Lower gambling age and brace for boom

Jul 26, 2005 9:40 AM

Here’s the dichotomy: On the one hand, you have casino marketing creatures touting the virtues of gaming — it’s a clean, wholesome, entertainment activity that ranks right beside movies, nightclubs and bowling.

Then, regulators weigh in and tell you the clean, wholesome, entertainment activity is only clean and wholesome for 21-year-olds and not 20-year-olds.

Doesn’t make much sense, does it?

The fact of the matter is that the gambling age is already 18 in several states — for commercial casinos as well as lotteries and pari-mutuel betting.

There are even some cities in Europe where you can gamble at 16.

London, for instance, allows betting into football pools and the national lottery at 16, though you have to be 18 to play cash slots, the races and casino games.

So, why shouldn’t it be legal to gamble at 18 in Nevada?

There really isn’t a compelling reason. Most social agencies that warn of underage problem gambling cite studies that indicate adolescents are most vulnerable under the age of 10.

Moreover, the 18-to-24 age group is always a top target of marketers for everything from automobiles and designer clothing to airline tickets and breath fresheners. Why not casinos?

Actually, lowering the gambling age limit to 18 would probably create a boom never before experienced in the industry.

First, there are about 150,000 18-to-21 year-olds living in Nevada, approximately 7 percent of the state’s population. That figure is on par with the nation’s total of around 20 million 18-to-21-year-olds.

More important, that age group — the aforementioned 18-24 year-olds — accounts for the largest spending segment of the population.

Gambling, especially with the advent of high-stakes poker on TV and the Internet, is already reaching mainstream status with many families.

One mother, who asked that the family’s name not be used, says she’s glad she knows where her son, Jack, is and what he’s doing when he’s playing poker with his friends.

They’re not playing with much money, said Jack’s father, just using bits of their allowance or some of their lawn-mowing earnings. No one in the circle of friends is so good that he wins consistently.

Jack started playing poker when he was in middle school. He says he plays because it’s better than sitting there bored. He likes hanging out with friends, and no one ever loses too much money. He says he probably wouldn’t bother playing if they didn’t play for money, because then players don’t take it seriously enough.

Finally, there is already a significant number of 18-year-olds already gambling in Nevada casinos. Visit some of the locals joints on a Saturday night and you’ll see teens discreetly playing slots where they won’t easily be spotted by security personnel.

Occasionally they’re caught and escorted out. But beyond that there’s no liability for the teens, even though the casino faces heavy fines if regulators can document underage gamblers.

Policing the 18-21 year-old segment isn’t worth the trouble for the casino or gaming regulators.

And the increase in the gaming business due to a lower age limit would probably astound even the most conservative analysts. Bet on it.