The United States has one of the more complex landscapes when it comes to online gambling, with laws changing rapidly and many of the rules and regulations being governed at a state level. Because of this, it’s no wonder people have many questions surrounding the legality of online gambling in the US, whether it be online casinos, sports betting, poker or otherwise.
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In the following few sections, we will break down the history, changes to the law, and how the law is worded currently as it relates to online casinos. Though all of this information may seem too confusing and convoluted for anyone to understand, we’ve tried to explain it all in layman’s terms with our detailed articles.
We’ve also included a full list of state-by-state guides below, that can help you find the best legal sites for residents of your given state, as these can vary a lot due to local rules and regulations.
Comprehensive History of Gambling in the USA
The history of gambling in the United States is as old as United States history itself. With the first settlers from Europe there is documented history of games of chance being played by many early inhabitants of the country.
In the early days, as settlements were established, the specific rules on gambling were rarely consistent and most closely reflected the moral standing of the community from which the rule originated.
Puritans are a great example of this, whom typically banned gambling due to specific religious beliefs, but many other communities had no such rules or common practices. In fact, when the Crown was still ruling over the early Colonies, lotteries were operated from time to time in order to raise money for a certain cause.
As people moved Westward, places along the Southern reaches of the Mississippi River were great locations for gambling. This lasted only a short while, however, as the mid-19th century and the Gold Rush that occurred at that time ended up bringing people—and a lot of gambling—out to places like California.
When the stock market crashed towards the end of the 1920s, the doors opened wide for legalized gambling in the country. In the wake of the stock market’s crashing and resulting Great Depression, the construction of the Hoover Dam began along the Colorado River in Nevada.
You might be wondering what the Hoover Dam has to do with gambling, but the fact of the matter is that without the Hoover Dam, a town named Las Vegas might have never come to fruition. When the Dam was first being built, thousands and thousands of workers flocked to the area in search of work and, what was at the time, good pay.
It just so happened that the Dam workers really liked to gamble, and the ever-ambitious state of Nevada, realizing the population’s wants, approved most forms of gambling by way of Assembly Bill 98.
It wasn’t until after the Second World War when gambling really became a hit in Las Vegas. Because of more widespread prohibition, people from all over the Southwest and rest of the US flocked to Las Vegas (and later Atlantic City, New Jersey) because of their comparatively lax laws concerning casinos and gambling.
The allure and glamour of towns like Las Vegas and Atlantic City helped propel land based casinos & gambling in the United States to an entirely different level. Now, there existed mega-casinos with amenities like the country had never seen before. Big-name resort casinos such as Harrah’s, MGM, and Wynn all saw their fame accelerated by being a part of the Las Vegas and Atlantic City gambling industries.
Now, the shape of legal gambling in the United States is not nearly as straightforward as it was at any point in time previously. While you may be able to gamble freely in one state, another may have incredibly restrictive laws regarding any type of gambling. With online casinos being thrown into the mix, things have only gotten more confusing. Below is some additional reading and research papers our team has written to help you further understand the US gambling market:
- A Brief History of Gambling in the United States
- Differences Between Land Based and Online Gambling
- Gambling Prohibition and Regulation
- The Political Barriers To Gambling in The United States
- Who Has The Jurisdiction To Make Gambling Laws in the US?
- Early Efforts By The US to Curtail Online Gambling
- How Do US Gambling Laws Apply to Other Countries
- The Federal Wire Act of 1961
- The US Anti Gambling Propaganda Machine
- Offshore Online Gambling Regulation
- Actions By The US Government to Stop Online Gambling
- Overview Of Federal Law That May Apply To Online Gambling
- The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA)
- The Impact of the UIGEA
- The Southern District of NY Takes On Poker Players
- United States v. Scheinberg, aka Black Friday
- The Aftermath of Black Friday
- California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians
- The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act
- The Internet Gambling Regulation and Enforcement Act
- The Internet Poker Freedom Act
- Why These Internet Gambling Bills Don’t Really Matter
- States Start Regulating Online Gambling
- The Challenges of Regulated Online Gambling
- The Arguments Against Online Gambling
- The Arguments In Favor of Online Gambling
- Toward A Comprehensive Regulatory System in the US
- The Department of Justice Changes Its Mind About the Wire Act
- The Workarounds for Offshore Online Gambling Sites
- The Threats of the Restoration of America’s Wire Act
- The Future of Online Gambling in the US
Federal Wire Act, UIGEA, and Games of Chance
By the turn of the 21st century, any American citizen could turn on their TV and be immediately subjected to countless advertisements promoting a wide variety of online gambling sites. This went on for a few more years, but by 2002, the US Court of Appeals ruled that the Federal Wire Act—a law from the early 1960s—prohibited the processing and transfer of sports betting wagers and information originated from abroad.
