Gambling at age 18 opposed

CARSON CITY -- Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford and Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, both D-Las Vegas, said Wednesday that they would oppose a move to lower the minimum age to gamble in Nevada to 18.

"I don't think there would be much support at this point" for the move, Horsford said. "I would be opposed to such a policy."

"I don't have a strong interest in changing the gaming age as a way of dealing with our budget problems," Buckley added. "Of course, there is the argument that if you can vote or go to war at 18, you should be allowed to gamble."

Fifteen states and many Indian casinos already have a minimum age of 18 to gamble. Virtually every state with a lottery allows 18-year-old players. In Maine, 16-year-olds can play slot machines.

During a gaming law conference Friday in Las Vegas, lawyer Thomas Smock asked state gaming officials whether the gambling age should be lowered as a way to raise revenue during the current recession.

Gaming Control Board Chairman Dennis Neilander said he would take Smock's suggestion to Horsford and Buckley.

Neilander said Wednesday that he takes no position on the suggestion, and any move to lower the gaming age is up to the Legislature.

"As a law enforcement agency, we would not take a position on this policy issue," he said. "However, it would be very difficult to enforce, and much data would need to be considered regarding the revenue and costs associated with such a proposal."

One obvious problem is that the drinking age is 21. Cocktail servers could be required to check identification of everyone they were serving.

There also could be a negative reaction if youthful gamblers blew college money on gambling and became problem gamblers.

Horsford said he understood the spirit in which the suggestion was made.

"What is to blame is the state budget," he said. "The lawyer was looking for a way to raise revenue. There would have to be a thorough discussion in public hearings. I don't think there is a lot of appetite to consider it at this point."

Buckley agreed, saying legislators would have to weigh very carefully the consequences of lowering the age to gamble.

Legislators and Gov. Jim Gibbons are looking for new sources of money or finding ways to cut services because of declining tax revenue. Gaming revenues declined by 5.44 percent in September, according to a report released Wednesday by the Gaming Control Board.

Since the beginning of the fiscal year in July, Nevada's state government has received $229 million in gaming taxes, a 10.9 percent decline from the same period in 2007.

Gibbons announced Monday that the state needs to cut spending by an additional $300 million in the fiscal year budget that ends next June 30 because of declining revenue. He will meet with legislators Nov. 20 in Carson City to discuss steps they can take.

The governor and legislators already have cut spending by $1.2 billion since January.

Unlike the federal government, which typically spends more than its revenues, Nevada's constitution requires balanced budgets.

Gibbons spokesman Ben Kieckhefer said that the suggestion for lowering the age for gambling came out of left field and that the governor could not support it.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at or 775-687-3901.