USA Legal Online Casinos

In spite of a high-profile legal decision made by the federal government of the USA, legal online casinos are still available to Americans. The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, passed in America in 2006, was a pretty loud bark with almost no bite to back it up. Despite popular opinion to the contrary, placing a real-money bet on a Web-based game of slots or blackjack is still legal for citizens of the USA.

Is there a catch? Absolutely – spend any time researching the legalities of online casinos and you’ll come to expect every rule to have its fair share of exceptions. This article looks at the specifics of American online gambling law as it relates to casino-style betting.

Editor’s note: Bear in mind that laws are likely to change over time, as is the way those laws are enforced. Also, understand that I’m not a lawyer. I’m a writer and amateur gambler with a little experience and a library card – I don’t have the training or the inclination to practice gambling law. That means check appropriate sources if you need legitimate legal counsel.

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Federal Gambling Law in the USA

Here’s a big statement you may not be expecting – no existing federal law in the United States makes gambling online illegal.

After the passage of the UIGEA, anti-gaming lawmakers were emboldened to the point that hearings were held on the issue of Internet betting. During that hearing, Congressman Bob Goodlatte (one of the most vocal opponents of legal online gambling) admitted that the US government could not prosecute citizens for placing bets online, saying “We have changed no laws related to what is lawful and what is not lawful for gambling.

Let’s take it a step further – have any US citizens ever been arrested or charged with a crime for placing an online casino wager? Not as far as I can tell. If you find any relevant case law, please let me know and I’ll add the information here.

If all that sounds too good to be true, let’s look at what US federal restrictions on Web-based betting do exist.

It is explicitly against US federal law for websites to accept wagers on sporting events from American citizens. This comes from the Federal Wire Act of 1961, which has recently been interpreted by the Department of Justice to have no bearing on Web-based wagers on casino or head-to-head poker bets.

It is also explicitly against US federal law for a bank to knowingly handle a transaction between a US-based customer and a known Web-based gambling business. Basically, it’s illegal for your bank to handle a deposit or withdrawal to or from your casino account. This was the purpose of the much-grumbled-about UIGEA – notice that it is not a crime for the player to request or make the transaction, just for the bank to handle it.

Why this focus on so-called “payment processors?” Put simply, the processor is the lowest-hanging fruit for the government to go after. That’s because the federal government doesn’t have a legal leg to stand on when it comes to challenging the private gambling habits of its citizens. The intended result of this attack on banks was to make life difficult for Americans who gamble online – and the UIGEA has certainly accomplished that.

State Gambling Laws in the USA

The United States of America has regulated the sphere of legal gambling with a number of laws and acts. Each of these addresses a specific sphere of the practice, and can be applicable to only select states of the union. Either way, the prime legal documents which regulate the gambling industry include The Interstate Wire Act, The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act and the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act.

These acts have all gone into force by 2006…

…when the latest of the three was established, and have prevented online casinos and the likes from servicing the massive US player pool. More precisely, operators were prohibited to own online gambling brands on the territory of the country, while payment processors – US banks and financial institutions – couldn’t facilitate payments.

This changed with the Supreme Court declaration of the PASPA as unconstitutional, a decision that allowed each state to individually regulate the matter of sports betting on its territory. Online gambling in casinos and poker rooms alike has also undergone a change in landscape, as Nevada started allowing their casinos to release online gambling platforms.

Nowadays…

US gambling enthusiasts are able to enjoy prime and fair legal online gambling action in the states of Nevada, New Jersey, Delaware and New York.

Lottery Gambling

Legal across most states in the US, it allows eager players to somewhat ease their anticipation. All in all, more states are said to join the aforementioned group as negotiations progress to different degrees regarding the matter of legal sports betting and online gambling practices. See the map for a more detailed account of individual state legal landscapes.

Gambling laws in the USA
  • Legal 8
  • Ambiguous 7
  • Illegal 35

*Offshore online gambling is widely accepted across all states, with an exception of New York, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and Nevada.

  • Live in 2018 5
  • Live in 2019-20 5
  • Live in 2021-22 16
  • Live after 2022 15
  • Unlikely to authorize 9
  • Legal 20
  • Illegal 30
  • Legal 25
  • Illegal 25
  • Legal 44
  • Illegal 6