Three state lawmakers in New Jersey are advocating for a reevaluation of how underage gamblers are penalized for violating the state law that restricts gambling to individuals aged 21 and older. Currently, offenders face fines ranging from $500 to $1,000.
In 2022, New Jersey Senators James Beach (D-Camden), Shirley Turner (D-Mercer), and Patrick Diegnan Jr. (D-Middlesex) introduced Senate Bill 1599, which aims to establish a program for the prevention, education, and treatment of compulsive gambling among underage individuals who violate the state’s casino law.
Despite stalling in committee last year, SB 1599 has been reintroduced during the current legislative session. Recently, the bill received unanimous approval from the Senate Government, Wagering, Tourism & Historic Prevention Committee, with a 5-0 vote.
Senator Beach, who serves as the assistant majority leader and chairs the committee that passed the bill, expressed concerns about the effectiveness of fines as a deterrent for underage gamblers. He also emphasized that financial penalties could disproportionately burden low-income families.
Recognizing the severity of gambling addictions and their impact on teenagers, Senator Beach stated that the proposed legislation aims to connect underage gamblers with appropriate treatment rather than subjecting them to fines. He believes that this approach will help address unhealthy gambling habits and reduce the likelihood of repeat offenses among young individuals.
Amendment to the Penalty Phase
New Jersey’s casino law strictly prohibits individuals under the legal drinking age from entering or gambling in licensed casinos or simulcasting facilities. Exceptions are made for underage individuals to access non-gaming areas like hotels or restaurants within the casino premises.
Currently, the state’s gaming law stipulates that violators of this provision may face a fine ranging from $500 to $1,000. However, Senator Beach and his co-sponsors aim to amend the law by introducing an additional penalty option that can either be imposed separately or in conjunction with the financial fine.
According to Senate Bill 1599, the proposed amendment would allow the court to require individuals who violate the law to participate in a compulsive gambling prevention, education, and treatment program.
If the legislation is passed and signed into law by Governor Phil Murphy, the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey (CCGNJ) would be responsible for developing the underage gambling program. The CCGNJ receives funding primarily through partnerships with the New Jersey Lottery and the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, the regulatory agency overseeing all commercial gambling activities in the state.
Data on Underage Gambling
According to the National Council on Problem Gambling, there has been a significant increase in gambling issues among high school students in recent years.
The organization reports that approximately 4% to 5% of individuals between the ages of 12 and 17 in the United States meet at least one criterion for having a gambling problem. Furthermore, an additional 10% to 14% are considered to be at risk of developing a gambling addiction or disorder.