Where Is Online Gambling Legal in the United States?

American Flag, Poker Cards, Woman on Her Bed with Laptop
If you read a lot about gaming, you probably see advice telling you to gamble more online. I have given this advice myself because there’s really no better way to get a lot of games in quickly, gain experience, test yourself in tournaments, etc.

In fact, playing online poker is always widely regarded as one of the best ways to start earning serious poker income if you want to go pro.

There’s only one small problem with this particular piece of advice—online gambling is still either operating in a legal gray area or flat out illegal. If you don’t know your local laws, there’s a very good chance you could end up doing something that’s a crime with a very easy-to-follow paper trail.

The good news is that online gambling is getting legalized in more places all the time, and many states offer some sort of online gaming. Still, there are better and worse states across the United States when it comes to allowing online gambling.

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Also, it should be noted, when talking about this issue, “online gambling” is limited to money directly changing hands as it would in a casino.

It is my understanding (in other words, the understanding of a non-lawyer) that any game that doesn’t involve money is fair game. You can play as much video poker or roulette or whatever as long as you’re not wagering money.

Areas where you pay money to earn virtual currency that you can’t then cash out also appear to be legal as a few sites (like WSOP.com) appear to operate on this basis. Again, I am not a lawyer. Please feel free to contact a gaming law professional within your area for more specific information.

Is Online Gaming Illegal in the US?

No. Yes… Maybe?

Court Gavel IconThere seems to be a lot of back and forth on the topic on whether it is illegal to play poker or table games at online casinos. (The matter of sports betting is far more certain as all parties agree that betting on sports is illegal in places unless it is specifically allowed.)

Still, there are several very good opinions about online gaming that generally boil down to the argument that there is nothing that specifically disallows one from gaming online. This is especially true if the casino is hosted outside the US.

On the other hand, the FBI has a very well-stated opinion on their site that says online gambling with real money is completely illegal and goes on to show that people have been arrested for it. This article, though dated in 2007, is a pretty strict warning to avoid online gambling.

Again, I’m not a lawyer, but I would never advise one to go against what the FBI said, even if it was in 2007. This is doubly true because a search of FBI.gov does not show that the 2007 opinion was reversed and, in fact, does show arrests for activities outside of online gaming. Therefore, you take your freedom in your own hands if you carelessly gamble online.

With that said, there are plenty of exceptions to whether you can or cannot gamble online, and they vary by state.

New Jersey and Pennsylvania Are the Best States for Online Play

Of the three categories of online gambling activities (casino, poker, and sportsbooks), if you live in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, you have room to celebrate. Your online gambling laws are the most lenient in the country, and you can do all three. More than likely, it won’t be long until more states adopt this attitude, but for now, these states are the most open to letting you gamble from your own home.

Delaware, Nevada, West Virginia, &, Rhode Island Have Online Gambling Options

If living in New Jersey or Pennsylvania is not an option for you right now, there are other states that openly allow some combination of the three major online gaming activities. Delaware will allow you to both frequent an online casino and play poker online.

Deck of Cards, Casino Dice, Welcome to Las Vegas Sign

West Virginia and Rhode Island also allow online sportsbook betting, making them one of a very few number of states to allow sports betting. Strangely enough, Nevada, a state that has counties with legalized prostitution and legalized recreational marijuana will only let you play poker online. They want you to visit in-person casinos for your table games. Nevada sportsbooks do offer online betting through land-based sportsbooks and their respective apps.

Some States Operate in a Gray Area

If you don’t live in one of the states mentioned above, it’s time to start asking around to see what is and isn’t legal. (By the way, don’t just blindly trust the internet on this matter. If you have any concerns, always seek out a legal gaming professional with a real understanding of the law.)

With that said, a lot of state laws are strange or poorly worded when it comes to online gambling. For instance, both Kansas and Missouri have laws that generally fail to mention online gambling. Given how old some state constitutions are, this is hardly surprisingly. Still, both have laws that deal with gambling, though they focus on specific areas (for Missouri, riverboats; in Kansas, lotteries and moral crime).

Therefore, as concerned citizens, each of us has to ask themselves whether it makes sense to try gambling online. There are a lot of sites that preach a doctrine of whatever is not addressed specifically is legal.

Frankly, this is an argument that, I believe, does have some merit in a court of law. On the other hand, it may fail to encompass the full breadth of the law.

For instance, according to K.S.A. 21-6404 of the Kansas Statutes, gambling, which is partially defined as “making a bet” is a class B nonperson misdemeanor. In other words, it’s a crime. So, while the Kansas Constitution doesn’t specifically call out online gambling as being illegal, it does say making a bet is a misdemeanor.

There’s likely an argument that a good lawyer can make in this case, which would somehow show that online gambling is not covered under those statutes. That’s for good lawyers and courtrooms to decide.

What it really boils down to is what the police or federal agents think when they decide if they are going to make an arrest, what the district attorney thinks when they decide to prosecute, and what the judge thinks when they hear the case. If that’s acceptable to you, then you can make that choice. However, online gambling is not for everyone.

Plus, Pennsylvania is apparently a really nice place to live and all online activities are legal there.

Best Bet: Find a Casino or a Non-Cash Site

Because I’m not a lawyer, I can’t tell you that anywhere in the United States is legal to gamble except the states mentioned above. Even then, I would argue that you should check to make sure laws haven’t changed.

Guy Using Laptop with Hands on Back of His Head, Poker Cards, Casino Chips

As always, while playing poker or casino games online is fun, there are ways you can do it and not get in trouble with the law at all. When it comes to playing games for money, your best bet is to head out to a licensed, reputable casino offshore and play there. It’s a little more work and requires a little more planning, but it’s legal.

Why Is Gambling’s Legality Even an Issue?

This is a good question, though one that’s shrouded in a lot of history. First, gambling in general has often been made illegal because it is an affront to “morality laws” which state the gambling leads to general bad behavior.

There are also a number of non-moral reasons for making gambling illegal, including protecting people from losing all their money on bets or falling into gambling addiction. Plus, physical casinos are notorious for money laundering. Online casinos have even less transparency.

On the other hand, some of the reasons why online gaming is illegal clearly have to do with taxes and keeping money from heading overseas.

There is some validity to this, too, though making it legal to operate an online casino from inside the US (and regulating and taxing it) would solve a lot of these problems.

Conclusion

It is a little hard to draw a conclusion on the matter of online gaming in the United States. It seems strange that just about everywhere has some sort of legalized gambling outside the home, but few methods for gambling online.

Still, for now, this is the situation in which gamblers find themselves. There are a few places which clearly welcome online gamblers to peruse their hobby in some form. For most of the country, though, the online gambling is a gray area in which there is no specific law against gambling. There’s also plenty of general laws that prevent it.

In the end, the best policy is to hit a casino and lobby your Congresspeople to change laws. That keeps you out of hot water and playing the games you love so well.