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Underage Gambling and How to Prevent It

Written by: Pat Eichner
Fact-checked by: Daniel Umfleet
12 min read

Underage gambling

Although gambling is a popular pastime around the world, it’s important to remember that there are legal restrictions on who can participate. The age at which a person can gamble legally varies across different states and provinces in the United States and Canada.

On this page, we'll help you understand the legal gambling age in your area, and why preventing underage gambling is a cornerstone of safe and responsible gambling. Underage gambling can result in severe legal and financial consequences and poses a risk to vulnerable children. 

We'll also delve into measures to stop underage gambling, including the steps that both legislators and casinos are taking to reduce the number of people gambling underage.

How Old Do You Have to Be to Gamble in the US?

In the United States, the legal gambling age varies from state to state. In most states, the minimum age to gamble is 21 for casino games and sports betting, and 18 for lottery and bingo games. However, some states have set the legal age for casino gambling at 18.

Canada also has different legal ages for gambling, depending on the province. In most provinces, the legal age to gamble is 19. It is always important to check the specific laws in your area before gambling to avoid any legal issues.

Check out the table below to see the legal gambling age in each US state, for casino gambling, lottery, parimutuel betting, bingo and sports betting:

State Casinos & Slot Machines Lottery Pari-Mutuel Betting (e.g., horse racing) Bingo Sports Betting
Alabama 21 21 21 21 -
Alaska 21 18 21 18 -
Arizona 21 18 21 18 21
Arkansas 21 18 21 18 21
California 18/21 18 18/21 18 -
Colorado 21 18 21 18 21
Connecticut 18/21 18 18/21 18 21
Delaware 21 18 21 18 21
Florida 21 18 21 18 21
Georgia 18 (cruises only) 18 21 18 -
Hawaii No Gambling No Gambling No Gambling No Gambling -
Idaho 18 18 18 18 -
Illinois 21 18 21 18 21
Indiana 21 18 21 18 21
Iowa 21 18 21 18 21
Kansas 21 18 21 18 21
Kentucky 18 18 21 18 18
Louisiana 21 21 21 18 21
Maine 21 18 21 18 21
Maryland 21 18 21 18 21
Massachusetts 21 18 21 18 21
Michigan 18/21 18 18/21 18 21
Minnesota 18 18 21 18 -
Mississippi 21 21 21 18 -
Missouri 21 18 21 18 -
Montana 18 18 18 18 -
Nebraska 21 18 21 18 -
Nevada 21 21 21 21 21
New Hampshire 21 18 21 18 18
New Jersey 21 18 21 18 21
New Mexico 21 18 21 18 -
New York 21 18 21 18 21
North Carolina 21 18 21 18 21
North Dakota 21 18 21 18 -
Ohio 21 18 21 18 21
Oklahoma 18 18 21 18 -
Oregon 21 18 21 18 21
Pennsylvania 21 18 21 18 21
Rhode Island 21 18 21 18 18
South Carolina 21 18 21 18 -
South Dakota 21 18 21 18 -
Tennessee  21 18 21 18 21
Texas 21 18 21 18 -
Utah No Gambling No Gambling No Gambling No Gambling -
Vermont 18 18 18 18 21
Virginia 21 18 21 18 21
Washington 18 18 18/21 18 -
West Virginia 21 18 21 18 21
Wisconsin 18 18 21 18 -
Wyoming 18 18 18 18 18

Underage Gambling by the Numbers

According to the International Centre for Youth Gambling Problems and High-Risk Behaviors, between 60% and 80% of high schoolers say they’ve gambled for money, with a potential 6% being addicted to gambling.

The National Council on Problem Gambling suggests that about 2-3% of American adults meet the criteria for problem gambling, while another 2-3% are considered to be at risk of developing a gambling problem. It’s important to remember that problem gambling not only affects the individual, but often also massively impacts the children and families of gamblers. 

It’s not only happening in the US, either. In a survey conducted by the Canadian Partnership for Responsible Gambling, about 10% of Canadian teens reported having gambled online in the past three months. In a 2016 sample of high school students from Ontario, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland, and Labrador, 41.6% of adolescents reported gambling in the past three months.

A study by the Australian Institute of Family Studies found that about 4% of Australian adolescents aged 16-17 were classified as problem gamblers. All the data points to the same conclusion: that children are vulnerable to problem gambling and need to be protected. 

Legal consequences of underage gamblingLegal Consequences of Underage Gambling

As we’ve already covered, each state in the USA and province in Canada has different legal ages for when you can legally gamble. It’s the same around the world: each country has its legal age to bet and gamble, whether online or in the casinos. 

Wherever you are located, if you engage in underage gambling there will be legal consequences. US brick and mortar casinos have security personnel who patrol the casino floor. If you’re suspected of gambling underage, you’ll be approached to request verification. If you are under 21 (or the legal age), you’ll be escorted off the casino floor and handed to the police. 

