The history of gambling in the United States is one that goes as far back as the founding of the country itself, helping to fund colonial foundations. A controversial topic in legislative circles, the legal status of all forms of gambling has often been in a state of flux. Just since the repeal of PASPA, sports betting in the US has seen a drastic transformation across the states.
One of the many gambling laws that vary from state to state is the legal age for gambling. The legal gambling age generally ranges from 16-21, but it can depend on the game, the type of wager players are betting, and other circumstances. The most common minimum gambling age is 18, but most would be surprised to learn how the consensus behind this number ties into a history of anti-war protesting and American draft laws.
The War for Democracy
In World War II, Franklin D. Roosevelt lowered the draft age from 21 to 18, shocking a good portion of the population who thought it was unfair that a young man could be sent to die in the war before being able to vote. Those who thought this was an injustice birthed a slogan, pushing for the voting age to change: “Old Enough to Fight, Old Enough to Vote.” Although the idea would stick with some lawmakers, it wouldn’t gain traction until after the 1960s.
A similar sentiment echoed through the US again during the Vietnam War. Barry McGuire sang, “You’re old enough to kill but not for votin’,” all too familiar words as his single “Eve of Destruction” reached #1 on the Billboard charts. Before this, societal norms viewed 21 as the age of adulthood, and most laws reflected this shared opinion. But the turmoil of losing thousands of young lives needlessly in Vietnam sparked new anger, and anti-war protests began to hammer home the idea that young people deserved the right to vote.
In 1970, the 26th constitutional amendment was certified by Richard Nixon, lowering the voting age to 18. It was ratified in just 100 days, faster than any other US amendment. After the 26th amendment was established, 18 became the representative minimum age, both socially and legally. Shortly after this, America experienced a boom in the popularity of gambling and many states introduced laws to place the legal gambling age minimum at 18.
Just a Number
The majority of state laws require that you either be 18 or older, or 21 or older to gamble with real money, typically favoring older age requirements for casino games. It’s always best to double-check with your local laws if you plan on gambling, but here we’ll do a quick breakdown of gambling age by state and take a look at some of the more outlier laws.
From State to State
If casino gambling is your thing there are 22 states where you have to be at least 18 to test your luck and 35 states where you need to be 21. Many casinos will exclude players based on drinking laws, like casinos in Nevada and Atlantic City, NJ. Casinos run by tribal authorities have sovereign status in the US, so they may have different requirements.
Alabama has taken the middle ground, setting its minimum age requirement for all available forms of gambling at 19. Maine and Missouri both have a minimum age of 16–but only for those who plan on playing bingo. Texas has a lenient bingo policy: minors accompanied by a parent or guardian have no age requirement. Maryland breaks up its bingo law by county instead of having a state-wide law, so in some places, the minimum age is as low as 16.
State lotteries range from age limits of 18 to 21, but interestingly some states will allow adults to purchase lottery tickets for minors as gifts. Illinois even supplies a solution in its statutes, stating that a minor’s winnings can be collected by an adult in the minor’s family or a check can be drafted to the minor directly.
In some states where 18-year-olds might be closed off from other types of betting, pari-mutuel betting laws allow for younger age requirements. Washington, Indiana, Ohio, Arkansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, and Pennsylvania all allow pari-mutuel betting as an alternative for those 18+.
North Dakota hosts a form of pari-mutuel betting for participants 18 years and older called Calcutta Pool, but has a 21+ age limit on pari-mutuel off-track betting. New Mexico limits its pari-mutuel betting on bicycle races specifically to participants 21 and older.