A bill to allow courts to order mandatory enrolment in a gambling prevention, education and treatment program for those caught gambling underage is back in the New Jersey Senate as of last week. The bill, S1242, was referred to the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism & Historic Preservation Committee. The law applies to anyone under the age of 21 who “enters or gambles at a casino.”
The proposal first appeared last February as S1599. At that time, the bill made it out of committee by a unanimous 5-0 vote but didn’t get a floor vote. The new bill’s content is identical to last year’s effort.
Under the state’s existing laws, those found guilty of underage gambling must pay a fine of between $500 and $1000. The bill would allow courts to impose that fine, mandatory gambling education, or both. It’s philosophically similar to the ongoing effort to create gambling treatment diversion courts for other types of gambling-related crime.
Lawmakers Propose Discretionary Fine For Violators
According to a 2023 report by the National Council on Problem Gambling, 60% to 80% of high school students had gambled for money in the past year. The Council says that 4% to 6% of adolescents either have a serious gambling problem or are at risk of developing one.
In a statement on the New Jersey Senate Democrats website, the bill’s sponsor, Sen. James Beach, said he hopes it will help address that issue.
It is our hope that this can help to address unhealthy relationships with gambling and prevent kids from becoming repeat offenders. Gambling addictions are a serious issue and a growing concern among teens. This legislation will help to connect underage gamblers with treatment, rather than hitting them with fines which can have a disproportionate impact on low income families.
Bill Addresses Retail Concerns Only
Bill S1242 only applies to gambling in brick-and-mortar casinos and other physical gambling establishments. Although the bill would represent progress on responsible gaming and the curbing of underage gambling, there is rising concern about the issue of the ease of access to online gambling.
Regarding last year’s effort, Felicia Grondin, the Executive Director of the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey, told NJ Spotlight News:
Online gambling is just as popular, if not more popular, than in-person, brick-and-mortar casino gambling and definitely much more accessible. And there’s more opportunity for kids to gamble online given the fact that one can hide their identity.
The strict identity checks mandated by regulators make it impossible for underage individuals to open their own accounts. However, it can be hard to detect if a legal user is letting an underage player borrow their account or making bets on their behalf.
Online casinos and sports betting sites have exploded in popularity over the last few years with the legalization of sports betting across the USA. Curbing underage gambling at these online casinos will be the next step for a state that has already introduced several bills to promote responsible gambling.
According to a survey released by the NCAA in May 2023, 58% of people between 18 and 22 years of age engaged in at least one sports betting activity. Mobile sports betting is the preferred medium to access sportsbooks, with 28% of the sample size of this survey opting to wager using their smartphones. Although that age group includes some individuals over 21—and the legal age is 18 in some states, like Kentucky—younger people are at higher risk of developing a gambling problem, even when gambling legally.
This stat is further evidence that access to online gambling, whether it is sports betting or casino gambling, is an imminent concern for lawmakers, not just in New Jersey but across the USA.