The legal gambling age across the US is stereotyped as always being 21 years old. However, you can actually enjoy some forms of gambling at 18.
This fact makes sense when considering that you can do plenty of other things as a legal adult, such as vote, join the military, and buy tobacco.
However, you can’t gamble on just anything at 18 years old. Each state limits what bets are available at this age.
This brings up an important question: what exactly can you gamble on at 18? I’ll discuss which forms of gambling are generally available to young adults along with how the matter differs on a state-by-state basis.
Multiple Forms of Gambling Are Open to 18-Year-Olds
While those aged 18+ can’t wager on everything, they can enjoy some types of gambling. Here’s what is generally available to this age.
Bingo may not be the hippest game these days, especially in the US. Nevertheless, it’s a valid gambling option when you’re only 18.
Pari-mutuel betting is similar to bingo in that it’s not popular among young people these days. Nevertheless, it presents another gambling option for 18-year-olds.
Most states allow people aged 18+ to wager on horse racing. Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, and Rhode Island are just some of the states that set the pari-mutuel betting age this low.
Charity gaming can include everything from raffles to poker tournaments. The latter are especially popular where permitted.
18-year-olds can enjoy charity gaming in many states. This situation works particularly well when you’re not old enough to enter a poker room, yet you still want to enjoy real money texas hold’em.
Depending upon the state, you might be able to jump in a charity hold’em tournament and compete for a large prize. You can also play bingo, participate in raffles, and/or play pull-tab games.
Lotteries are almost always open to 18-year-olds. You can visit a convenience store or an online website to purchase your tickets.
The lottery is exciting when considering that it offers life-changing jackpots. Mega Millions, Powerball, EuroMillions, and SuperEna Lotto are just some of the games that feature multimillion-dollar payouts.
You can also play scratch-off/instant win games. With these tickets, you’ll find out whether you win or lose instantly. Scratch-offs are available at both convenience stores and online.
Each State Has Its Own Rules
Each state can differ on exactly what it allows 18-year-olds to participate in. Some states let these young adults play casino games and poker, while others don’t.
South Dakota has a mixture of tribal and commercial casinos. The Mount Rushmore State lets 18-year-olds gamble at these establishments.
Georgia is an interesting example that features casino cruises rather than land-based venues. It allows 18-year-olds to gamble at these casinos once the ships hit international wagers (generally 3 miles offshore).
As covered earlier, bingo, horse racing betting, and lotteries are usually available to gamblers aged 18+. However, this scenario isn’t always true.
Arizona, Iowa, and Louisiana buck the trend on lotteries. They only let 21-year-olds and above purchase lottery tickets.
Nevada may be known as an international gambling capital. However, it requires gamblers to be 21+ to enjoy bingo and charity gaming.
Taking everything into account, you can’t necessarily assume that you’ll always be able to gamble on bingo, charity games, and lotteries at 18.
All states have their own individual gambling laws. You should learn your respective state’s laws before attempting to wager on a specific game.
Some Types of Gambling Are Usually Only Open to 21-Year-Olds
As mentioned in the intro, 21 is the stereotypical minimum gambling age. The reason for this stereotype has to do with the following popular forms of gambling, which are only available to people aged 21+.
Most casinos are only available to 21-year-olds and above. This is especially the case with commercial casinos, such as those found in Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, and Ohio.
You can normally enter a casino resort when you’re under 21. However, you’re not supposed to step on the gaming floor if you’re under this age.
Tribal casinos are the exception to the norm. They can negotiate compacts with their respective state governments. During these negotiations, they can ask their states to legally accept 18-year-old gamblers.
However, not all tribal casinos do this because of a reason that I’ll cover later. They do have the option, though, to negotiate for a lower gambling age on their reservations.
Poker rooms are also normally only open to 21-year-olds. As discussed before, the one exception is charity poker tournaments in some states.
Outside of this exception, Texas hold’em and other popular poker games are only available to the 21+ age range.
Given that poker rooms are often housed in casinos, this rule makes sense. Only a few states allow those under 21 to enter poker rooms.
Sports gambling has become legal and regulated in many states. It’s almost exclusively available to 21-year-olds and above.
The Cowboys State features an online-only sports betting market. In 2021, it became the first state to allow 18-year-olds to legally wager on sports.
Alcohol Is the Big Factor behind the 21+ Gambling Age
You might wonder why there’s such a legal age gap between certain types of gambling versus others. Alcohol is the primary reason why.
21 is the minimum drinking age across America with no exceptions. Gambling establishments that serve alcohol like the drinking and gambling ages is to line up.
After all, they don’t want to make their jobs harder by having to avoid serving those aged 18-20. Regulators crack down hard on casinos, poker rooms, and sportsbooks that serve underage people.
Rather than dealing with this headache, most gaming venues would rather just set the minimum age at 21. This way, they have a good idea that everybody who walks through the door is of drinking age.
Tribal reservations also usually follow suit on this matter. They either accept 18+ gamblers and don’t serve alcohol, or they’ll only take 21+ players and serve drinks.
Atlantic City once tried to toe the fine line between allowing 18-year-old players and providing alcohol. The casinos, however, eventually asked state gaming regulators to make the legal gambling age 21. They were tired of constantly having to distinguish between who was and wasn’t old enough to drink.
18-Year-olds Can Enjoy Casino Games & Sports Betting in Some Cases
18-year-olds aren’t usually welcome in sportsbooks, poker rooms, and casinos. However, this generality can change based on the state.
Many California casinos permit gamblers as young as 18. The Golden State features dozens and dozens of tribal casinos.
Wyoming is the one exception that lets gamblers aged 18+ make sports bets. If any states legalize online-only betting in the future, they might follow Wyoming’s lead.
Nothing is set in stone regarding gambling when moving from state to state. Generally, though, 80-year-olds can play bingo, participate in charity gaming, and buy lottery tickets.
These may not always be the most desirable forms of gambling to 18-year-olds—especially bingo. However, they at least provide some legal outlets for gambling at a younger age.
As discussed above, other forms of gambling can sometimes be available to those aged 18+. Wyoming, for example, lets 18-year-old make online sports bets.
Casino games, poker, and sports betting are usually only available to gamblers 21 and up. A few exceptions exist, but this is generally the way things are across the US.