TALLAHASSEE, FLA. — At 18, Floridians can vote, join the armed forces and buy a pack of cigarettes.
Should they be able to play blackjack or slots?
A state Senate committee last week advanced a far-reaching gambling package that would turn Seminole resorts into full casinos with craps, roulette, blackjack and no-limit poker.
And South Florida racetracks would, for the first time, be authorized to operate blackjack tables. Tucked into the lengthy package is an easy-to-overlook provision that would create a uniform 18-year-old minimum age to gamble.
Under current Florida law, 18-year-olds can bet on greyhounds and horses or play poker. But you must be 21 to play slots, blackjack and baccarat, so-called Class III games as seen in Vegas casinos.
"We wanted it to be uniform all the way across," said Sen. Dennis Jones (R-Seminole), chairman of the Regulated Industries Committee that approved the gambling package Wednesday. "We felt that 18 was a good age."
Gambling has grown in popularity because of televised, high-stakes Texas Hold 'Em poker tournaments and the proliferation of online gambling, experts say. College students are four times more likely than other adults to show signs of problem gambling, according to a study released last week by the University of South Florida.
Students with gambling addictions have lower grades than their peers and are more likely to go into debt, the study said. Lowering the gambling age will open up "all kinds of gambling to the young -- to the highest-risk gambling group," said Pat Fowler, executive director of the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling.
Problem gambling in the 18-to-24 age bracket constitutes an overlooked social cost of gambling expansion, she said.
The minimum age for casino betting is 21 in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, N.J. Other states are split, with about half putting the minimum at 18 and the rest at 21.