge for us, for everybody. For us, for the state, for the guests, we’ve all been wanting it,” said Jen Miglionico, the vice president of marketing at Hollywood Casino Columbus. 

Workers at both Scioto Downs and Hollywood Casino have undergone training to staff the sportsbooks, and Ankerson said Scioto Downs hired more people in preparation for day one. She believes the new offerings will draw in unfamiliar customers.

“When you add an additional amenity, it just creates that buzz. Everybody wants to come out and see the brand new shiny toy,” Ankerson said. 

For others, the start date is not necessarily ‘universal’

Although both central Ohio casinos will offer in-person retail gambling starting Jan. 1, game-goers may not be able to initially place retail bets on-site at Columbus sports venues.

The Columbus Blue Jackets will take Nationwide Arena’s rink on Jan. 5, the first home game in 2023. But in mid-December, a Blue Jackets’ spokesperson said on-site sports betting details would not be announced until after the beginning of the year.

A spokesperson for gambling company Tipico, the partner of the Columbus Crew, said plans for an in-person sportsbook were also in progress — but did not say whether it would be ready for a launch by the Crew’s first home match at Lower.com field on March 4. 

Under Ohio law, a wide range of businesses — from bars and restaurants to bowling alleys and grocery stores — can also get licensed for sports betting kiosks. A few have said publicly they are not ready to go all in.

Chicken-wing chain Roosters, with more than 30 locations across Ohio, applied for kiosk licenses just in case, but President Dan Ponton said in an earlier interview that some lingering questions have pushed him to reevaluate whether his restaurants will offer kiosks after March Madness.

For now, they won’t.

“My philosophy has always been anything new, I just kind of stay away from until the dust settles,” Ponton said. 

But online sportsbooks — licensed differently than both retail venues and kiosks — have signaled they are raring to go on Jan. 1. A deluge of advertisements, some promising “free bets” to early-birds who sign on with a sportsbook app, began to commandeer billboards, television, and social media in early December.

Both Barstool and Caesars, alongside the physical sportsbooks at Hollywood and Scioto Downs, are among the ranks of licensed digital sportsbooks. 

And online sports gambling will be king for the bulk of Ohio bettors, according to Matt Schuler, executive director of the Ohio Casino Control Commission. When it comes to regulation and enforcement of them, Schuler characterized it as “a new frontier.”

“About 90% of wagers will be placed online. It is going to be the robust part of this market,” Schuler said in an earlier interview. “Part of this is just not going to have eyes on it 24/7.” 

Problem gambling: ‘So fast, it’s so addictive’

Ponton is not the only one waiting and seeing. Once the fireworks pop, and the earliest bets are wagered, those who offer addiction services in the state are also prepared for an influx of people seeking out resources for problem gambling.

In particular, the accessibility of online sportsbooks — where bets move quickly and are granular, down to the number of touchdown passes a quarterback might throw — has the potential to become problematic for some, said Bruce Jones, an administrative coordinator and problem gambling counselor at Maryhaven.

“That’s so fast, it’s so addictive,” Jones said.

Jones said in an earlier interview he already treats a number of patients who struggle with problem sports gambling.

In 2017, one in four Ohioans who participated in sports gambling was doing so at risk, according to a report by Ohio for Responsible Gambling. In early December, the nonprofit was in the process of finalizing results from that same survey conducted in 2022, so the state has a baseline once sports gambling becomes legal.

Do you believe you have a gambling problem? Click here for a list of resources, or call the Ohio Problem Gambling Hotline at 800-589-9966.