The Dark Side of Minimum Age Requirements for Gambling
I believe that challenging our assumptions is a key component to growth and development. In this piece, I question whether we are creating an unintended—but extremely dangerous—side effect by implementing age restrictions for gambling.
I am not advocating for the minimum age requirement for gambling to be eliminated or lowered. Let me repeat, this is not an article highlighting reasons to do away with existing legislation that protects children from gambling.
Ok, moving along now.
On the surface, minimum age requirements for gambling seem like an obvious piece of positive legislation.
I have two kids myself and given my background as a compulsive gambler, I would like nothing better for them to never enter a casino or place a bet online and therefore laws that make it impossible for them to do so until they reach the minimum age provide me with comfort.
But is there a dark side to age restrictions?
The most obvious negative side-effect and the one I will discuss here is the placing of a “Do Not Enter” sign at the entrance of casinos, lottery tickets and smartphone apps.
The problem as I see it is that the age restriction creates an aura of mystique and intrigue around gambling.
For whatever reason—I’m not a scientist, but I’m sure there is research on the topic—as humans, we are wired to want the things we don’t or can’t have.
I’m a marketer and I know that marketers have preyed upon this wiring error since the beginning of time in order to get us to want what they are selling or what our neighbors have. It’s why we buy things we can’t afford to “keep up with the Jones’.” To further illustrate the glitch, I’ll share three experiences from my life.
Exhibit A: My 6 & 4 Year Old Children
As a now seasoned parent, I have been introduced to the greatest Jedi mind trick of all.
You see, the best way to get my kids to do something I want them to do is to first tell them they can’t do it.
Inevitably, they begin to ask why and pour on any amount of guilt or shame to their side of the argument in order to sway me to change my mind.
At first I don’t budge.
Then, I “reluctantly” give in and they jump and cheer yet another victory over their old man.
Some day they will realize why I smile so often in the face of defeat.
Exhibit B: My First Walk Around a Casino Floor
Twenty years later, I can still picture the first time my eyes scanned the casino floor in Atlantic City, NJ as a 17 year old. “I can’t wait until I can come back here” I thought to myself.
At one point, a man in a suit even stopped us to ensure that I didn’t set foot on the casino floor. It may not have seemed like much at the time, but this further increased my desire to come back and walk wherever the hell I wanted to.
Exhibit C: My Experiences With Underage Drinking & Legal Binge Drinking
Though we don’t have the full line of gambling products (sports betting, casinos, lottery, etc) in each and every state here in the USA, that doesn’t mean we don’t have a sister industry to look towards to see potential negative side-effects of a minimum age restriction.
Unlike European countries that introduce table wine and alcohol to children within family dinners and events, here in the USA alcohol is “off limits” until we reach 21.
Just like the casino in Atlantic City, I remember the time and place of my first beer as if it took place yesterday. Though I was a good kid by all standards, I felt like a rebel beating the age restriction.
It was a feeling I would repeat many times.
When I got to college, I enjoyed the freedom of having friends of age and no parents around to monitor my behavior. The result was that I contributed to the binge drinking epidemic seen at colleges and universities across the country. When I turned 21, it was fuel to my binge drinking fire.
So What’s the Takeaway?
While age restrictions on products provide protection for children, they may also come with the unintended side-effect of also becoming more desirable.
Just as you want the house you can’t afford but see your friend just purchased on Facebook, kids see the “Must Be 21 to Enter” sign and aspire to enter.
Further, I believe we tend to overdue things once we are permitted as a way to release the pent-up desires just as college students binge drink to excess the moment mom and dad aren’t there to say no.
Finally, the most important takeaway is that we need to either begin or continue conversations with our children about gambling. Just as we talk to kids about drugs, alcohol and sex, we need to provide them information about gambling so they will be better prepared to avoid problems completely or identify them and seek out help when they arise.
Drafting effective gambling regulation is an extremely complicated undertaking and the gate at the door is a good thing; we just need to ensure we aren’t sparking an internal drive to knock it down.