Are Gambling Debts Enforceable if Incurred by Minor Child?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 15, 2021

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Children are costly–every parent knows that. Even ignoring the cost in time, stress, and prematurely grey hair, they are expensive to feed, house, clothe, and provide all the thousand-and-one other things (books, toys, school supplies, a phone, laptop, etc.) they want and need. Money estimates that a middle-income family will spend close to a quarter-million dollars raising a child from birth to age 18. But fortunately, there’s one cost you would not have to bear: gambling debts. You do not have to honor your minor child’s gambling bets because they are not legally enforceable or collectible. 

Contract rules apply

When you place a bet, you are entering a contract with the gaming house. The bet is subject to and governed by all the legal principles and rules governing contracts generally. If the gambling bet was illegal when made, the contract is void. Voided contracts will not be enforced.

There are two reasons why a minor’s gambling debts are not enforceable: 

    (1) Minors (those who are not legally emancipated) cannot enter into a contract. Regardless of how mature they may be, they are considered not capable of entering into a binding contract due to their age, and therefore not bound by the terms of the contract. The contract is simply not valid –which means their gambling debt is not enforceable. 

   (2) No contract that is –itself –in violation of the law is enforceable. For example, if you agree to help your neighbor burn his car to put in a fraudulent insurance claim and the neighbor fails to pay you what he offered, you can’t sue him for the money owed you for arson. Similarly, a drug dealer cannot sue a customer for failing to pay for illegal drugs. In no state is it legal for minors to gamble; therefore, the gambling contract–the bet–is against the law, and since it is against the law, the courts will not enforce it. 

Adult using minor to place bet 

What if an adult (say, the minor’s parents) loan money to their minor child to place a bet on their behalf? 

In this circumstance, if it can be shown that the bet was actually for the minor’s parent, but the parent had their child place it so the parent could walk away if he/she lost, then the debt is valid and can be enforced against the parent. It’s only gambling debts arising from the minor’s own bets, not ones that an adult had the minor place for the adult. 

In practice, this should rarely, if ever, be an issue with legal gambling. Gambling providers or operators could face substantial liability, up to the suspension or even revocation of their gambling license, for letting minors gamble. As a result, they take great pains to confirm age and identity, and prevent underage gambling, and only rarely will a minor be able to gamble with a legitimate operator. And if underage gambling does occur, any legitimate operator knows better than to try to enforce the bet against a minor or the minor’s family.

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