Online Gambling Laws

Gambling Law
Understanding The Gambling Laws in The United States

So, you’re wondering whether or not online gambling is legal in the United States. Well, that’s a good question, and it’s not always a straightforward one to answer. After all, the legalities of internet gaming strongly depend on where you’re located and which gambling activities in which you wish to partake.

The purpose of this page is to hopefully clear up any confusion that you may have regarding online gambling in the US. We’ll examine the most significant laws pertaining to gambling activities, see how some have been applied to internet wagering in recent years, and share the locations of the best online gambling sites in each region.

We will also discuss how these laws affect the individual gambler versus the large-scale gaming operations. In most cases, you’ll find that online gambling is available without any risk involved no matter which state you’re in and regardless of gambling’s legal status. It’s a complicated subject, but when you leave this article, you should be up to speed on what you can and cannot do from anywhere in the nation.

Is Online Gambling Legal in the US?

The United States is a massive country with 50 individual states, many of which are around the same size, if not larger, than several European nations. While the US government has passed some overarching federal laws, states have quite a bit of autonomy when it comes to gambling activities. Which is a long way of saying that there’s no single answer to this question.

Technically, there are no laws explicitly outlawing online gambling at the federal level. This would then suggest that yes, web-based gambling activities are lawful pastimes in the United States. And while that’s mostly true, there are still some extra wrinkles that you must understand.

A Legal Gray Area

As you will soon learn in the following section, the federal gambling laws were created well before the internet was created. Most of these bills were passed as measures to be used against organized crime as a way to cripple their income. Even the laws that were eventually adapted to include the web as well have little to do with individual gamblers at all.

Online gambling is in a legal gray area where it’s not expressly legalized, but the rules in place do nothing to stop United States citizens from accessing online casinos and sportsbooks. They prevent corporations from setting up and hosting internet gambling sites in the country and prohibit banks from processing transactions between customers and known gambling operations, but the single gambler is merely inconvenienced at most by these rules.

So, have no fear, even if you ultimately learn that your state is one of the least accommodating for recreational wagering activities. The laws on online gambling are such that if you’re interested enough, there’s always a way to access casinos and sportsbooks without fear of punishment. We’ll look at the most significant laws and what they mean for you next.

Federal US Online Gambling Laws

In the United States, the federal government enacts laws that then apply to the entire country. As they pertain to gambling, these rules aren’t used consistently. Some jurisdictions have been grandfathered into allowing legal gambling, while others are forced to follow these legal rulings. This inherent unfairness was an essential argument in getting PASPA (the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act) overturned by the Supreme Court.

The following bills were all passed to regulate or prohibit gambling and associated activities. You will notice that the majority of these rules are not applicable to modern methods of gambling or today’s bettors.

Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006

The federal law that has the most significant impact on bettors in the United States is the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, or UIGEA for short. While it’s almost certainly the most significant bill for online gambling, it shouldn’t create more than a minor convenience for citizens looking to wager on the web.

This piece of legislation seeks to prevent gaming operators from accepting deposits from people in regions where gambling is illegal. It’s also used to stop banking institutions from allowing transactions to occur between their customers and online casinos or sportsbooks.

Luckily for us regular folk as well as the big-time casino operators, this law is essentially toothless in regulating internet betting. The reason is because the UIGEA only applies to gambling sites that are hosted within the States. If they aren’t breaking the laws in their own jurisdiction, there’s no recourse for the US government.

The gambling websites that offer their services to residents of the United States are hosted offshore, usually on an island in the Caribbean or Costa Rica. And while the government can’t go after the casinos and sportsbooks in other jurisdictions, they won’t pursue charges against gamblers. In fact, there’s a line in the bill itself which explains explicitly that these laws don’t apply to individuals.

The restrictions placed upon banking institutions will affect US gamblers the most. Online gambling law dictates that bettors cannot use their checking account or PayPal to fund their account on a gambling site. Instead, they’re forced to convert cash to cryptocurrency, a variety of gift cards, or use e-wallets that aren’t based in the US.

