Though New Jersey is usually credited as the official birthplace of gridiron football, one would not be amiss in calling Ohio the epicenter of American football in the 20th century and certainly a breeding ground for professional football: In the earliest days of the NFL, Ohio fielded teams in numbers comparable to Pennsylvania or New York, as the Buckeye State was one of the first to really take to professional football in a big way; Canton, one-time home of the Jim Thorpe’s Canton Bulldogs, was ultimately rewarded with the Pro Football Hall of Fame itself.
And we haven’t even mentioned “*the* Ohio State University” yet…
Betting in Ohio
Ohio has historically been on the conservative side vis-à-vis betting games and gambling laws, but in the 2010s has seen an explosion in gaming venues and expansion to state law. But what’s seen as a tolerable activity now was once seriously, likesay, frowned upon. Indeed, at surface level the history of betting in Ohio reads more Wild West than the Wild West.
Even before Ohio was incorporated as a state, betting had been illegalized as part of territorial law – in 1790, 13 years before the Buckeyes State became the nation’s 17th. With minimal law enforcement officials employed by the state in its early years, enforcement of vice-related laws were left to contracted vigilante types who weren’t exactly scrupulous moralists themselves. Standard practice by these early 19th-century guns-for-hire would have the mercenary come into town, find the gambling hotspot and play along. If he won, great. If he lost, well, then the game was busted and the enterprising vigilante simply took the entire pot.
Perhaps because of the heavy restriction on gambling, the lottery fever which captured the imagination of a nation in the pre-Civil War period hit Ohio especially hard, with scammers nearly equaling legitimate number gamesters in number. And while Ohio would later become the breeding ground for professional football, the 1870s saw professional baseball born right there in Cincinnati with the Red Stockings. With the first official game played in 1869, baseball’s organizers already by ’71 felt obliged enough to prevent the spread of illegal betting to introduce a rule which forbade umpires (!), players (!!) and official scorers (!!!) from gambling on games.
Despite this continual return to a focal position of betting, Ohio lawmakers tended to follow the national trend in the 20th century onward. In 1933, pari-mutuel betting was introduced at the state’s racetracks and 40 years later the Ohio State Lottery began.
In the last decades of the past century, however, state legislators did their best to prevent the spread of betting in Ohio. While the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 theoretically allowed Native Americans to operate casinos on reservation land, Ohio state law explicitly outlawed such gambling – including bingo. This prevented the building of any casinos in Ohio until 2010, when the state government relented to allow for the establishment of four casinos, one each within Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus and Toledo.
Football In Ohio
If football hadn’t been invented elsewhere in the United States, it would have been invented in Ohio.
After the major colleges had picked up the sport of football and fielded teams for organized matches for a few decades, professional and semi-pro leagues wrere commonplace in the U.S., particularly in the Midwest and New York state. Perhaps the strongest of all the inter- and intrastate leagues was the aptly-named Ohio League.
The Ohio League featuring a fluid roster of teams and players that goes well beyond the 21st-century sports fan’s imagination: To cite just one example of what pro sports was like back then, in 1910 the Ohio League crown was shared by teams calling themselves the Shelby Blues and the Shelby Tigers. Thing was, these teams also shared a majority of players!
Aside from the ever-morphing Shelby Blues, the Massilon Tigers and Akron Pros (née Akron Indians) were the dominant teams of the Ohio League until the mid-1910s when a certain gold-medal winning Olympian named Jim Thorpe showed up to play for the Canton Bulldogs. The Bulldogs’ preeminence in Ohio – they took three championships in four years, losing only in ’18 when Canton was without most of its key players due to the war effort – signaled a move of Ohio football teams to what we would today call the state’s bigger media markets and a trend toward national competition, as the ’Dogs played more and more frequently against Pennsylvania, Illinois and New York teams.
In fact, legend has it that the National Football League was born of a conversation between the Rochester (NY) Jeffersons and Thorpe. In 1920, the American Professional Football Conference was founded with six teams, five of which (the Bulldogs, Pros, Dayton Triangles, Columbus Panhandles and Toledo Maroons). However, the burgeoning league would immediately set records for quickest rebranding and quickest expansion, decades before either term came into existence.
