Once you’re 18, the US government views you as an adult. At that age, you can do nearly everything your parents can.
Except drink alcohol, bet on sports or go to casinos, at least in most states.
However, when the Kentucky sports betting bill was introduced and passed, the legislation allowed 18-year-olds to bet on sports in the Bluegrass State.
The move drew criticism from some, including regulators from neighboring states. Ohio Casino Control Commission executive director Matt Schuler told Cincinnati media he “absolutely hate(s) the idea that individuals under 21 can go across the border, open an account and bet.”
Schuler went on to say that 18 is too young to place wagers. Schuler called the 18-20-year-old demographic “most vulnerable” to develop a gambling addiction.
Despite the scrutiny, entrepreneur and responsible gambling advocate Jamie Salsburg doesn’t think the 18-plus age limit in Kentucky is the issue some make it out to be.
Like a Bad Relationship, ‘It’s Complicated’
Salsburg hosts the “After Gambling Podcast.” The podcast documents his past struggles with gambling addiction to help his listeners deal with their problems.
He may be defending the 18+ rule in Kentucky. But Salsburg told Gaming Today he was almost indifferent about the established age. In other words, he doesn’t think age matters.
“The appropriate age to allow consumers to engage in the legal market is complicated,” Salsburg told Gaming Today. “I’m neither ‘for’ or ‘against’ 18, 21, or any other age we decide to bet in the future as there are pros and cons to each. Hell, I could build a strong case for us to lower it to 13, but again, there would be some advantages and disadvantages to this change.”
The argument for establishing the minimum betting age as 21 is based on the brain being more developed at 21 than 18. But Salzburg said there hasn’t been enough research to require the higher age.
“I don’t think enough evaluation has been conducted to conclusively say 21 is the best age to offer sports betting and that anyone suggesting otherwise is a fool,” Salsburg said.
It’s More About Experience Than Age
Similarly, brain development might not be nearly as important as familiarity with the topic. For example, rates of alcoholism are lower in Europe, where the drinking age is younger than in the US.
“Ultimately, an inexperienced person will most often experience more failures than someone who has the benefit of experience and knowledge,” Salsburg told Gaming Today. “Sure, age is likely correlated to experience, but it’s reductive to say a beginner at 18 is in a worse spot than a beginner at 21 or even 25.”
A possible benefit would be the lack of immense wealth younger people have. As a result, the stakes of a gambling addiction are lower.
According to Salsburg, people in the gaming industry aren’t willing to discuss younger betting ages, regardless of the arguments.
“The ‘brains aren’t fully developed until 25’ narrative seems to have taken hold within gambling harm discussions,” he said. “There are counterarguments for why this phenomenon takes place out there. But I’ve yet to have someone within gambling harm who is willing to explore them. It’s not for lack of effort on my part. It just feels like a topic no one wants to consider reopening for discussion.”
Regulators Should Focus On Minimizing Harm, Not Necessarily Age
Salsburg also echoed the sentiment of comments made by Kentucky Rep. Michael Meredith, a sponsor of the bill. In response to Schuler’s comments, Meredith reiterated that all other forms of gambling, the Kentucky Lottery and Kentucky horse racing, were 18-and-over.
Salzburg had similar thoughts.
“At 18, we can take out loans, get married, join the military, and buy lottery tickets. Each of these are forms of gambling, which have just as much potential for harm as a $5 12-leg parlay,” Salzburg said. “Are we really saying our brains are developed enough for almost every other risk-taking activity, but not sports betting?”
From Salzburg’s viewpoint, age is almost irrelevant. Instead, regulators should focus on educating the new customer base.
“I believe our goal should be to assist those interested in sports betting to gain as much knowledge as possible with the least amount of financial impact on their lives,” Salzburg told Gaming Today.
Several Operators Will Likely Self-Impose a 21+ Age Requirement
State law allows 18-year-olds to wager. But operators could raise the age requirement if they chose.
Caesars Sportsbook partnered with Red Mile and Keeneland last month. In the announcement, Caesars said it would only accept wagers from those 21 and up. That applies to both their retail and online Kentucky sportsbooks.
Red Mile already has a 21-plus rule for all of the Lexington horse track’s betting options.
Additionally, FanDuel Kentucky and BetMGM Kentucky would likely follow Caesars’ lead by using a self-imposed 21+ rule. Those operators haven’t announced a partnership yet, meaning they aren’t officially in Kentucky yet.
But it would be hard to imagine those companies shying away from the Bluegrass State.
Of the four major US online sports betting operators, DraftKings Kentucky may be the only one willing to accept bets from 18-20-year-olds. So far, Caesars is the only company with a partnership already in place.