It’s an inconvenience to not be able to use your standard banking cards, but it’s nothing major. Plus, some massive payment networks such as American Express and Mastercard have stopped following these rules.

Wire Act of 1961

There was a time when most gambling operations in the United States were owned and operated by the mafia. Robert F. Kennedy made it his personal goal to take down organized crime, and he introduced a series of bills in 1961 aimed at attacking these families’ finances. To do so, he’d need to cripple their ability to wire wagers across the country.

At the time, the mob had numerous agents stationed out in Las Vegas. Bookies in cities all across the nation would take bets locally, then wire the picks and the money to Vegas, where the next mobster would place them with a legitimate sportsbook in person. The Wire Act made transmitting sports bets and their accompanying cash across state lines illegal.

Travel Act of 1961

The Travel Act was signed at the same time as the Wire Act. To cover all of his bases, RFK also introduced a bill that made traveling over state lines with sports bets illegal as well. So, now the mafia couldn’t wire their picks or drive them and hand them off to a bookie.

This law has no relevance to today’s gaming marketplace. There’s no reason for bookies to run picks by hand anymore. Regardless, it was always meant to apply particularly to organized crime families, not everyday gambling hobbyists.

Interstate Transportation of Wagering Paraphernalia Act of 1961

This is the third law in Robert F. Kennedy’s trio of acts meant to cripple the mafia’s gambling profits. In this bill, Kennedy was able to get legislation passed that banned traveling over state lines with the tools and devices used for bookmaking. This included equipment such as computer disks, ledgers, betting slips, and anything else bookies use to run their operations.

When you consider these three bills together, you can see how they’d be effective against organized crime. This essentially gave the government the ability to confiscate the mob’s money and make arrests anytime they caught an associate with anything pertaining to gambling.

Illegal Gambling Business Act of 1970

In 1970, additional measures were taken to attack organized crime and one of their best money-makers. At the time, secret casinos were being opened in cities without legalized gambling. To this day, this happens, although they’re regularly busted in SWAT raids. Regardless, this won’t affect any of us responsible internet gamblers!

Essentially, any illicit gaming spot that has more than five employees or makes at least $2,000 in gross revenue in a single day qualifies as an illegal gambling business. This bill allowed the feds to move in and confiscate the locations and profits, shutting these mob-owned hidden casinos down.

If an online gambling site opened their business in the States and hosted their servers locally, this law may come into play. However, the legitimate gambling sites know better than to risk it and are almost always found in Antigua, Barbados, and other offshore locations.

Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act of 1970

The RICO Act is one of the most powerful tools ever created by the government in their war against organized crime. This allows them to use the criminal’s money against them. They say the most challenging aspect of running a criminal enterprise is hiding and laundering the cash without it raising any red flags.

With the RICO statutes, the feds can follow the money, and if they can prove any of it came from illegal racketeering, they can bring charges. This law is one of the fundamental reasons we don’t see the massive mafia influences that existed for decades in this country.

Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992

In the early ‘90s, the major sports leagues became concerned that gambling would corrupt their products. In order to stop the spread of sports betting, the league commissioners lobbied Washington DC to outlaw betting at the federal level. The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992.

Four states were grandfathered in and were allowed to continue gaming activities. Nevada, Delaware, Montana, and Oregon continued to offer sports betting, but the rest of the country was banned. The bill even made it illegal for states to pass their own gaming legislation.

In 2011, New Jersey attempted to move forward and legalize sports gambling in their state. They were promptly sued by the NCAA, with the NBA, MLB, and NFL joining in soon after. The Garden State lost court cases in both the US District Court and the Court of Appeals. It wasn’t until the case reached the Supreme Court that they found any luck.

The Court found PASPA was in violation of the Constitution. The law prevented states from self-governance. By not allowing states to decide how they’d handle gambling themselves, it was in violation of the Tenth Amendment. Furthermore, the fact that other states were grandfathered in already meant that the act had to be overturned, as the federal government has a duty to treat all states equally.

