Nevada Lawmaker Introduces Bill to Lower the Gambling Age to 18

Nevada Lawmaker Introduces Bill to Lower the Gambling Age to 18
Wheeler's bill is an attempt to boost Nevada casino gambling revenues.

Jim Wheeler, a Republican from the 39th District (Minden), has introduced a new gambling bill in the Nevada General Assembly. If passed, the bill would lower the legal gambling age from 21 to 18 in the state of Nevada.

Assembly Bill No. 86

Wheeler’s proposal, Assembly Bill No. 86, also would ban people under 21 from consuming alcohol while in a Nevada casino. This is the first time the state legislature has considered lowering the legal drinking age since 2008, but that bill failed to pass.

The bill was introduced along with 200 others to the two houses of the Nevada legislature on the first day of the legislative session. Given the large number of proposals to consider, AB 86 might languish for a time in committee. In the General Assembly, Democrats hold a 27-15 advantage, so a Republican-framed bill is unlikely to receive an early hearing.

Lowered Gaming Revenues

Assemblyman Wheeler’s bill is designed to increase gaming revenues in the state. In 2016, Nevada casinos generated $11.26 billion, which was an increase of 1.3%. Such increases are considered minimal, becuase population increases account for much of that growth. Given the relatively stagnant growth over the past several years, lamwakers and executives are searching for ways to increase play in casinos.

Opening casinos to players aged 18, 19, and 20 is Jim Wheeler’s answer. Those concerned about the societal impact of youth gambling are concerned such gambling would be a doorway to a lifetime of gambling, though proponents likely see that as a good thing. Social critics, gaming researchers, and problem gambling counselors have warned in the past few years that underage social casino gaming lead to gambling habits when those youths become adults.

Debt among College Students

Opponents of AB 86 warn that such a bill could prey on those least-prepared for such gaming. “The College Investor”, a website which covers college-age economics, said that an 18-year old has a negative $9,000 income. That number gets lower until the age of 21, when it becomes a positive figure.

Since college-age Americans are, on average, running up debts, the idea that Nevada would allow such people to gamble is considered dangerous by opponents of Jim Wheeler’s bill.

To lessen the impact of the bill, Jim Wheeler included a provision which would increase the age of alcohol consumption in Nevada casinos to 21. The provision likely was added to make the bill more palatable to potential detractors. Those under-21 players would not be impaired by alcohol when gambling in Nevada casinos.

Arguments for Under-21 Gambling

Bills that limit people under the age of 21 from gambling or drinking alcohol always meet with some derision. The common refrain is the US government believes people 18-20 can be sent away to foreign wars with life-or-death decisions are sometimes required, but those same people cannot be trusted to make decisions about drinking alcohol or gambling their own money.

Science backs up the notion that the human brain is not fully developed until 25. Thus, proponents of such laws argue that people in a tenuous economic state with inhibition problems are at risk of financial ruin when given a chance to gamble for real money. A certain amount of inconsistency or even hypocrisy is certain, unless a single age is chosen for all activities. Given the unlikelihood of such a one-size-fits-all age, lobbyists, lawyers, and legislators are likely to have plenty to discuss for the foreseeable future.

Jim Wheeler’s Conversation with A.G. Burnett

Jim Wheeler announced his support for Assembly Bill No. 86 with a lighthearted joke. After Nevada Gaming Control Board chairman A.G. Burnett gave a speech before the Assembly Judiciary Committee and Assembly Committee on Corrections, Parole, and Probation, Assemblyman Wheeler asked an obvious question.

Wheeler asked Chairman Burnett, “What’s the legal age for gaming in Nevada,” which is considered an obvious question in a casino-filled state like Nevada.

After the chuckles died down, Jim Wheeler noted that he was joking. With that introduction, the assemblyman noted he would be sponsoring a bill to lower the age of gambling in Nevada.

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