You can then be issued a criminal complaint. There is a chance that you’ll receive a fine or some other punishment. For example, in New Jersey, it will become a part of your criminal record with a fine of up to $1,000, and your driving license will be suspended for at least six months. 

If you’re discovered to be gambling underage online, it’s more likely that you’ll just have your account shut down and your money forfeited. But more serious legal consequences are possible.

eSports and underage gamblingGaming, Sports, eSports, and Gambling

Gambling has generally grown more accessible in the digital age, and children now grow up extremely technologically literate. This combination has created new opportunities for underage people to gamble. Some activities - like eGaming and in-app purchases - are not actually forms of gambling, and are perfectly legal for minors to engage in - but they are gambling adjacent and need to be treated with caution. 

It is important to identify the types of gambling that are most appealing and accessible to underage gamblers to prevent them from getting involved in such activities.

What Kinds of Gambling Are Most Appealing and Accessible to Underage Gamblers

Underage gamblers are often drawn to games that are easy to understand and offer quick wins. Here are some of the most tempting forms of gambling for minors:

  • Social Casino Games — Social casino games are free-to-play games that are just like casino games, like slots, poker, and roulette. While these games do not involve real money, they still encourage players to make in-app purchases to access more features or purchase coins to continue playing. They also often allow younger players than real money gambling sites. 

  • Fantasy Sports — Fantasy sports involve creating a virtual team of real professional athletes and competing against other players in a league. It’s an organized form of classic social fantasy sports games, which are popular amongst young sports fans. This form of gambling is legal in many states, and minors can participate in fantasy sports by lying about their age.

  • Skin Betting — Skin betting involves using virtual items from a video game, such as weapon skins, as currency to place bets on the outcome of a match or game. This form of gambling has become popular in the eSports community and has been linked to underage gambling.

  • Online Casinos — Online casinos offer a variety of casino games like slots, poker, and blackjack that can be played for free in demo mode, without signing up. This acts as a gateway to real money gambling. Minors can also access these sites by lying about their age or using their parents' credit cards. KYC and ID verification exist to try to prevent this.

Measures to Stop Underage Gamblers

Both online and offline, legal casinos and sportsbooks have various measures in place to protect underage users and prevent them from gambling. 

How Online Casinos and Sportsbooks Stop Underage Gambling

Whether with online casino games, sports betting, eSports or DFS, one of the most important parts of protecting minors from underage gambling is KYC and age verification. Also known as Know Your Customer, KYC procedures require the site to verify the age and identity of its users when they sign up. Often, this involves steps like providing your SSN, or sending a copy of your passport or driving license. KYC procedures also involve monitoring erratic betting patterns and other anomalies that can expose underage gamblers. 

Another essential measure to prevent underage gambling is for online gambling and sports betting operators to have responsible gaming policies in place. This includes setting deposit limits, self-exclusion options, and providing resources and support for those who may be developing a gambling addiction. While these measures protect everyone, not just underage gamblers, they are useful in uncovering vulnerable young people who have managed to access adult gambling sites. 

For parents, utilizing parental controls and filters is crucial. This is a proactive step to prevent minors from accessing gambling and sports betting sites in advance. Allowing children unlimited and unsupervised access to the internet gives them more opportunities to find ways to gamble online.


Expert Opinion - Family Support

Family support plays a critical role in preventing underage gambling and promoting responsible gaming behavior among youth. Parents and caregivers serve as primary influencers in shaping their children's attitudes and behaviors toward gambling. Providing support and resources for families to recognize the signs of gambling-related harm and initiate conversations about responsible gaming is essential. Family-based interventions should focus on increasing awareness about the risks associated with underage gambling, fostering open communication channels within the family, and establishing clear rules and boundaries regarding gaming and gambling activities.

Parents can also benefit from education and training on effective parenting strategies to mitigate the influence of gambling-related advertising and peer pressure on their children. By empowering families with the knowledge and tools to address gambling-related issues proactively, we can create a supportive environment that promotes healthy decision-making and reduces the likelihood of underage gambling. Collaboration between family support organizations, healthcare providers, schools, and community resources is crucial to ensuring that families have access to the support they need to navigate these challenges effectively.

- Pat Eichner
Associate Partner at GMA Consulting

How State Legislators Stop Underage Gambling

State legislators and the various gaming commissions are responsible for the well-being of players in their state, including illegal underage gamblers. The KYC procedures we’ve already covered are mandated by these bodies. If a sportsbook or online casino is not holding up its end of the bargain, they can receive fines or lose their license. 

Transparency is another huge part of the role of state legislators. By de-mystifying the gambling experience and explaining how games work, bettors are better armed to make smart decisions about their gambling habits. Of course, many underage people are gambling in the knowledge that they are not legally allowed to do so. Still, licensed gambling sites are required to make it clear to these players both the risks and the fact that they are breaking the law. 