Amendment to Interstate Horseracing Act

The Amendment to the Interstate Horseracing Act legalizes interstate pari-mutuel wagers, as long as the transaction begins and ends in states with legal racetrack betting. So, if California has legal track betting, and so does New Jersey, residents in the former may place wagers on races taking place in the latter. Before, these bets were illegal because they had to be wired over state boundaries.

50 States = 50 Unique Jurisdictions

Aside from the federal rules and statutes, each of the fifty states has their own laws on online gambling. Depending on which jurisdiction you’re located in, the status of betting may vary. As the legal battle over PASPA showed us, a crucial element of United States governance is the states’ ability to decide how to legislate these activities for themselves.

While none of the federal laws apply to individual bettors, this may not be the case for some areas. For this reason, you may want to visit our pages dedicated to specific states. There, we’ll highlight any applicable regulations that you may need to consider.

Most jurisdictions allow some form of gaming within their borders. Where it can get confusing is that different regions accept different methods of wagering. In Nevada, you can participate in nearly all forms of gambling. If you drive to Arizona, you will have to choose the lottery or tribal casinos. Drive over to Utah, and gambling is outlawed altogether.

Primary Forms of Gaming

When you read our individual guides for each state, you’ll notice that most locations allow some combination of the following activities. If you’re concerned about the legalities of gaming in your area, follow the links to the states in the following sections to learn what’s allowed.

States with Legalized Online Gambling

There are currently only four states with some form of legalized online gambling. Those states are Delaware, Nevada, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. In those locations, you will be able to find licensed and regulated operators that provide gaming services.

This is better for the customer because with licensing comes consumer protections, limits on the house edge, and help for problem gamblers. However, let it be known that even in these states, some activities are prohibited. For example, in Nevada, you may play online poker but not slots. The local casinos aren’t looking for any competition, so they won’t be allowing stay-at-home options anytime soon.

Offshore Gambling Sites

In regions without legalized gaming, bettors are forced to utilize offshore websites. That’s no big deal if you stick with our recommendations, as they’ve been vetted for legitimacy, safety, and security. But for novice gamblers, it’s easy to be fooled by a rogue online casino who wants nothing more than to steal your funds.

So, it’s crucial to be extra careful when gambling on sites outside of your own jurisdiction. Again, there are many reputable gambling operations out there; you just need to be more discerning when finding them. Luckily for you, our team of experts has you covered!

US Gambling Laws by State

In this section, you can find buttons for all fifty states. Follow the link to whichever location you’re interested in, and we’ll help you get started with online wagering. At the other end of each link, you’ll find a dedicated page covering the gambling laws in that state and sharing which activities are allowed or forbidden.

Furthermore, we’ll share a list of the best online gaming sites that cater to residents of that jurisdiction. Even in regions without any legal gambling, our team of experts will provide recommendations for a bevy of offshore options that you can trust just as if they were here in the United States.

For a snapshot look at the legality of sports gambling in all the above states, follow the link below:

US Sports Betting Laws

Online Gambling Laws in Other Countries

The business of online gambling is an international industry. In 2018 alone, it’s expected that over $60 billion in wagers will be placed over the internet. We certainly can’t handle that much volume in the United States alone!

Just as the legalities of gaming can change from state to state in the US, the same goes for the member nations of the European Union. There, each country has control over how gambling is regulated and which activities are state-sanctioned, but they can’t outright ban gambling.

This is because the EU treaty prevents members from blocking other nations from providing services across the borders. Italy once tried outlawing all wagering activities before it was challenged by the European Union. Now, they must allow Italian citizens to play on websites operating legally in neighboring regions.

In Asia, the industry is less widespread. Instead, it’s centralized in areas such as Macau and Hong Kong. Follow the link to any of our country pages for a dedicated page covering the gambling laws in that region.

As always, our team of experts will also supply a list of the top recommendations for websites that are accessible in that location to ensure you’re always playing with trustworthy operators and receiving the best customer experience.