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July 24, 2014

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GAMING:

Idea of lower gambling age will be getting gentle push

Regulator says he’ll pass it along to top lawmakers

Nevada’s top gaming regulator says he’ll ask state legislators whether they have any appetite to lower the minimum gambling age from 21 to 18 as a way to drum up state gaming revenue during the recession.

Lowering the gambling age was suggested by a gaming industry lawyer in a question-and-answer session with regulators at Friday’s gaming law conference sponsored by the State Bar of Nevada.

State Gaming Control Board Chairman Dennis Neilander and Nevada Gaming Commission Chairman Peter Bernhard were asked their thoughts about changing Nevada’s gambling age limit from 21 to 18.

Neilander said he would take the suggestion to Steven Horsford, the new Senate majority leader, and Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley.

The question was raised by Thomas Smock, an attorney for Aristocrat Technologies Inc., a slot machine manufacturer.

Contacted Monday, Smock said he wasn’t representing Aristocrat when asking the question, but thought the discussion was relevant because of the economic downturn.

“I personally feel that this is a way that additional revenue could be generated, and if that means keeping our teachers employed and not cutting the state budget any further, I think it should at least be discussed,” he said.

The public has long debated the age of adulthood, and Smock pointed out that 18-year-olds are allowed to vote and serve their country in the military.

Neilander warned that the proposal would undergo intense scrutiny from groups concerned about problem gambling and underage players.

Neilander and Bernhard said they neither supported nor opposed the idea.

There is some precedent in bordering states for allowing those 18 and older to gamble. The age requirement to play at most tribal casinos is 18 in California. In Arizona, 18-year-olds were allowed to play, but in 2002 voters approved a gambling expansion initiative that changed the age limit to 21.

Nevada law says a person under the age of 21 years shall not “play, be allowed to play, place wagers at, or collect winnings from, whether personally or through an agent, any gambling game, slot machine, race book, sports pool or pari-mutuel operator; loiter, or be permitted to loiter, in or about any room or premises wherein any licensed game, race book, sports pool or pari-mutuel wagering is operated or conducted or be employed as a gaming employee except in a counting room.”

Any person who breaks the law is guilty of a misdemeanor.

The statute also says that thinking someone is over 21 is no excuse for violating the law. Smock said he plans to forward demographic information to Neilander and Bernhard showing that there are about 12 million Americans 18 to 21 years old who could be allowed to gamble if the law were changed.

Because the prohibition of under-21 gambling is a state law, the Legislature would have to pass a bill and the governor would have to sign the legislation to change it.

Neilander said he would mention the idea to Horsford and Buckley, and will meet with the Nevada Legislature when it convenes in February.

Richard N. Velotta can be reached at 259-4061 or at [email protected].

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