On March 31, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear signed House Bill 551, making Kentucky the 37th state to legalize sports betting.
The law goes into effect June 28 and stipulates that sports betting be fully functional in the state within six months, though Beshear has said would like to see it up and running by the start of the NFL season in early September.
An element of the sports betting legislation that has been drawing criticism from regulators and responsible gambling experts in neighboring Ohio is its minimum age requirement.
The Kentucky law will allow anyone in Kentucky age 18 and up to engage in sports betting through sportsbook apps and at brick-and-mortar sportsbook locations. The vast majority of states that allow sports betting require bettors to be at least 21 years old.
Derek Longmeier, the executive director of Problem Gambling Network of Ohio, says Kentucky’s plan to set the minimum age for sports betting at 18 is “dangerous.”
“It makes zero sense for 18 to be the age of entry for sports betting,” Longmeier tells PlayOhio. “Kentuckians and citizens in the surrounding states will be harmed by this decision that runs counter to industry norms.”
Ohio commission head calls Kentucky decision “horrible”
Ohio not only requires those betting on sports to be 21 or older, it has strict rules against sportsbook operators advertising and marketing to anyone under that age.
Since sports betting launched in the Buckeye State, the Ohio Casino Control Commission has fined Ohio sportsbooks more than $500,000 for promoting sports betting to individuals under 21.
When Kentucky sports betting launches, Ohio residents between the ages of 18 and 20 would only need to cross the southwestern border into the Bluegrass State to legally bet at sportsbooks approved for operation in Kentucky.
Matt Schuler, executive director of the Ohio Casino Control Commission, recently told Cincinnati news outlet WCPO that he feels it is a bad idea for Kentucky to set the age limit for sports betting at 18.
“I absolutely hate the idea that individuals under 21 can go across the border, open an account and bet,” Schuler said. “I think it’s horrible.”
Longmeier concurs, saying Kentucky’s decision to let those between the ages of 18-20 engage in sports betting “is dangerous, short-sighted and makes no sense.”
“This will result in tremendous damage to Kentuckians and residents in neighboring states who are impacted by such easy access to an addictive product,” Longmeier says.
Kentucky will be one of five states with 18 as minimum age
Six of the seven states that share a border with Kentucky currently allow sports betting. And all seven of those states have the minimum age set at 21.
When sports betting launches in the Bluegrass State, Kentucky would join only Montana, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Washington as states that allow individuals 18 and up to legally wager on sports.
All of the states that have launched online sports betting in the past three years have set the age limit at 21. Kentucky will be the first state to have a minimum age requirement of 18 for online sports betting since Montana did so in March of 2020.
Kentucky State Rep. Michael Meredith, who sponsored the sports betting bill, told WCPO that the reason Kentucky chose 18 as the minimum age for sports betting was because that’s the minimum age in the state for playing the lottery and betting on horses at all of the state’s nine horse racing tracks.
“It’s consistent with all of our other gaming laws in Kentucky,” Meredith said.
Ohio also allows those 18 and up to play the lottery and bet on horses, but still made the minimum age 21 for casino and sports wagering.
Some experts say young adults face increased risk for problem gambling
Though research is still new and ongoing, many addiction researchers and specialists believe people who engage in sports betting in states where it is legal are at a higher risk of developing a gambling problem, due in large part to easy access to online sportsbook apps on smartphones.
Some researchers also believe younger adults can be at higher risk due to less understanding of things like finances and the potential dangers of gambling, as well as the unique biology of the brain in the early stages of adulthood.
Sharon Custer, a researcher and analyst with the Institute for Responsible Gaming, Lottery, and Sport at Ohio’s Miami University, was part of group that gave a presentation titled “Sports Betting and the College Student” at the Problem Gambling Network of Ohio and Ohio for Responsible Gambling’s Ohio Problem Gambling Conference in February.
Earlier this year, Custer told PlayOhio that she believes younger adults can particularly be at risk to develop a gambling problem because parts of their brains are still developing.
“The prefrontal cortex is one the last parts to finish development and is responsible for decision-making, impulse control and planning,” Custer said. “These skills are necessary for setting limits and having self-control. Its underdeveloped state means that risk-taking is common in this age group.”
Ohio officials cite research on young adults and problem gambling
Both the OCCC’s Schuler and PGNO’s Longmeier cite research on young adults and their risks of developing gambling problems in their opposition to Kentucky’s lower sports betting age requirement.
“The age group that is most at risk of developing a gambling problem are males 18 to 35,” Schuler said. “The younger ones are most vulnerable as they’re not at the age yet where they can thoroughly process the consequences of their actions. Not my opinion. Scientific fact.”
Longmeier says that be setting the minimum age at 18, Kentucky is essentially inviting sports betting into high schools, “a time when their brains are still developing, especially as it relates to impulse control.”
“We know the earlier someone starts, the more likely they are to develop a gambling problem,” Longmeier says. “Twenty-one is the standard age of majority, not only for high-risk forms of gambling like sports betting and slot machines, but also for alcohol and in Ohio tobacco and vaping products.
“This is especially concerning with sports betting, as it can be done on mobile devices, making it easier to get hooked and harder for loved ones to detect a problem,” Longmeier adds.
American Gaming Association bans marketing to under-21 individuals
The trend of new betting states setting the age limit at 21 is reflected in the Responsible Marketing Code for Sports Wagering created by the American Gaming Association, the national trade group representing the U.S. gambling industry, including casinos and iGaming and sports betting companies.
Like Ohio’s sportsbook advertising guidelines, the AGA’s Responsible Marketing Code has extensive rules surrounding marketing to underage individuals. The first section of the code is titled “Respecting the legal age for sports wagering,” and the first bullet point puts a number on it.
“No sports betting message should be designed to appeal primarily to those below 21 — the prevailing legal age for sports wagering,” the code reads.
The AGA code, which AGA members (including DraftKings, FanDuel, BetRivers, BetMGM, Barstool and other major sportsbook operators) agreed on and must follow, was updated in March to feature further protections for under-21 individuals, including prohibiting advertising in media “where at least 73.6 percent of the audience is reasonably expected to be 21 years or older.”
The updated code also includes new rules relating to marketing to college students, many of whom are under 21. The code now prohibits any sports betting partnership with colleges that “promotes, markets or advertises sports wagering activity” and bans sportsbooks from entering into NIL deals with college athletes.
Longmeier says the AGA’s Responsible Marketing Code shows that there is “consensus among gaming operators that the minimum age should be 21.”
“To have a jurisdiction set a minimum age lower than what is recommended from gambling operators is astonishing,” Longmeier adds.
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