Gambling Age Should Match The Legal Drinking Age, Watchdogs Say

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North American minimum legal gambling age requirements can be confusing, even to industry professionals.

Some US tribal retail casinos can allow gambling as young as age 18. Meanwhile, all US online casino operators need to verify bettors are at least 21. That’s true even for Michigan online casinos, many of which are partnered with tribal casinos with a lower age requirement.

Ontario iGaming players are 19 and older. US commercial casino gamblers are 21. US online parimutuel bettors can be 18. That’s unless they’re wagering in Indiana or Washington, where they must be at least 21.

Minimum gambling age variation based on jurisdiction, channel, and gambling type can be dizzying.

One US online gambling operator told Bonus on background that the most important thing for operators to do is to simply comply with the legislation. After fulfilling their legal obligations, then they can wonder whether the laws make sense.

US Gambling Age Should Be 21, Watchdogs Say

It’s not just confusing. According to industry watchdogs, scattering legal minimum age requirements across the spectrum from 18 to 21 is unethical.

Change the minimum legal age to gamble in the US to 21 across the board, they say.

Keith S. Whyte, executive director of the nonprofit National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG), told Bonus:

We often draw parallels to alcohol research and policy and that is appropriate here. There is one minimum age for alcohol consumption, for every type of alcohol, consistent across every US state.

Cheryl Moss, a retired judge who presided over Nevada’s first Gambling Treatment Diversion Court (GTDC), opined to Bonus:

From a responsible gambling view, there is a marked disparity in the maturity development of young adults who are 18 vs 21. Access to gaming at a younger age may cause more harm. Eighteen to 21 year olds who are in college may resort to taking on jobs while studying to have access to funds, which detracts [from] their focusing on their academics.

“Gambling is addictive for some, and the young adult population will be more vulnerable as they may not have experience in financial responsibility, and they may resort to other undesirable or illegal methods to obtain money to gamble.

“Ultimately, when things go wrong this happens: Among Gamblers Anonymous members, 12-18% report having attempted suicide. Nearly 50% report having made plans to attempt suicide, and up to 80% reported suicidal ideation.

Ontario Gambling Age, Drinking Age Match

The Ontario online casino market welcomed its first regualted private online gambling operators on April 4. Anyone in the province who’s 19 or older can now download and bet using a legal online gambling app.

The province’s legal drinking age is likewise 19. For that matter, it’s now the minimum age to buy and consume cannabis as well.

It helps that only one regulator oversees all of that:

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) has developed strong rules that gambling sites, and sport and event betting sites have to follow to promote responsible gambling, protect vulnerable people, like youth and self-excluded players, and enhance game integrity.

Tribal Casino Gambling Ages

Canada is home to 18 First Nations casinos. By contrast, tribal gaming in the US comprises 515 properties.

In other words, most of the 981 retail casinos in the US belong to Native American groups, according to figures from the American Gaming Association (AGA).

This is where a lot of the gambling age variations enter the American map.

Unlike in the US, retail casinos on First Nations land also adhere to AGCO’s age requirement. For example, Casino Rama Resort in Ontario won’t let anyone younger than 19 on its gaming floor.

As Martin Harris of PlayUSA put it:

Following the passage of the First Nations Gaming Act in 1995, lawmakers ruled that while the First Nations could open gambling facilities, the provinces still had the authority to impose regulations on what types of games they could provide. The situation resembles the US where tribes and states must negotiate compacts to determine what games tribal casinos can offer. However, unlike in the US where the Bureau of Indian Affairs, a division of the Department of the Interior, also must approve tribal compacts, there is no federal oversight of the tribal casinos in Canada.

Must Be 18 To Enter

As PlayUSA notes, 10 states have land-based casinos that allow 18-year-olds to gamble. Most of these are tribal casinos.

