Navigation Top
AGO Logo Graphic
AGO Header Image
File a Complaint
Contact the AGO
AGLO 1971 No. 96 - August 09, 1971
AGO Opinion Header Image
Slade Gorton | 1969-1980 | Attorney General of Washington
- - - - - - - - - - - - -
 
 
                                                                  August 9, 1971
 
 
 
Honorable Robert G. Earley
Chairman, Washington Horse Racing Commission
321 Middle Waterway
Tacoma, Washington
                                                                                            Cite as:  AGLO 1971 No. 96 (not official)
 
 
Dear Sir:
 
            This is written in response to your recent request for our opinion on a question which we paraphrase as follows:
 
            Do the rights, privileges and benefits which chapter 292, Laws of 1971, 1st Ex. Sess., extends to persons who are 18 years of age or older include that of participating in parimutuel wagering at licensed race tracks in this state?
 
            Our answer to this question is that chapter 292, Laws of 1971, 1st Ex. Sess., does not grant the class of persons specified in your question any right, per se, to participate in parimutuel wagering; however, within the purview of the terminology used in the existing regulation of the racing commission with respect to this subject, it appears to us that no prohibition will exist against parimutuel wagering by persons who are 18 years of age or older on and after the effective date of this 1971 enactment.
 
                                                                     ANALYSIS
 
            You have advised us that it has long been the practice of the horse racing commission, in regulating the conduct of parimutuel wagering at licensed race tracks in this state, to prohibit participation in such wagering by any person who is under 21 years of age.  However, it is important to note that this practice is not based upon any statutory prohibition contained in the laws of this state ‑ whether they be the laws relating to horse race meets and parimutuel wagering (chapter 67.16 RCW) or any other statutes.  Instead, the racing commission's practice in this area is based upon a regulation which was promulgated by the commission itself some years ago in the exercise of its general regulatory authority.1/   This regulation, denominated "Rule of Racing 394" and presently codified as WAC 260-48-070, reads in pertinent part as follows:
 
            "No minor shall be allowed to wager . . ."
 
             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]
            Although the term "minor" as used in this regulation is nowhere generally defined ‑ either within the commission regulations themselves or in any of the pertinent statutes of this state ‑ we have no doubt that your construction of this term as meaning "persons under 21 years of age" has been correct in the past.  Because the term is not statutorily defined, resort may appropriately be made to a standard dictionary definition in order to determine the meaning thereof.  Accord, Pacific Northwest Alloys Inc. v. State, 49 Wn.2d 702, 306 P.2d 197 (1957), and cases cited therein.  The pertinent definition of "minor" appears in Webster's Third New International Dictionary (1966) as follows:
 
            "One who has not attained the age at which full civil rights are accorded:  one who . . . generally in the U.S. is under 21 years of age:  having the status of a legal minor not having reached the age of majority or full legal age."
 
            Prior to the enactment of chapter 292, Laws of 1971, 1st Ex. Sess. (effective August 9, 1971), the basic statute governing the age of majority in this state, RCW 26.28.010, read, in material part, as follows:
 
            "All persons shall be deemed and taken to be of full age for all purposes at the age of twenty-one years . . . "
 
            In addition, a large number of statutes relating to age qualifications for specified purposes (excluding, as above noted, any statutory qualification for parimutuel wagering) established the age of 21 years as the standard for these purposes.
 
            The first significant move by the legislature to alter this situation occurred during the 1970 special session.  See, § 1, chapter 17, Laws of 1970, Ex. Sess., which amended the provisions of RCW 26.28.010 to read as follows:
 
            "All persons shall be deemed and taken to be of full age for all purposes at the age of twenty-one years and upwards except as hereafter provided.  All persons shall be deemed and taken to be of full age and majority for the specific purposes hereafter enumerated at the age of eighteen years and upward:
 
            "(1) To enter into any marriage contract without parental consent if otherwise qualified by law;
 
             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]
            "(2) To execute a will for the disposition of both real and personal property if otherwise qualified by law;
 
            "(3) To vote in any election if authorized by the Constitution and otherwise qualified by law;
 
            "(4) To enter into any legal contractual obligation and to be legally bound thereby to the full extent as any other adult person;
 
            "(5) To make decisions in regard to their own body and the body of their lawful issue whether natural born to or adopted by such person to the full extent allowed to any other adult person including but not limited to consent to surgical operation;
 
            "(6) To sue and be sued on any action to the full extent as any other adult person in any of the courts of this state, without the necessity for a guardian ad litem."  (Amendatory language underscored.)
 
            See, also, §§ 2-5 of this 1970 act (which went into effect on May 11, 1970), whereby the legislature amended certain specific preexisting statutory provisions with respect to such things as marriage, testamentary capacity, and contracts for insurance so as to reduce the requisite age qualification from 21 to 18 years.
 
