CLEVELAND (WJW) – As the MAC Championship tipped off in Cleveland Thursday, preparations were underway for Ohioans to legally bet on sports, including college sports, next year at this time.

Casinos, professional sports teams and state regulators are planning for legalized sports betting to begin in Ohio on Jan. 1, 2023.

“The tournament time is a huge time of year for sports betting,” said Adam Suliman, Vice President of Sports and Digital with JACK Entertainment.

Suliman said JACK Entertainment began preparing for sports betting months before Ohio lawmakers voted to legalize it in December, including by designing a retail location and mobile app.

Construction is set to begin soon on a retail sports book on the first floor of the JACK Cleveland Casino.

“If you’ve ever been to Las Vegas and seen a sportsbook there, you can take that and shrink it a little bit,” Suliman said.

A larger share of betting is expected to be done digitally through mobile apps. JACK this week launched its Bet JACK app, which lets users learn and practice sports betting without wagering real money before gaming officially launches statewide.

“This is essentially a free-to-play sportsbook. It has all the different sports betting markets you would typically see in a real money environment, however it’s risk free,” Suliman said.

Last month, Caesars Sportsbook and the Cleveland Cavaliers announced they are partnering to offer sports betting, with plans for a retail location at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.

The Cavs said the sportsbook will cover more than 10,000 square feet of the ground-level atrium, in the northwest corner of the arena. Betting windows for wagering will be open year-round.

The Ohio Casino Control Commission, which will regulate sports betting, said sports betting will go live statewide at the start of next year.

“It was an intentional choice to make sure we have time to implement the law the way it’s meant to be done,” Communications Director Jessica Franks said.

The Commission is currently working through the rule-making process before accepting applications in the summer or fall and then granting operator licenses.

“The Commission is currently in the process of drafting all of the various rules and applications,” Franks said.

According to poll results brought to you by Emerson College, Your Local Election Headquarters and The Hill, a majority 49.8% of Ohioans surveyed said they think gambling on professional sports should be legal, while 29.7% opposed it.

But a majority opposed betting on college sports. 48.7% of respondents said they think gambling on college sports should not be legal, while 36.3% said it should be legal.

“Gambling isn’t risk-free,” said Mike Buzzelli, Associate Director of Problem Gambling Network of Ohio. “It is certainly a form of safe entertainment for most, but some can develop problems.”

Ohio’s neighboring states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Indiana previously legalized sports betting. Buzzelli said calls to problem gambling hotlines have surged by as much as 50% in some states when sports betting went live.

Under the law approved by the Ohio Legislature, 2% of state tax revenue from sports betting will go into a fund for problem gambling prevention, treatment and support.

“Because it will be so available, it takes those folks that may be on the verge of problematic play and it might tip them,” Buzzelli said.