PlayUSA’s Bart Shirley reports:

  • California casinos: At some California card rooms and tribal casinos the legal age is 18.
  • Florida casinos: The legal age for poker and bingo inside Florida tribal casinos is 18, but it’s 21 for casino games.
  • Georgia casinos: Georgia doesn’t have land-based casinos but the legal age for gambling on its offshore cruises is 18.
  • Idaho casinos: The minimum gambling age at all Idaho casinos is 18, but there are properties that are 21+.
  • Michigan casinos: There are tribal casinos in Michigan where the minimum gambling is 18, but it’s 21 at commercial casinos in Detroit.
  • Minnesota casinos: The minimum gambling age is 18, although there are only a limited number of games at casinos.
  • Montana, Oklahoma, Washington, and Wyoming: Tribal casinos are 18+.

Market Pressures Enter

On March 30, Kewadin Casinos exercised its right to lower the gambling age from 19 to 18 in its five Michigan locations.

The tribe explained the choice:

According to the tribal gaming compact that the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians, owners of the Kewadin Casinos properties, has with the state of Michigan, the casinos have had the ability to lower its gaming age limit as low as 18 at any time.

The decision to now lower the gaming age limit to 18 is a decision that gives all legal adults access to our gaming properties. Currently, several of Michigan’s tribal casinos allow legal adults to gamble at their casinos and this change will allow us to be consistent and competitive with those casinos,’ said Allen Kerridge, Kewadin Casinos Chief Executive Officer.

This age limit change does not affect the minimum gaming age of the online casino and sport betting which is regulated by the Michigan Gaming Control Board. That age limit will remain at 21 years of age.

In Michigan, 18 tribal casinos and three commercial ones compete with Kewadin. Gamblers must be 21 to play at the commercial casinos.

Despite requiring gamblers to be 21 or older to enter their Battle Creek establishment, FireKeepers Casino Hotel, its representative declined to comment on gambling age for this story.

Amber Ballard, public relations and social media manager for FireKeepers, informed Bonus:

These questions may be best offered to a gaming industry analyst or executives no longer working in Michigan. The Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi has a compact with the State of Michigan. What age is offered at another casino in the state or Canada is not something we wish to comment on.

Market Pressures Shouldn’t Be A Justification

Moss told Bonus:

Casinos probably consider whether 18 to 21 yr olds make for good marketing strategy, considering that Generation Z people were raised on smartphones. When visitors in that age range come to Las Vegas, they might not be as attracted to the table games or slot machines as they are attracted to the social offerings of nightclubs, pool parties, and doing things with their friends.

Problem gamblers tend to gamble alone at any age.

If tribal casinos set lower age minimums, they should conduct research studies on the harmful effects of being able to gamble at an earlier age. Native Americans are also a vulnerable population where co-morbid addictions are prevalent relating to gambling and substance abuse. These prevalence rates are alarmingly high compared to other ethnic populations.

Do Uniform Legal Age Requirements Make Sense In Gambling?

Gambling is an adult activity, Whyte said.

He adds:

Harmonizing minimum age and other PG/RG regulations among verticals and between states is an important step in creating a national public health approach to preventing gambling-related harm.

Moss said minimum age discrepancies can cause problems.

She said of gamblers younger than 21:

If he or she has a severe gambling disorder, distance may not make a difference as some are willing to drive several hours one way just to be able to gamble.

So does it make sense to have physical casinos in the same state with different age limits?

Whyte said:

We believe having a consistent minimum age for gambling is important to reduce consumer confusion, simplify compliance, and most importantly allow consistent responsible gambling messaging for youth and other vulnerable populations.

Unfortunately, with some form of retail casino gaming currently present in 42 of 50 states, convincing regulators and tribes across the country to agree on a single age may be easier said than done.

About the Author

Heather Fletcher

Heather Fletcher is the lead writer at Bonus, concentrating on online casino coverage. She had her first published byline at age 10, but didn't get paid for her writing until she got her first newspaper job. Fletcher's newspaper career started at Suburban News Publications in Ohio and eventually took her to The New York Times, where she's still a contract freelance reporter for the National Desk. She covers breaking news from Philadelphia, as needed. In March 2021, Fletcher began writing about online casino gambling as the lead writer for Online Poker Report.

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