US Sports Betting Laws

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Is Sports Betting Legal in the USA?

As far as gambling is concerned, the legalities of the popular recreational activity have always been quite confusing. On the one hand, you have states’ rights, which grant each of the fifty jurisdictions in this country a certain amount of autonomy over their local governance. On the other hand, there’s the government and their federal laws which apply to all US citizens. At times, these two sets of US sports betting laws contradict each other, which has been known to happen with betting in this country.

To further complicate things, Native American tribes are allowed to open sportsbooks on their reservations, even in many states without legalized sports betting. Additionally, residents of nearly any region in the nation may access offshore betting sites without fear of punishment, as all of the laws focus on the business or banking side of things.

So, as you can see, sports betting, in general, exists in a bit of a gray area in the United States. In some locations, it’s openly legalized and regulated, as is the case in Nevada and New Jersey, and wherever it’s not, people can still find ways around whichever laws exist in their region. Whatever rules there are tend to act as nothing more than a minor inconvenience.

However, the betting landscape promises to get much more transparent in the near future. A 2018 Supreme Court ruling has opened the doors to nationwide legalized sports betting after finding PASPA, a Bush-era anti-gaming law, unconstitutional. We are in exhilarating times for the entire sports betting industry.

A gray area or not, you probably want to know what exactly is legal in your part of the country. While offshore sites are great, they still aren’t regulated and licensed by the US government. Betting in entirely legal locations comes with all sorts of consumer protections and mandated fair odds, for example. While we ensure that any websites we share with our readers are safe and legitimate, it’s still preferable to have government agencies watching your back.

On this page, we’re going to cover some of the country’s most significant federal betting laws and what they mean for us, the bettors. We’ll also cover which activities are legal in each individual state so that you have zero confusion about any betting you may partake in. We’ll also give you the inside scoop on the monumental Supreme Court ruling that is changing the face of sports betting in the United States.

Noteworthy Federal Gambling Laws

The majority of the US sports betting laws designed to prohibit or limit betting operations have been passed at the federal level throughout history. These pieces of legislation were primarily designed to shut down one of organized crime’s most robust revenue streams in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Others were created with the intention of protecting sports from collusion and bribes.

What you’ll find is that the rules on the books in this country are not applicable to the individual bettor. Rather, they aim to prevent betting operators from illegally running sportsbooks in this country and to stop the flow of money that finances these activities. While they weren’t written with online betting in mind, they’ve been used to apply to internet gaming over the last couple of decades.

Here are some of the most significant federal laws that could impact the ease with which you may bet.

Wire Act of 1961

Robert F. Kennedy introduced this bill as an attack on organized crime. At the time, the mob had bookies in cities across the country who would take bets, then wire the picks and the cash to another member in Las Vegas, who would place the wager at the sportsbook. This 1961 law made transmitting sports bets across state lines illegal. Nevertheless, it only applies to the person accepting the money and the picks, not individual bettors.

Travel Act of 1961

The Travel Act was passed along with the Wire Act. It’s essentially the same law, only it pertains to traveling across state lines with picks and/or bets rather than wiring them. Again, this was meant to cripple organized crime, not impact the typical gambler.

Interstate Transportation of Wagering Paraphernalia Act of 1961

Another bill meant to work in conjunction with the Wire Act. It’s intended to prevent the delivery of devices and tools used for bookmaking, including computer disks and betting slips, across state lines.

Illegal Gambling Business Act of 1970

This law was once again created with the mafia in mind. In states where gambling was illegal, mob affiliates were opening secret casinos. This bill defined an unlawful casino operation and was used to prosecute organized crime members operating locations with five or more employees and more than $2,000 in gross revenue any given day.

Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act of 1970

If you’ve ever watched any organized crime shows or movies, you’ve most likely heard of the RICO act. This is yet another bill designed to attack organized crime by going after their money and turning it against them. This one makes it unlawful to receive an income from racketeering.

Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992

In 1992, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed PASPA, a bill that banned sports gambling at the federal level. Beyond outlawing wagering on games, it also barred states from passing laws of their own that would legalize the activity. Only Nevada, Delaware, Montana, and Oregon were grandfathered in.

This was passed under the guise that betting would corrupt amateur sports. Because it stopped state governments from being able to legislate gaming as they saw fit, it was found to be unconstitutional and overturned in 2018.

Interstate Wagering Amendment of 1994

This is an interstate commerce law meant to prevent businesses from purchasing state lottery tickets, then taking them over the border into another jurisdiction and selling them there. You may only sell lottery tickets in the state for which they’re meant to be played.

Amendment to Interstate Horseracing Act

This law was passed to allow interstate pari-mutuel betting over the internet or telephone under certain circumstances. As long as both parties involved in the transaction are located in states with legalized track racing, it’s legal to make bets remotely across state lines.

Illegal Money Transmitting Business Act of 1992

This law was enacted to prevent money laundering. It makes owning a percentage of any illicit money transmitting operation illegal.

Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006

UIGEA is the law most likely to cause minor inconveniences when you wish to bet online. The reason is that this piece of legislature bars gambling operators from accepting money from bettors in states where gaming is illegal. It also is meant to prevent banking institutions from processing transactions between their customers and known gaming providers.

However, this rule is mostly ineffective, because for the gambling operator to be punished, they must be breaking existing state betting laws. Because the majority of these sites are hosted offshore, there’s nothing the government can do. At worst, you’ll need to use an intermediary financial method such as e-wallets or cryptocurrency, since you won’t be allowed to link your bank account to an online casino or sportsbook directly.

Furthermore, the law expressly states that it is not meant to be enforced on the individual bettor. In fact, none of these bills do anything to outlaw behavior taken by citizens looking to gamble online. So rest assured, nobody will come knocking on your door for using an offshore betting site.

Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association

In 2011, New Jersey wanted to legalize sports betting in their state. The governor passed a referendum to do just that but was immediately met with resistance and sued by the NCAA. Fearing that their leagues would somehow be corrupted by a fifth state legalizing gaming, the other four major sports associations followed suit.

Their primary argument was that this new referendum would violate PASPA. The Garden State lost at every turn, with both the U.S. District Court and U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit taking the side of the sports leagues. There was only one last chance to legalize sports betting, and that was by taking the case before the Supreme Court.

On May 14, 2018, the Supreme Court justices announced their historic decision. The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, signed into law by President Bush in 1992, was deemed unconstitutional for violating the Tenth Amendment.

Included in the Tenth Amendment is what’s called the anti-commandeering doctrine. Because the law prevented states from self-governance, banning them from creating their own gambling laws, it was in violation of this doctrine.

Furthermore, the fact that four other states were already grandfathered in with sports betting worked to New Jersey’s benefit. The federal government has a duty to treat all fifty states equally, and so PASPA had to be overturned.

Now, states will be given the right to legalize and regulate sports betting in accordance with their citizens’ desires. In the next several years, numerous states are expected to pass gaming laws that will allow them to tax and regulate sports betting. The sportsbook industry is about to go through a massive boom phase.

Types of Gambling

In the next section, we are going to break down which gambling activities are allowed in your region and which aren’t. Before doing so, we’d like to give some brief descriptions of each form of gaming.

Sports Betting

The act of taking odds and betting on outcomes associated with a sporting event or contest

Pari-Mutuel

Also known as totes betting, this is a wagering system in which all of the stakes are placed in one big pool. How much the winner earns is dependent upon the number of entrants into the pool. Payouts are then shared amongst the winning bettors. Pari-mutuel betting is often used in racing

Lotteries

Lotteries are commonly used as fundraising mechanisms for local governments. Each bettor selects some numbers on their ticket. Then, numbers are drawn at random, and the card with the matching values wins the substantial prize

Commercial Casinos

Commercial casinos are large publicly- or privately-owned corporations that accommodate gambling activities. These are what line the Strip in Las Vegas