            Chapter 292, Laws of 1971, 1st Ex. Sess., to which you have particularly referred, represents, then, not the initial move of the legislature in this area, but rather, a substantial extension thereof.  Making use of a computerized search of all of the many preexisting statutes in which age qualifications for various purposes were set forth, the legislature has now expressly amended virtually all of those provisions ‑ with one rather notable exception involving the purchase of intoxicating liquor (RCW 66.44.290) and the frequenting of taverns (RCW 66.44.310).  The governor in his message explaining his reasons for item vetoing certain portions of this act because of inconsistencies with other acts passed during the same session said:
 
            "This bill adopts a comprehensive modification of provisions throughout our law which establish age requirements and qualifications for certain purposes.  . . ."
 
             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]
            In addition to these many piece‑meal amendments of the various preexisting "age qualification" statutes, the legislature again amended RCW 26.28.010, supra, so as to cause this section now to read, in pertinent part, as follows:
 
            "Except as otherwise specifically provided by law, all persons shall be deemed and taken to be of full age for all purposes at the age of ((twenty-one)) eighteen years . . ."
 
            In conjunction with this amendment, the legislature removed the several earlier enacted areas of permissive activity on the part of 18 year olds from RCW 26.28.010, where they had been placed by § 1, chapter 17, Laws of 1970, Ex. Sess., supra, and placed these provisions in a new section, denominated § 2, which reads as follows:
 
            "Notwithstanding any other provision of law, all persons shall be deemed and taken to be of full age for the specific purposes hereafter enumerated at the age of eighteen years:
 
            "(1) To enter into any marriage contract without parental consent if otherwise qualified by law;
 
            "(2) To execute a will for the disposition of both real and personal property if otherwise qualified by law;
 
            "(3) To vote in any election if authorized by the Constitution and otherwise qualified by law;
 
            "(4) To enter into any legal contractual obligation and to be legally bound thereby to the full extent as any other adult person;
 
            "(5) To make decisions in regard to their own body and the body of their lawful issue whether natural born to or adopted by such person to the full extent allowed to any other adult person including but not limited to consent to surgical operations;
 
            "(6) To sue and be sued on any action to the full extent as any other adult person in any of the courts of this state, without the necessity for a guardian ad litem."
 
             [[Orig. Op. Page 5]]
            Because there was no preexisting statutory prohibition against parimutuel wagering by persons under 21 years of age, there was, of course, no occasion for the legislature to include among its many amendments to the preexisting statutes imposing "21 year age" qualifications any treatment of this subject.  However, it is our opinion that the effect of chapter 292, Laws of 1971, 1st Ex. Sess., with particular emphasis upon § 1 thereof, is to cause the term "minor," as used in any of our state statutes or regulations in a manner not otherwise expressly defined, to mean, henceforth, persons who are under 18 years of age rather than (as in the past) persons who are under 21 years of age.  Again, the dictionary definition of "minor" denotes a person who has not yet reached the "age of majority or full age."  Thus, with the legislature's 1971 amendment to RCW 26.28.010, supra, this definition now describes, generally, only those persons who are under 18 years of age in this state "Except as otherwise specifically provided by law . . ."
 
            Accordingly, the answer to your question is that so long as the descriptive terminology used by the racing commission in its rule governing parimutuel wagering by persons on the basis of their age is the word "minor," the affect of this rule will, henceforth (after the effective date of chapter 292, Laws of 1971, 1st Ex. Sess.), be that of barring wagering by persons who are under 18 years of age only ‑ rather than by persons under the age of 21, as in the past.
 
            To this we would only add one further thought:  Conceivably, there may be some inclination on the part of the racing commission to amend the terminology used in its rule as above described.  We are not, at this time, prepared to foreclose that possibility on legal grounds; however, with the removal by both the 1970 and 1971 acts of any barriers to the execution of mutually enforceable contracts by persons between the ages of 18 and 21, it would seem to us that one of the most significant reasons for prohibiting parimutuel wagering by persons within this age group has been eliminated.  Generally speaking, those courts which have examined and considered the nature of parimutuel wagering at race track have treated such wagering as contractual, either express or implied.  See, Holberg v. Westchester Racing Association, 53 N.Y. Supp. 2d 490 (1945); Ragsdale v. Riverside Jockey Club, 106 S.W.2d 948 (1937); City of Louisville, et al. v. Churchill Downs, 267 Ky. 339, 102 S.W.2d 10 (1936); Mattson v. Hollywood Turf Club, 225 P.2d 276 (1950); also, 38 C.J.S., Gaming, §§ 1, 8; and 38 Am.Jur.2d, Gambling, § 191.


 
             [[Orig. Op. Page 6]]
            Because of the ability of those persons who have not achieved the full age of majority to avoid the obligations of most contracts which they have entered into, it is entirely reasonable to prohibit the entry into a wagering contract on the part of such persons.  However, with the enactment of the above‑described recent legislation in this state, this ability to avoid the consequences and obligations of a parimutuel wagering contract now no longer exists in the case of persons in this state who are between the ages of 18 and 21 years.
 
            We trust that the foregoing will be of some assistance to you.
 
Very truly yours,
 
FOR THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
 
 
Charles F. Murphy
Assistant Attorney General
 
 
                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***
 
1/See, RCW 67.16.040.
Content Bottom Graphic
AGO Logo