Would-be gamblers between 18 and 20 years old have until midnight to buy lottery tickets, bet on a horse or dog race or wager at state American Indian casinos.
As of Sunday, a law passed by the state Legislature raises the legal gambling age in Arizona from 18 to 21 — a change expected to reduce profits slightly at private and state-run gambling outfits.
No one gets “grandfathered” in.
“It kind of sucks,” said Scottsdale resident Bryan Haley, 18, who spent part of Friday afternoon at Fort McDowell Casino. “It gives us something good to do and it's making a lot of money for them.”
A number of young-looking people mixed it up with the usual crowd of older folks at the casino on Friday. Some of those younger than 21 said they knew the age limit was about to change and were getting their gambling fix while they could.
Many said they were disappointed by the new law and the loss it meant to their recreational opportunities. The apparent hypocrisy of arbitrary age discrimination also irked some teenage gamblers. At 18, they can fight — and maybe even die — in a war, but they can't drink alcohol. And starting Sunday, they can no longer gamble.
“I think it's really unfair,” said 18-year-old Matt Covarrubias of Phoenix. “It's my money. I should be able to do what I want with it.”
“You're an adult (at 18), so I don't think they should stop you from playing,” said 18-year-old Danielle Eremieff of Mesa, who was playing bingo with family members. “It's fun.”
Whether the new law will encourage wiser spending habits or prevent bad habits from being formed early in life remains to be seen. But as Haley's friend, Steven Stamps, noted, “I'll probably save some money.”
Stamps, an 18-year-old Paradise Valley resident, said he blew about $50 of his high school graduation money. Haley, who works at a grocery store, said he spent about $90 of his hard-earned cash on video blackjack and other games.
Tom McGill, spokesman for the Fort McDowell Casino, said the 18- to 20-year-olds will be missed because they make up perhaps 1 percent or 2 percent of customers. They usually aren't the biggest spenders, though, he said.
The law also will affect the Gila River Indian Community casinos and others around the state that now allow the younger age limit. Casino Arizona's two facilities on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, just east of Loop 101, have operated with a 21 minimum age limit since opening in 1998.
Christa Severns, spokeswoman for the state Department of Gaming, said the new age limit will not make a big difference in revenue received from the state's cut of tribal casino profits.
Dan Luciano, general manager of Phoenix Greyhound Park, said the loss of under-21 gamblers will not be a “tremendous impact,” but will be felt.
“We'll just make do with it,” he said.
Lottery tickets also will be off limits for the younger players, resulting in a loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars to the state. However, studies show less than 3 percent of Arizona Lottery players are between 18 and 20 years old, said lottery spokeswoman Kevan Kaighn. And the amount wagered by those players are under-proportionate to their numbers, she said.
The lottery had record sales of $295 million in fiscal 2002. Even without the younger players, lottery revenue is predicted to jump even higher in 2003, Kaighn said.
Lottery officials have been preparing retailers for months for the change, she said, adding that it will now be a misdemeanor to sell the tickets to anyone younger than 21.