Legislation to lower the legal age of gambling in Nevada from 21 to 18 was presented to the state legislature Monday by Assemblyman Jim Wheeler (R-Gardnerville).

Jim Wheeler lower gambling age bill Nevada

Nevada Representative Jim Wheeler, always in a cowboy hat, has added more controversy to his legislative career by proposing that the Silver State lower the gambling age to 18. (Image: Jim Grant/Nevada Appeal

Wheeler announced his intention to push for a change to the limit when he submitted a bill draft request (BDR) last July. He said then he believed that “if you’re old enough to serve our country, in foreign lands … you’re old enough to come to Las Vegas or Reno or Lake Tahoe and have a good time.”

That “good time” would not include imbibing adult beverages, however, as the proposed bill makes clear.

Recent changes to the law have allowed Nevada lawmakers to request BDRs early in order to engage in conversation and gauge the appetite for a proposed piece of legislation, and thus Wheeler’s AB 86’s appearance on the docket this week suggests there is support in the legislature.

2008 Proposal Failed

The question of lowering the gambling age was raised in 2008, as the recession ravaged the casino industry in Las Vegas, by a state gaming lawyer during a question and answer session with gaming regulators.

Attorney Tom Smock said that in the tribal casinos of California and Arizona, as well as international gaming destinations, such as Canada, Mexico, Europe and Australia, the legal age to gamble was 18, and that if Nevada were to continue to compete internationally, it should reconsider its stance.

“We ought to look beyond cutting costs and we ought to look at how we can drive additional revenue,” Smock said. “And one way is to increase the player base.”

Regulators promised to give the idea “intense scrutiny” and to take it up with the majority leaders of both houses, but lawmakers quickly dismissed the idea.

Booze Still Out of Bounds

The legal age in Nevada has been 21 ever since the state legalized gambling in 1931. Its Nevada Revised Statuses says that those aged below 21 years shall not “play, be allowed to play, place wagers at, or collect winnings from, whether personally or through an agent, any gambling game, slot machine, race book, sports pool or pari-mutuel operator; loiter, or be permitted to loiter, in or about any room or premises wherein any licensed game, race book, sports pool or pari-mutuel wagering is operated or conducted or be employed as a gaming employee except in a counting room.”

Broadly speaking, Wheeler’s bill crosses out the numbers “21” wherever they appear in existing law and replaces them with “18,” although it also reinforces that anyone under the age of 21 attempting to purchase alcohol in a casino is breaking the law.

“Obviously, an 18-year-old is not allowed to drink in this state,” Wheeler said in July. “So, they would have to check IDs but they’re probably doing that anyway, to make sure they’re of gambling age.”

We’re not so sure about that latter statement, having been in a Nevada casino or 50 ourselves.