With a month, the league was renamed the American Professional Football *Association* (and two years later, the NFL) and some 13 (officially 14, but the 0-1 Muncie Flyers should not be included) teams competed for the conference/association/league’s first title in 1920. At 8-0-3, the Akron Pros were the league’s only undefeated teams are were named champions.
Through the 1920s and 30s, teams came and went from and to the various flailing regional leagues, and Ohio was a particular incubator for short-lived NFL sides: Sadly, the inaugural champion Akron Pros and the Canton Bulldogs, the team that started it all, both folded in 1926. Other defunct teams from the NFL’s experimental phase include the Cleveland Tigers (1920-21), Dayton Triangles (1920-29), Columbus Panhandles/Tigers (1920-26), Cincinnati Celts (1921), Toledo Maroons (1922-23), Cleveland Bulldogs (1923-27) and the Cleveland football Indians (1931).
Incredibly enough, despite the origins, headquarters and Hall of Fame all based in Ohio, the NFL played without an Ohio-based franchise until 1950 after the last Cleveland team had folded in ’31. But high-level professional football wasn’t over yet: In 1946, the All-America Football Conference, probably the second greatest rogue football league ever, produced the – here it comes – Cleveland Browns.
Forget what you know about today’s hapless incarnation of the team: From inception through the 1950s, the Browns were a dominant franchise like pro football has never seen. After winning all four AAFC championships, the Browns went on to appear in *six consecutive* NFL championship games, winning three more: Seven titles in 10 years in not too shabby. After that, the Browns briefly again ascended to championship level on the back of Jim Brown, making the playoffs five times between 1964 and ’69, even winning a championship.
But after that? Hoo. Talk about your damn statistics. Or rather, *damning* statistics. Since 1970, the Cleveland Browns in two incarnations are 272-401-3 (a .402 winning percentage, or an average season of about 6-10), culminating in the incredible 0-16 of 2017. The team(s) is 5-11 in the playoffs in that time, and the last win came when Bill Belichick was the head coach. In the 21st century, the team has posted two seasons better than 8-8 and are 0-1 in playoff games. You get the idea…
Meanwhile, that other great rogue football league, the AFL, expanded into Ohio in 1968 with the Cincinnati Bengals. Coaching the Bengals was none other than Paul Brown, the man who brought all those titles to the team which bore his name before being shown the door by team owner Art Modell (of course) on the eve of Jim Brown’s dominance. Paul Brown never did achieve the towering heights he had in Cleveland – his record was just 55-56 and 0-3 in the playoffs with Cincinnati – but he may rest in peace with the knowledge that his franchise ended up enjoying well more success than his former employers have.
After all, the Bengals with Kenny Anderson and later Boomer Esiason, the Bengals twice made Super Bowls, losing to the unstoppable Joe Montana and his San Francisco 49ers both times. Since then … it depends how you measure. After highly infrequent playoff appearances in the 1990s and 2000s, the Bengals ran off five consecutive playoff seasons from 2011 to ’15 – of course, they lost in the wild-card round all five times.
In college football, there’s … oh, will you look at that word count! Much as NFLbets’d love to go over the historical highlights of a team so storied that its alumni pretentiously refer to it as “*The* Ohio State University,” we just can’t. May we say that it’s really too bad and yeah, the Buckeyes won the 2015 college football championship yadda yadda yadda.
Betting on Football in Ohio
If the legislative rigmarole surrounding laws on daily fantasy sports betting are any indication, we may say that Ohio will get comprehensive legalized regulation for betting on sports in the state, but it may take a while.
After about 18 months of political wrangling over the fine points, Ohio legislators launched a study in mid-2017 to determine whether or not DFS is a skill-based game and if so to what extent. If given an answer showing evidence that DFS requires honed talent as in poker, the games are likely to be fully legalized within parameters of the law. At present, however, Ohioans are playing daily fantasy football and the rest without bother. NFLbets expects much of the same for betting on football in Ohio in the foreseeable future.