Still, he said, "I don't want to sugarcoat it. I think it is going to be an issue. I just don't think it's going to be the epidemic that people think it is."
Cimperman says social service agencies are gearing up to help. Recovery Resources expects to expand its counseling programs and the Cleveland Catholic Diocese is training priests and parish staff members to recognize warning signs.
Like many states, Ohio will have a so-called self-exclusion list that allows troubled gamblers to voluntarily be barred from a casino.
At least 12 states require casinos to implement responsible gaming policies as a condition of getting licensed, according to the American Gaming Association. Ohio will get 2 percent of casino earnings for a fund to help problem gamblers, an estimated $8 million to $9 million each year.
"It's very important as a state that we have a commitment to provide a safety net for these people, to provide the services and the treatment that they might need," Clemens said.
The commission will share a help line with the Ohio Lottery, which already supports counseling agencies that deal with troubled gamblers. It expects to expand its offerings and share programs with the casino commission.
Caesars Entertainment, a partner in the Cleveland casino, said it trains employees to watch for signs of troubled gamblers and on how to be comfortable explaining where help is available. Caesars also said it takes extra steps to watch out for underage gamblers.
The former Marine in the program, which has about 12 people per five-week session, said his interest in gambling began with dabbling in the stock market. Like the former soldier, he estimates his gambling losses surpassed $1 million.
When the market dropped, he said, "I got stressed out about the money and started gambling, then into casinos. Blackjack was really the difficult thing for me to get away from. It was fast-paced, and for me, it was highly addictive."
He worried that the casinos will lure people into betting their rent money or worse.
"When you lose that, it drives you to put more and more money toward the effort and it becomes a sinking ship," he said.
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