Gambling Laws Guide

U.S. State Gambling Laws: An Introduction

The United States is a legal patchwork of 50 individual states, each approaching gambling within its jurisdiction differently. However, of the 50 U.S. states, only two do not allow some form of gambling, leaving 48 states, not to mention the District of Columbia and U.S. territories, that do. As the demand for gambling continues to evolve, the states failing to adapt risk falling behind.
Find out more about gambling in the United States next.

Casinos in the United States

When you’re looking at the legality of U.S. casinos, the water is more than a little murky. That’s because each state makes its own laws outside of sports betting. Until recently, federal law (Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act) prohibited the expansion of sports betting by states.

The legality of gambling in each state varies so that what may be lawful in one state may be prohibited or at best unclear in another. How the expansion of gambling can take place is outlined in the respective state’s constitution. In a state where gambling expansion is unlawful, legalizing it would first require amendments to the constitution, which would first need to be approved and then voted on before enacted. Given frequent opposition to gambling, this can take time and is not always successful.

The History of Casinos in the United States

It’s not known with any certainty where gambling found its origin, but it’s been historically present in many societies. The first European gambling house meeting the definition of a casino was set up in Venice, Italy, in 1638.

In the United States, ‘saloon’ was the name given to the early gambling establishments. These offered patrons the opportunity to chat, drink, and gamble. The cities of San Francisco, Chicago, St Louis, and New Orleans were important in shaping and defining the significance of such establishments. In the early part of the 20th century, state legislation outlawed gambling.

The following timeline presents some significant events in U.S. gambling:

1869: Nevada legalized some forms of commercial gambling

1909: Nevada and the rest of the U.S. criminalizes gambling, which goes into effect in 1910

1931: Nevada became the first state to (re) legalize gambling

1934: Puerto Rico legalizes lotteries

1937: U.S. Virgin Islands legalizes lotteries

1941: Birth of the Las Vegas Strip in Nevada with the opening of El Rancho Vegas

1949: Nevada legalized sports betting

1955: Nevada creates the Gambling Control Board to oversee Nevada casino licensing and operations

1959: Nevada State Legislature creates the Nevada Gaming Commission

1961: Interstate Wire Act passed to prohibit particular betting businesses

1964: New Hampshire became the first state to legalize lottery which would later be followed by 12 states in the 1970s and 23 states and the District of Columbia in the 1980s-1990s

1977: Atlantic City gambling was legalized in New Jersey with the first casino outside Nevada the following year

1978: Congress passes the Horseracing Act giving each state the right to decide what gambling can take place within its jurisdiction

1988: The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act was passed allowing Native Americans to offer tribal betting on reservations

1989-1996: Nine additional states legalize gambling, including South Dakota and Iowa in 1989, Mississippi, Colorado and Illinois in 1990, Louisiana in 1991, Indiana and Missouri in 1993, and Michigan in 1996

1992: Congress passed The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, banning the expansion of sports betting

mid-1990s: The rise of online gambling saw many operators, often based in the Caribbean, targeting U.S. players

2006: The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act passes, making it illegal for payment providers to process payments. Many offshore providers abandon the U.S. market.

2009: The House Financial Services Committee voted to legalize and regulate some forms of online gambling and online poker, including casino games, slots, and poker games.

2010: The New Jersey Senate passed a bill (S490), that would eventually permit some forms of online gambling.

2011: Becoming known as Black Friday, Full Tilt, Absolute Poker, and PokerStars were indicted for violating The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act

2011: Voters in New Jersey backed a constitutional amendment to legalize sports betting, which was the precursor to other online activities like lottery sales, online poker, and online games.

2012: Delaware became the first state to legalize online gambling

2013: New Jersey legalizes online poker and casino games

2013: Nevada legalizes online poker

2014: New Jersey Legislature repealed its law against sports betting

2017: Pennsylvania passed a bill to legalize casino gambling, lottery, bingo, and horse racing

2018: The U.S. Supreme Court declares the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 unconstitutional

2019: West Virginia legalizes online gambling

Overview: Online Gambling Laws in the U.S.

The practice of online gambling falls under the issue of states’ right. The idea behind this was that each state should have independent powers from that of the federal government to decide.

While the Federal Wire Act of 1961 prohibited Interstate sports wagering, it failed to address other types of gambling.

The rise of online gambling, including virtual poker and casinos, started in the 1990s and has grown to become a $40+ billion annual global industry. It allowed players to enjoy table games like roulette, blackjack, and poker from the comfort of their homes.

Online gambling legislation in the United States, intending to curb online gambling (except for dog & horse) racing, was initially drafted towards the end of the 1990s but failed to pass.

The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 was introduced to disrupt the use of credit cards, specific payment methods, and transfer of funds with the intent of unlawful gambling over the Internet. However, it did not outright ban online gambling. When introduced, many offshore operators stopped providing services to U.S. players. Search engines like Google and Yahoo! Removed all gambling-related advertising on websites.

