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Over 21 in Dog Years Doesn’t Count

Author: Mark Pilarski

Dear Mark: I am many years my wife’s senior, yet my 19 year old wife got charged with illegal gambling WHILE I sat with her. I agree, I should have known, asked, looked for, ANYTHING on gambling age limits, but I didn't before I allowed her to play. If the casino and county in Nevada can't make money one way, they'll do it another way, discretely, charging $737 for "underage gambling.” How clever, don't you think? Ray F.

You’re right, Ray, you should have known, asked, or looked for gambling age limits. It’s that responsibility thing. Your responsibility.

That said, I do see where it can be a bit confusing, since some states have differing legal gambling ages, requiring the same minimum age for all types of gambling in some, while for others, it’s activity-dependent. Take for instance, New Jersey, where an 18-year-old can bet the ponies, but must hang around another three years before entering a casino.

With Indian gaming, tribes are free to set their own legal limits. For example, in California, the legal age to gamble is 18 years or older. However, most Indian casinos serve alcohol and have arbitrarily set the minimum age to 21 to comply with what’s required for their alcohol license.

Although your wife was fined $737 for under-aged gambling, she got off light as the much larger penalty goes to the casino for not preventing it. Where you played, in Nevada, the law says that casinos can face thousands, and thousands in fines for allowing underage gamblers to play. How about this whopper. The Las Vegas Hilton once had to fork over $350,000 when kids waiting in line for the Star Trek attraction were allowed to linger in the casino. The New Jersey Casino Control Commission fined Caesar’s in Atlantic City a hefty $100,000 for letting a 17-year old play blackjack and drink. Casinos are expected to, try to, and do, adhere to very strict rules to maintain their gaming licenses.

Also, Ray, I don’t want to overlook the casino staff on duty when your wife was gambling. Suspensions of casino employees (dealers and supervisors) for not asking patrons to prove they are old enough to gamble isn’t out of the norm.

Nobody should assume that under-age gamblers will be punished by nothing more than a boot from the property. It doesn’t matter if an over 21 spouse or parent accompanies them, or that they are from another state, country or planet where gambling is permitted under the age of 21. You should check the age requirements where you play before visiting. As Ray’s question points out, don't assume you'll get a free pass if you get caught gambling and you're not 21.

Dear Mark: When they ask for my ID to pay me when I hit a jackpot, and I can’t prove I’m 21 (I’m not), do they still have to pay me? Alan M.

Hey, Alan, SEE ABOVE!

If you have a hand-payable jackpot, plan on being asked for identification for tax purposes. If you are under-aged, plan on being shown the door without winnings in hand. Your jackpot is automatically forfeited.

One more thing, Alan. Switching places with an older friend won’t work either because overhead camera recordings are routinely checked on most jackpots to see who is actually playing the machine when they hit.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “Gaming is the mother of lies and perjuries.” - John Salisbury, Bishop of Chartres (1175)