Welcome to LetsGambleUSA.com: an in-depth guide to the US gambling industry. Our experts provide analysis of US gambling laws and updates on legal online gambling in the United States.
Gaming and gambling in the United States have undergone a great boom in recent years. During the past decade, most states have expanded legalized gaming, including regulated casino-style games, sports betting, and lotteries. There has also been an explosion in opening Native American casinos, and the popularity of online gambling in the US has increased exponentially
Decades ago, gambling used to be illegal almost in every part of the continental US, except for Nevada and New Jersey. However, as time flew by, more and more states have made various types of gambling legal, ranging from Indian casinos, bingo and poker rooms, off-track horse race betting, and more. While some states have approved certain types of gambling, other types have remained “illegal”, so to speak, like online gambling. Almost all states have laws that ban at least some form of gambling.
Understanding US gambling laws is not only important for those involved in the industry, but also for average gamblers who want to know whether he or she can start a fantasy football league, a home poker game, or an NCAA tournament betting pool at the workplace.
As of this writing, a lot of things have changed in the US gambling laws. What was once considered illegal on a federal level is now being made legal by the individual US States, provided that casino operators, and in some cases online gambling operators, apply for the necessary permits and licenses within the jurisdiction in which they wish to operate. If gambling was only allowed in Vegas and Atlantic City before, now states like Colorado, West Virginia, Indiana, Iowa, and Pennsylvania are also coming around, with more and more US states following suit.
State-by-State Gambling Laws
When it comes to gambling, be it at a land-based casino or online, it helps to know the gambling laws of the US state you are in because they all have different stances when it comes to the issue. What may be considered legal in one state may not necessarily be legal in another, so it pays to know more about these things lest you want to wake up one day being charged with illegal gambling with no easy way out.
Online Gambling in the USA
The US government has more stringently regulated online gambling. Some of the federal laws that encompass online gambling include the Federal Act Wire of 1961 and the UIGEA (Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act) of 2006. The former outlaws interstate wagering on sports but fails to address the other forms of gambling. The latter did not explicitly ban online gaming. However, it disallowed US-based payment processors from participating in any financial transactions involving online gaming services. These rigid regulations made most online gaming operators decide to move their businesses offshore where they can be left untouched by US federal laws.
It may seem that the United States has been very slow when it comes to reacting to online gambling. When online gambling sites started appearing in the early ’90s, there were not even any legal guidelines set in place to regulate the operations of these sites, even though US-based players easily access their services.
This, however, changed in the year 2006, when then-US President George Bush signed the Safe Ports Act – a law that had a section that made it illegal for US banking institutions to allow their customers to send money to gambling sites offshore.
The fact is, before 2006, any US resident could quite easily gamble online for real money by using any of their US-issued debit or credit cards to fund their accounts. Then again, when the law mentioned above took effect on that year, all US banking institutions were legally required to block all these types of payments, making it extremely difficult for US-based players to fund their online gaming bankroll.
As the years have gone by, many US States have started to look at online gambling sites, and several of them have placed their own robust sets of regulations that will allow gambling sites located in individual US states to operate legally after applying for and being granted a gambling license, but only within state boundaries.
There are still a lot of websites offering casino-type games that are located offshore that accommodate US-based players, though. However, sending and requesting money from those sites might take some time. In doing such, players are encouraged to exercise extra vigilance in checking where the gambling site of their choosing is licensed and regulated before they start playing because they will have very little protection should they encounter any kind of issues or problems with an unlicensed and offshore gambling website.
There is a lot of ongoing debate, whether playing online poker and fantasy sports leagues can be considered gambling and illegal. Arguments are based on whether skill or chance predominate each contest. For example, Fantasy Sports League contests require a particular skill set to assess players and strategy to be able to make drafts and trades accurately. Nonetheless, a significant amount of chance is also present. A participant can draft or trade the most talented of players, but the offhand chance that a particular player may get injured will throw away his opportunity to win the league. Also, because the operators of such fantasy sports leagues are yet to be formally prosecuted under the existing anti-gambling laws in place, then the legality of fantasy sports betting is yet to be resolved.