Fast forward to today, and online gaming in most states remains either illegal or a legal grey area with the following exceptions that have legalized online gaming:

Delaware         Nevada            New Jersey      Pennsylvania    West Virginia

We expect that to change in the coming years as gambling laws play catch-up to industry realities.

Overview: Sports betting in the U.S.

Until the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA) was introduced, sports betting was a states’ right. Effectively, the Act halted sports betting in all states except four. Delaware, Montana, Nevada, and Oregon were exempted from PASPA. These states had already been offering licensed casino gaming for the 10 years before the effective date (January 1, 1993) of PASPA. Each state was given a one-year opportunity to pass laws that would permit it to continue to offer sports wagering.

Fast forward to May 2018, and the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that PASPA was in direct conflict with the 10th Amendment, with New Jersey leading the charge by challenging PASPA in March 2009. They argued that it discriminated in favor of four states who were permitted to offer sports betting to the detriment of the other 46 states.

The following states have legalized sports betting:

Arkansas                      Iowa    New Jersey      Puerto Rico      Rhode Island

Colorado                      Michigan                      New Mexico    Tennessee

Delaware                     Mississippi                   New York        Virginia

Washington, D.C.         Montana                      North Carolina West Virginia

Illinois                         Nevada Oregon             Washington

Indiana                        New Hampshire            Pennsylvania

Overview: U.S. Lottery Gaming

In the U.S., participating in a lottery is not permitted in only five states: Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Nevada, and Utah, making lotteries the most popular form of gambling. Each U.S. jurisdiction has its own gambling laws with operations that run independently of one another.

In 2017 alone, Americans spent over $71 billion on lotteries with an average spend per customer of $1,038. The two largest U.S lottery games are the Powerball and Mega Millions, which are as close as you can get to national lotteries.

The following 45 states, districts, and territories allow lotteries:

Arizona                        Illinois             Minnesota                    North Dakota   Texas

Arkansas                      Indiana            Mississippi                   Ohio                Vermont

California                     Iowa                Missouri                       Oklahoma        Virginia

Colorado                      Kansas             Montana                      Oregon             U.S. Virgin Islands

Connecticut                  Kentucky         Nebraska                      Pennsylvania    Washington

Delaware                     Louisiana         New Hampshire            Puerto Rico      West Virginia

Washington, D.C.         Maine              New Jersey                  Rhode Island    Wisconsin

Florida                         Maryland         New Mexico                South Carolina Wyoming

Georgia                        Massachusetts  New York                    South Dakota

Idaho                           Michigan          North Carolina             Tennessee

Overview: Commercial Gambling

You’ve probably heard of The Bellagio (Las Vegas), Caesars Palace (Las Vegas), Foxwoods Resort Casino (Connecticut), and Caesars Palace (Las Vegas). Well, these are all examples of commercial gambling establishments.

Between 2005 and 2019, the number of commercial casinos has been relatively flat, going from 455 to 465, and more recently peaking at 524 in 2016.

The following is a list of states where commercial gambling is legal:

Arkansas          Iowa                Michigan          New York        South Dakota

Colorado          Kansas             Mississippi       Ohio                United States Virgin Islands

Delaware         Louisiana         Missouri           Oklahoma        West Virginia

Florida             Maine              Nevada            Pennsylvania

Illinois             Maryland         New Jersey      Puerto Rico

Indiana            Massachusetts  New Mexico    Rhode Island

Overview: Tribal Gaming

Because of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988, states have limited ability to prohibit gambling on U.S. tribal land or Native American reservations. This Act allows them to offer bingo, casinos, and other gambling activities. The federal government and states have tried to challenge this Act on constitutional grounds but have failed each time.

In total there are some 500 Indian casinos spread across 29 states.

Native American (Tribal) Gaming is legal in the following states:

Alabama          Florida             Michigan          New Mexico    South Dakota

Alaska             Idaho               Minnesota        New York        Texas

Arizona Iowa    Mississippi       North Carolina Washington      Wisconsin

California         Kansas             Montana          North Dakota   Wyoming

Colorado          Louisiana         Nebraska          Oklahoma

Connecticut      Massachusetts  Nevada             Oregon

Land-based Casinos vs Online Casinos

Online casinos are designed to recreate the experience of a land-based casino from the comfort of your own home. For the most part, it does this rather well.

Slots, Online Casino Games, and Live Casino Games

The differences between land-based casinos and online casinos when it comes to slots, casino games, and live casino games is minimal. If you’re into slots, then you’re likely to find the same ones online as you would at a land-based casino. All games of chance use random number generators (RNG) to ensure that the outcome is genuinely independent. You can also find variants of many casino games online as you would in a land-based casino including poker, roulette, baccarat, and blackjack.

