I’ve been known to occasionally voice subtle criticisms of the Seattle Times editorial board, but when they’re right, they’re right:
RAISE the state gambling age from 18 to 21 for casinos, cardrooms, the state lottery and scratch tickets, horse racing and bingo games with cash prizes.
That is our starting point for the conversation the Legislature is likely to have between now and the 2007 session. Current efforts to raise the gambling age appear headed toward a task force to sort out the details. Companion legislation in both the House and Senate is getting bogged down in the artful muddle of questions about whether the church carnival ring toss constitutes gambling.
Yes, raise the gambling age; that should be both our starting point and our ending point in the 2006 session. The science overwhelmingly supports it, as does a bipartisan majority in both houses of the state Legislature. This is such a commonsense policy, that when queried, most voters believe the legal gambling age already is 21.
Even the two biggest players in the state’s multi-billion dollar gambling industry — the tribal casinos and the commercial card rooms — apparently recognize the terrible impact of gambling addiction on our youth. The vast majority of tribal and commercial casinos already refuse to admit patrons under the age of 21, and as long as the law is applied uniformly, they will not oppose SB-5523/HB-2872.
This bill is a no-brainer that achieves real results now, and is totally in line with the anti-gambling sentiments of voters who overwhelmingly rejected Tim Eyman’s stupid slot machine initiative in 2004. It will, in some form, sail through the Senate this session, and the only thing apparently standing in the way of a lopsided victory in the House, is Commerce & Labor Committee chair, Steve Conway (D-Tacoma).
At a hearing last week, Rep. Conway expressed concerns that the bill might have unintended consequences by outlawing carnival games. He suggested that the proposal should be sent to a “task force” for further study.
Hmm. This subject has been studied ad nauseam for years, and I sincerely doubt a new task force will come to a different conclusion. Every major scientific study has recommended raising the gambling age to 21, and most other states having already complied. With the explosion in access to gambling we have experienced over the past 15 years, and the media’s new youth-focused poker craze in full swing, it is long past time for Washington state to follow suit. If there is a problem with the language of the bill, fix it and pass it.
As to horse racing and charitable bingo, whose lobbyists would like an exemption, and the state lottery, whose representatives raised the issue of the cost of lost revenues, I think the Times succinctly picks apart their selfish arguments:
Are the casinos, cardrooms, lottery games, horse tracks and bingo halls prepared to argue they will go under if the traffic fades from 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds?
No, of course not.
As much as 50 percent of all gambling profits come at the expense of problem gamblers, and teens have three times the addiction rate of adults. It would be irresponsible to argue that the state lottery, for example, should be funding education on the backs of addicted teens.
The science is clear: the earlier the age of exposure, the higher the incidence of addiction. It’s time to stop playing games with teen gambling, and raise our gambling age to 21.