US Gambling FAQs
Is it legal to gamble online in the US?
Yes, the United States federal government has left it up to the states to decide whether or not to allow online gambling. So many states are in the process of licensing and regulating Internet gambling in their state to allow residents to gamble online legally.
Where is online gambling legal in the United States?
Currently, online gambling is legal in several US states:
- New Jersey: online casino games, poker, & sports betting
- Delaware: online casino games, poker, & sports betting
- Pennsylvania: online casino games, poker, sports betting, & lotteries
- Michigan: online casino games, poker, sports betting, & lotteries
- Nevada: online poker & sports betting
- West Virginia, Iowa, Indiana, & New Hampshire: online sports betting only
Is gambling legal in all 50 states?
No. Although most US states have some form of legal gaming, both Hawaii and Utah have rejected all forms of legalized gambling within their states.
When does gambling become illegal in the USA?
Gambling may be defined in a multitude of ways but will always require wagers or bets on outcomes that are at least partially based on chance, and done so in the hopes of winning something. Illegal gambling is gambling of any type that is expressly prohibited by the laws of the state. While on most occasions, gambling may involve monetary bets, the courts have ruled that gambling can still occur whenever anything of value is put up as a bet. The amount of the bet does not matter. As long as something of worth is at stake, then that activity is considered gambling.
Who regulates gambling in the US?
Gambling, though widespread in the United States, is subject to legislation at both the state and federal level that bans it from certain areas, limits the means and types of gambling, and regulates the activity in countless other ways. The federal government has given each state the ability to decide what kind of gambling it allows within its borders, where gambling can be located, and who may gamble. Each state has created different laws about these topics. The laws have been compiled here. Also, each state has defined the legal gambling age differently, with some states giving the same age to all types of gambling, while others have different age limits on various activities. For example: in New Jersey, an 18-year-old can buy a lottery ticket or bet on a horse race but cannot enter a casino until age 21.
Why are many forms of gambling illegal in the US?
Gambling is a polarizing issue in America. The federal government has left gambling regulation primarily up to the states, each who has to deal with the interests of local Indian tribes, land-based operators, and the political and moral stances of their residents. These interests don’t always align in a way where it’s feasible for legislators to get a particular form of gambling legalized. It would be simpler if all forms of gambling in the US were either legal or illegal. But instead, you have states where you can play games of chance like the lottery, but a game of skill such as poker is illegal.
When was the first form of gambling legalized in America?
Legal gambling in America can be traced back to the first colonies in the early 1600s. Although many of the Puritans opposed gambling, early settlers participated in everything from lotteries to betting on cockfights.
What’s the difference between gaming and gambling?
The words “gamble” and “gambling” are generally used to discuss an activity that may run afoul of applicable criminal laws. The word “gaming” is usually reserved for those instances where the activity has been explicitly legalized by applicable laws or where the activity is exempted from the criminal laws. Thus, playing a casino-style game at a for-profit website online in the United States is referred to as gambling, since no state has yet to finalize any gambling law that expressly authorizes a for-profit website operator to offer any casino games. The two words are not mutually exclusive. That is, a gaming activity could turn out to be gambling where applicable laws regulating that particular gaming are violated. Similarly, a gambling activity may turn out to be gaming if it is exempted from a given criminal statute. For example, playing a card game for money in a purely social setting where no one earns anything from the game other than as a mere player would be gaming if such social games were excluded from the reach of the criminal anti-gambling laws in the state where the game takes place.
Where are the best places to gamble in the United States?
Most would agree that Las Vegas, Nevada, is the premier gaming destination in the US. Not only does Vegas offer dozens of casinos, poker rooms, sportsbooks, and high-end restaurants, but you can also see some of the most famous shows in the world. Other popular US gambling destinations include Atlantic City, New Jersey, Reno, Nevada, and Biloxi, Mississippi.