Yet, until the introduction of live casino games, it was impossible to recreate the experience of being inside of a land-based casino from home, giving rise to live casino. Live casino games allow players to participate in a live table game, in real-time, streamed in high definition from a provider’s studio. These games will enable you to chat with a live dealer, and often, other players at the table. Some offer multiple camera angles, while others allow you to play at more than one table at the same time.

While impossible to recreate the full casino experience, playing games from home using your smartphone/tablet (iOS or Android) or desktop (Windows) is much more convenient. You don’t need to get dressed, no expensive road trip or eating out and you can play anytime you want.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the pure selection of games is much more extensive at a mobile online casino than at a land-based one. Regardless of whether you’re playing at an online casino or a land-based casino, you’ll find a great selection of themes, features, volatilities, and prizes!

VIP and Loyalty Programs

Whether you’re playing at an online casino or a land-based casino, you’re sure to find programs that reward loyal players.

For example, if you’re playing at a land-based casino in Las Vegas, you may qualify for reward points based on the amount of money that you spend. At a top-tier casino like The MGM Resorts in Las Vegas, you could earn points towards your hotel stay, dining, shopping, or entertainment at one of their casinos. The Venetian and Palazzo Grazie operated by Las Vegas Sands Corp offers discounts on services like spas as well as VIP access to Night Clubs.

Similarly, many online casinos offer loyalty programs to reward playing customers. These might include bonuses/promotions, VIP prize draws, customized withdrawal, packaged holidays, dedicated account managers, and more! As with land-based casinos, you should consider these when deciding on an online casino.

What the Future Holds for U.S. Gambling Laws

The U.S. gambling industry is a fragmented industry, with 50 states having their own gambling laws. The trend towards legalization has accelerated in the last few years, which offers more choice for U.S. consumers, and a source of much-needed revenue for cash-starved states. It has also acted as a positive catalyst for change, where the gambling product continues to get better as a way to defend and capture market share.

FAQ Gambling Laws

Is it safe to play online casino games from the U.S.?

Yes – Many offshore online casinos, often Curacao-licensed, that accept players from the United States are safe. Never play at an unlicensed casino and always try to get the opinion of other players. Modern casinos use SSL encryption to protect your information, including payment details.

Are there states that offer gambling on Native American reservations?

Yes – At last count, there are 29 states where you can find Native American casinos (approx. 500) offering bingo and other gambling activities.

What states have legalized lotteries?

The majority of states, (plus Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands) have legalized lotteries. States, where it is, in fact, illegal, include Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Nevada, and Utah.

Are there any national lotteries in the United States?

As lotteries are not legal in every state, there are no national lotteries. However, the Mega Millions and Powerball lotteries available in 48 states, territories, and the District of Columbia making them the closest thing to national lotteries.

Is Online Gambling Legal in the United States?

At present, online gambling is mainly either illegal or a grey area where the law does explicitly state either way. However, there are five states in which online gambling in some form is legal: Delaware, Nevada, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

Which states have legalized online poker?

Pennsylvania, Delaware, West Virginia, Nevada, and New Jersey now offer online poker.

Which states have legalized online gambling aside from online poker?

Pennsylvania, Delaware, West Virginia, and New Jersey have legalized online casinos. However, Nevada only allows online poker and currently does not license and regulate other forms of online gambling.

How do I deposit to my online casino player account?

Making a U.S. dollar deposit or a cryptocurrency deposit is easy if you have a player account. You’ll just need to navigate to the cashier or deposit section of the casino and decide on a payment method and follow the instructions on the screen. Keep in mind that your choice of method may affect fees, deposit speed, minimum/maximum deposit amounts, and whether you qualify for a bonus.

Can I receive a mobile online casino bonus when signing up?

New players to an online casino can qualify for a welcome offer that might consist of a sign-up bonus, deposit bonus, or free spins. It ultimately depends on the casino, so be sure to check. It’s also a good idea to read the T&Cs carefully.

What is the difference between online casinos and land-based casinos?

Online casinos offer more slots, casino games, and live casino games than a typical land-based casino. You can also play online 24/7, from a Windows-powered desktop or Android/iOS powered tablet or smartphone.

What is a commercial casino?

Commercial casinos are land-based casinos that are privately owned companies. Some of the most well-known include Caesars Palace and the Venetian, in Las Vegas, and the Tropicana Casino and Resort in Atlantic City.

What are the most popular cities for commercial casinos?

The most famous cities in the U.S. for commercial casinos include Atlantic City, Reno, Las Vegas, Biloxi, and Chicago.

What is the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA)?

PASPA was an Act created in 1992 which put an end to sports betting in all but four states: Delaware, Montana, Nevada, and Oregon. In 2018 it was declared unconstitutional.

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