Native American Gaming

Also referred to as Indian casinos, these betting operations can include casinos, bingo halls, sportsbooks, or any other form of gambling. Since 1988, states have had limited control over the services opened on sovereign tribal land. Many tribes have made a fortune from these casinos and sportsbooks

Racetrack

A location where one can watch and gamble on horse or dog races. These spots have a window where bets are taken and booklets with all of the racing information and betting odds

Online Gaming

This refers to accessing an online casino or sportsbook and making bets or playing games of chance over the internet. While few states have legalized online gambling, that just means businesses can’t host betting operations in the jurisdiction. Bettors may still access offshore sites at their leisure

What’s Legal in My State?

Where Is Sports Betting Legal in the US?

If you’re interested in wagering on athletic competitions, you have several options at your disposal. As you will see from this list, there aren’t many states that have legalized the recreational activity at this time. However, there are numerous regions currently going through the bureaucratic procedures required to legalize and regulate gaming in their jurisdictions.

Can I Bet on Sports Online in the USA?

Yes, you can! While there aren’t many locations with fully legal sports betting available quite yet, it’s still perfectly lawful for you to access offshore bookmakers. As you’ll remember from the discussion above about federal gambling laws, the rules on the books are meant to prevent gaming operators from setting up shop in the country, not to prevent individuals from accessing these activities.

How to Bet on Sports Online in the USA

If you’re lucky enough to live in an area with legalized sports betting, you merely have to access the local licensed and regulated casinos or sportsbooks. These will be available in both brick-and-mortar and online options.

For those of you living in states without legalized betting, you’ll need to utilize an offshore website. With these options, you’ll need to be more careful in selecting your site, because these businesses exist outside the jurisdiction of our government, and thus you have no recourse should you be scammed. However, if you stick with the online betting sites recommended on this website, you will have nothing to worry about as far as safety and security are concerned.

Find your state on the list below to learn which betting activities are allowed in your region.

Alabama

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Alaska

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Arizona

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Arkansas

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California

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Colorado

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Connecticut

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Delaware

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Washington, D.C.

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Florida

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Georgia

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Hawaii

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Idaho

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Illinois

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Indiana

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Iowa

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Kansas

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Kentucky

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Louisiana

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Maine

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Maryland

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Massachusetts

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Michigan

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Minnesota

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Mississippi

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Missouri

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Montana

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Nebraska

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Nevada

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New Hampshire

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New Jersey

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New Mexico

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New York

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North Carolina

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North Dakota

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Ohio

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Oklahoma

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Oregon

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Pennsylvania

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Rhode Island

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South Carolina

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South Dakota

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Tennessee

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Texas

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Utah

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Vermont

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Virginia

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Washington

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West Virginia

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Wisconsin

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Wyoming

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In Conclusion

As you can see, the betting laws in the United States can be quite complicated and confusing. Just reading the various bills and pieces of federal legislature, you’d be under the impression that sports betting was a severely prohibited, heavily punished illegal activity. However, when you dig a little deeper, you find that the majority of the laws are entirely toothless as far as the individual bettor is concerned.

Sure, there are benefits to staying within the legal boundaries and only betting with licensed, government-sanctioned businesses. With them, you know the odds will be fair and regulated to remain above a specific rate of return. You’ll also have consumer protections and dispute resolution if you feel that you’ve been cheated or scammed.

The offshore betting sites don’t have so many restrictions and rules in the United States. They can’t host their servers here, but they otherwise provide services to American customers without issue. You do need to be more discerning when choosing these websites, but that’s where we come in!

It’s an exciting time for sports betting in the United States. Following the monumental overturning of PASPA, individual states have the right to legalize gaming as they see fit. In coming years, sportsbooks are going to become a much more significant influence in how this country takes in sports. Hopefully, you’ll be in an area with lawful wagering opportunities, but if not, fun is only ever a few clicks away!