CLEVELAND — Jess Stewart said as he looks through photos from his life, he remembers that during each moment; he was addicted to gambling.
“I was a gambler even then," Stewart said. "Those memories are tarnished because of gambling.”
He said he was first exposed to sports betting at age six, when his father would take him with him to bet on games.
“That was the only really quality time that I got with him," Stewart said of his father. "And come to find out, it was one of my triggers."
He became hooked and eventually hit a breaking point.
“[I] was in Las Vegas for about a week," Stewart said. "[I] lost $40,000 cash and credit. At that point, I just was at the verge of taking my life.”
He has now been in recovery for six years. He’s appeared in several publications and videos aimed at curing gambling addictions.
He said he’s concerned that the Ohio Casino Control Commission has already sent violation notices to several sports betting companies about possible violations of state law. All of this happened only about a week into sports betting becoming legal in Ohio.
Penn Sports Interactive is a subsidiary of the entertainment company Barstool Sports. State regulators said they marketed their sportsbook while holding a live broadcast at the University of Toledo. University officials declined to comment.
DraftKings is accused of mailing 2,500 advertisements to people under age 21. Gov. Mike DeWine had a stern message for companies that flout Ohio’s gaming laws.
“We believe that in several occasions they’ve already crossed the line," DeWine said. "My message to them is this will not be tolerated in the state of Ohio.”
The organization BeforeYouBet said that between 60-80% of high school students in the U.S. gambled last year. In Ohio, 15% of kids ages 12-17 are gambling, and 3% of them have experienced negative consequences from gambling.
“This is an addiction that does not discriminate," Stewart said.
Nabil Pervaiz is the prevention manager for Recovery Resources and helps people overcome their gambling addiction. He said people can quickly get hooked on sports betting since it’s become more accessible.
“We’re seeing it on our phones, apps," Pervaiz said. "It’s a quick way to gamble.”
Stewart said that sports betting is here to stay, but strict oversight by the state can keep it from reaching young and impressionable people.
“There’s plenty of money out there to be made," Stewart said. "They don’t need to be targeting individuals under 21. They don’t need to be putting up advertisements where you need a pair of high-powered binoculars to see the problem gambling helpline at the bottom of the screen at a font of four. Then the rest of the advertisement is so large.”
Barstool Sports hasn't responded to a request for comment. DraftKings said in a statement that they don’t comment on pending regulatory matters.
The Casino Control Commission said all the companies that were sent notices may schedule a hearing to challenge the state’s claims.