Gambling is highly regulated, whether the gaming involves buying a lottery ticket, pulling a slot machine lever or playing games in a casino. Typically, gaming is restricted to adults. Children may not even be able to enter the casino. If a minor is convicted of underage gambling, they'll receive a criminal charge that becomes part of their criminal record. In some states, their parents can be charged with an offense too.
State Laws Vary
State laws on gambling vary widely, with some states not allowing gambling at all. In the states that do allow gambling, gaming laws set the age at which a minor can gamble in a casino. For example, New Jersey, Missouri and Nevada don't allow gambling for persons under 21 years old, but Washington allows gambling for anyone 18 or older. State laws also set the punishment for violating age limits. Thus, your punishment for gambling in a casino while you are underage depends on the laws of the location where you are caught as well as the circumstances of your violation.
Penalties for the Gambler
Underage gambling can cost you financially, even if you win. If you are caught gambling underage, you could be found guilty of a crime and fined, and you'll lose your winnings. For example, in Nevada, underage gambling is a misdemeanor crime. In New Jersey, underage gamblers can be fined hundreds of dollars and have their driver's license suspended for six months. Even gamblers who do not yet have a driver's license can be punished by having their license issue date postponed by six months. In Washington, underage gamblers can be given a fine of up to $125, made to perform community service, forced to pay court costs and forfeit their winnings.
Penalties for Others
The underage gambler himself isn't the only one who can be punished when caught gambling in a casino. Under some laws, the casino, its employees and the minor's parents or others can be fined or found guilty of a crime when they allow a minor to gamble. For example, New Jersey law permits parents to be charged with a disorderly conduct offense for allowing a child under 21 to gamble. Nevada law makes it a misdemeanor for casino employees, dealers or other persons to allow a minor to gamble. Employees are likely to face suspension for failing to check a player's ID and some Nevada casinos have been hit with hefty six-figure fines.
Other Charges Are Possible
Underage gamblers may be guilty of other crimes that can carry additional punishments. For example, an underage gambler may be allowed to gamble in a casino because he looks old enough to be there or because he presented a false identification card. A false identification card could violate state laws regarding identity theft, forgery or other crimes. If so, the gambler and the person who helped him obtain the false documents could be punished under those laws in addition to the state's gambling laws.
Minors caught gambling can be arrested and given fines, made to perform community service and forced to forfeit their winnings. In some states, if the child's parents let them gamble, the parent can also be charged with a crime.
- State of New Jersey, Office of the Attorney General, Division of Gaming Enforcement: Underage Gambling - The Law
- Nevada Legislature: Nevada Revised Statutes, Section 463.350, Gaming or Employment in Gaming Prohibited for Persons Under 21
- The Courier Tribune: Underage Gambling: The Newest Big Deal
- Washington State Gambling Commission: Illegal Activities
Heather Frances has been writing professionally since 2005. Her work has been published in law reviews, local newspapers and online. Frances holds a Bachelor of Arts in social studies education from the University of Wyoming and a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School.