All of these initiatives can be mandated by the sports betting laws, depending on the state. Put simply, a sportsbook or online casino won’t be allowed to exist if it isn’t taking the necessary steps to inform and protect its players. In many US states, a portion of the profits accrued from legal gambling are explicitly earmarked for education funding. 

Legislators also have a moral obligation to educate young people about the warning signs of gambling addiction. Licensed casinos and sportsbooks can provide educational materials and resources to schools to teach young people about the risks of gambling and how to identify the signs of addiction. By working together, legislators, educators, and casinos can help prevent underage gambling.


Expert Opinion - Education and Underage Gambling

Early intervention and education are fundamental components of preventing underage gambling and fostering responsible gaming behavior among bettors from an early age. By integrating gambling awareness programs into school curricula and community outreach initiatives, we can equip young people with the knowledge and skills needed to make informed decisions about gambling. These programs should focus on raising awareness about the potential risks and consequences of gambling, teaching critical thinking skills to assess gambling-related messages and advertisements, and promoting alternative leisure activities that do not involve gambling.

Additionally, interventions should emphasize the importance of seeking help and support if experiencing gambling-related problems or concerns. By intervening early and providing education about responsible gaming, we can empower young people to make healthy choices and reduce their vulnerability to developing gambling-related issues later in life. Collaboration between schools, parents, community organizations, and government agencies is essential to ensuring the effectiveness and reach of these prevention efforts.

- Pat Eichner
Associate Partner at GMA Consulting

Underage Gambling Protection Measures in the US vs. Gray Markets

In the United States, there are strict laws and regulations in place to protect underage individuals from participating in gambling. These measures include age verification checks, strict penalties for those who decide to gamble underage, and educational campaigns to raise awareness about the risks of underage gambling. 

However, gray gambling markets, which exist offshore and aren’t covered by any US jurisdiction, are not regulated. With no regulatory oversights, betting sites are free to do as they please. These protections may not exist, leaving minors vulnerable to the dangers of gambling without any safeguards in place. Gambling in unregulated markets is a risk on many levels, but it all comes down to the lack of a legal requirement to protect players, including vulnerable underage gamblers. 

Online vs. Brick-and-Mortar Casino Measures

Both online and brick-and-mortar casinos and sportsbooks have an equal responsibility (and legal requirement) to prevent underage gambling, but each requires different strategies and techniques. Here is a recap of the specific measures that each utilize:

Online Casinos:

  • Strictly implement the identity verification steps we’ve already covered. 

  • Monitor user activity to identify and flag potentially vulnerable bettors, including underage users.

  • Provide resources and information on preventing underage gambling to users and their parents/guardians, and collaborate with in-state educational facilities.

Brick-and-Mortar Casinos:

  • Increase the number of security personnel and train them to identify and handle underage patrons.

  • Provide resources and information on preventing underage gambling to employees and customers. Collaborate with local schools and other educational institutions. 

  • Post signs and notices reminding customers that underage gambling is illegal and prohibited.

  • Work with local law enforcement to ensure enforcement of underage gambling laws.

Neither individual online sites nor brick-and-mortar casinos operate in a vacuum either. Instead, the industry is healthiest when every part - from websites, to in-person operators, to legislators, to law enforcement - works together to protect players, including underage ones. 

Reference List

  1. https://mayorsmanor.com/2023/08/what-are-the-must-know-canadian-casino-laws

  2. https://abcnews.go.com/US/online-gambling-youth-worries-experts-teen-sports-betting/story?id=94577595

  3. https://files.nc.gov/ncdhhs/Problem%20Gambling%20FAQ%20NC.pdf 

  4. https://www.responsiblegambling.org/for-the-public/safer-play/teens-and-gambling/

  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26987439/ 

  6. https://static.aifs.gov.au/files/r1GpIwOaS7tS/LSAC-ASR-2018-Chap7-gambling.pdf 

  7. https://www.johntumeltylaw.com/blog/atlantic-city-casinos-aggressively-enforce-underage-gambling-law-blog 

  8. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0266571 

  9. https://www.idenfy.com/blog/kyc-in-online-gaming/

  10. https://www.edweek.org/leadership/states-tackle-teenage-gambling-as-sports-betting-grows/2022/07 

  11. https://ideagrowth.org/online-safeguards-against-underage-gambling/

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Pat Eichner

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Pat Eichner, a strategic communications expert and responsible gambling advocate, joined GMA Consulting in 2023 to launch the firm's Strategic Communications unit, leveraging his extensive iGaming experience from companies like PointsBet to notable PR roles with the NFL and renowned PR agencies like Dan Klores Communications. Pat's dedication to excellence and impactful strategies continues to shape the dynamic landscape of public relations and strategic communications across the iGaming industry.

Pat is one of the resident responsible gambling specialists at WSN. He co-authored our Responsible Gambling Center and provides expert insights into the harms of problem gambling and how to combat them.

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