Overview of U.S. Gambling Market

The U.S. gambling market was estimated at US$119 billion for 2020, compared to an estimated US$443.2 billion for the overall global market. Gambling in America can come in many different forms, such as sports betting, online casino, tribal casinos, commercial casinos, lottery, charity gambling, and poker.

At present, gambling in the United States is a patchwork of federal gambling laws and state gambling laws. Arguably, this has stifled the growth of gambling in the US, robbing Americans of choice and states of much-needed tax dollars.

In the last few years, the pressure to reform the industry has mounted, coming from outside and inside the US gambling industry. For example, the American Gaming Association is a lobby pushing for a more favorable and efficient policy. US state gambling has been evolving since the turn of the 20th, and one thing for certain is that this will continue.

Gambling Laws by U.S. State

Even among states that allow online gambling, land-based gambling, or both, this can mean different things. We put together a gambling overview of each state. Here, we provide a brief history, current and anticipated gambling laws, and the types of state gambling you can expect to find.

Commercial Casinos

US Commercial casinos include land-based operations run by private companies but exclude native tribal casinos. Less than half of all US states allow some form of commercial casino within its jurisdiction.

These casino types can be transformative in nature. Nevada, Las Vegas rose from the desert to be nicknamed “Gambling Capital of the World.” The city is a cultural mecca, offering top cuisine, shows, performing arts, and is home to the famous Bellagio, MGM Grand Las Vegas, and Caesars Palace.

The number of commercial casinos in the United States has remained relatively flat from 2005 to 2019 ranging from an estimated 455-465. Nevada’s commercial casinos generated the largest revenue of any state in 2019, equivalent to the next four states: New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, and Louisiana.

Tribal Casinos

Unknown to many people, gambling at Native American casinos is big money generating more revenue than Atlantic City and Las Vegas together at an estimated US$26.5 billion. This partly explains why US Indian casinos have grown from 406 in 2005 to 452 in 2019 while commercial casinos have remained relatively static.

Tribal casinos are available in 32 states, offering table games, slot machines, and more. The top five states for Native American casino revenue are California, Oklahoma, Florida, Washington, and Arizona.

Land-based versus Tribal Casinos

  • Tribal casinos are primarily regulated by tribes, whereas commercial casinos are regulated federally, at the state level, and locally.
  • Commercial casinos must provide each game’s RTP, but Tribal Casinos are not required
  • A few commercial casinos (like ones in Las Vegas) offer a package experience that most tribal casinos don’t
  • Tribal Casinos are restricted to Indian reserve locations, but commercial casinos can select their desired area (subject to zoning laws)
  • Commercial casinos can only offer Class III Gaming (slots/video poker/table games) while Tribal Casinos can offer Class III Gaming and Class II Gaming (Bingo)

Legal Online Gambling

Many Americans first got a taste of online gambling in the 1990s from illegal offshore operators. The government would quash this by introducing The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act in 2006, making it illegal for payment providers to process US$ deposits and withdrawals.

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

In 2018, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 banning sports betting in all but four states (Nevada, Delaware, Oregon, and Montana) was struck down by the US Supreme Court. States were now free to decide whether to legalize online sports betting if Congress chooses to abstain. By the end of 2020, 24 states legalized some form of online gambling.

2021 is expected to be a busy year for new online gambling regulations. Arizona, South Dakota, and Missouri may push to offer online casino gambling. California may be looking to hold a referendum in 2021 that could be a step on the way towards the legalization of online gambling. Late in 2020, Florida filed bills in advance of the 2021 session looking to allow sports betting through national lotteries or mobile phones. Vermont is also said to be likely to advance a bill to legalize sports betting, while New York is looking to introduce mobile sports betting. This is all just the tip of the iceberg!


Why are gambling laws different in each state?

Each US state has its own constitution, which determines the legality of different forms of gambling. This is why they change when you cross state lines.

Can I play at real money online casinos that accept US dollars or Bitcoins?

Many offshore dollar / Bitcoin casinos accept American players. These offer slots, casino games (roulette, baccarat, video poker, blackjack), specialty games, and sometimes live dealer casino. Furthermore, Americans can qualify for online casino bonuses, such as a match deposit bonus or match deposit bonus + free spins. Some even offer a no deposit casino bonus.

Are offshore online casinos accepting Americans safe?

It is generally safe for American players to play at online casinos licensed in a reputable jurisdiction. The top US online casinos pay winnings, provided no T&C are breached, and your personal information is always protected.

What is the difference between a commercial casino and a tribal casino?

Commercial casinos excluding tribal casinos are privately run, offering Class III Gaming. Think of all the famous Atlantic City or Las Vegas casinos offering slot machines, video poker, and casino table games. Tribal casinos are run on Indian reserves as permitted by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988. These offer Class II Gaming (bingo) as well as Class III Gaming.

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