Even though the 2002 ruling made it clear that betting on sports online was not permissible by the Department of Justice, it was made very clear that this ruling and the Federal Wire Act in general do not apply to games of chance.
So, while the sports betting industry was dealt a blow, the greater realm of online casinos in the United States remained intact. Despite this ruling in 2002, the US Department of Justice has time and time again taken the stance that all forms of online gambling, including games of chance, are illegal.
Thankfully, the courts have not always followed that same logic and very few operators and no players have ever been indicted, much less sentenced for participating in online gambling. Moreover online casinos have always been safer in that regard compared to sports betting or poker.
In response to this stance however, major search engines began removing online casino advertisements from their websites. Specifically, these websites were responding to comments made by the Department of Justice in 2004 which alluded that online casino advertisements could be viewed as aiding an illegal activity. Though no one has ever been prosecuted for having advertised online casinos on a website, major US search engines still restrict casino advertisements to this day.
In 2006, the US online casino landscape was dealt another blow, this time in the form of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 being passed.
As its name implies, the Act was intended to thwart financial institutions from dealing with any funds that are or may be related to online gambling. The reasoning behind this was that if players could not use their bank accounts to fund an account at an online casino, no one would be able to gamble online.
What really upsets people, however, is that UIGEA was passed as a minor addition to a much larger Bill that had absolutely nothing to do with online casinos.
The piece of legislation about which we speak is the Safe Port Act, which made changes to security measures at ports in the United States. UIGEA was tacked on to the end of this Bill at the last second and, according to many, was not even fully understood by some of the people who voted in favor of its passing.
The Wake of UIGEA
After UIGEA was passed, it may seem difficult to believe but many online gambling sites remained in existence and even still offered their services to US players. With that being said, there were many operators who chose to abandon US-facing services in the wake of the 2006 Act.
Many online casinos continued to offer real money games to US players however and hundreds still do so legally from the Caribbean or elsewhere. Though the US online casino scene is still absent some of the biggest names in the global casino industry, there are still hundreds of places at which you can play.
Current Legal Status of Online Casinos
After hearing about all this legislation and opposition to online gambling on the part of the US government, it might seem impossible to believe that online casinos are still operating and offering their services to US citizens.
The fact of the matter, however, is that this is exactly the case. There are hundreds of online casinos in existence that offer real money casino games to US players, and that number is only seeming to grow with each passing year.
The online casinos operating from Curacao or elsewhere do so in accordance to their local laws and international organisations like the World Trade Organization recognize that online gambling is a service like any other, which should be permitted to be sold internationally.
The US Federal government may not like it, but it is perfectly legal for a US resident to play on a website regulated elsewhere. Some US states want their share of the pie however and now we are seeing states set up their own legal, regulated online casino networks and the general attitude towards gambling has seemed to have lightened up.
Online Sports Betting itself is seeing a new life as the federal government is now deemed to not have any say in the decisions by individual states to regulate the activity and in 2018 we have seen already a few states legalizing online sports betting.
Legal US Online Casinos FAQ
Are there reputable online casinos to play at in the US?
Yes. Even though some of the most well-known names may not offer their services to US citizens, there are plenty of reputable online casinos available for US players.
We have reviewed hundreds of online casinos and we recommend the best ones for US players on this website.
All the online casinos that we recommend have passed stringent tests relating to their safety, convenience of real money transactions and of course the quality of casino games offered. We can confidently recommend these online casinos as the best for US players.
What kind of casino games can I play for real money online in the United States?
Online casinos offer all the games that you will find in a real casino in the US. You will find hundreds of slot machines as well as all the most popular casino games such as Blackjack, Roulette, Baccarat, Let It Ride and hundreds of others.
How do I find reputable online casinos?
It can be hard to trust online casinos but those that we recommend on this website have all proven their safety and reliability over many years of operations. The US online casinos that we recommend offer secure real money deposit and withdrawal options as well as certified fair casino games. These online casinos are safe and reputable and the best choice for US players.