Playing games at casinos and gambling is quite popular among Americans. This popularity can be known from the latest quote of Geoff Freeman, the President and CEO of the American Gaming Association-‘Last year before a single state authorized legal online gaming, Americans spent nearly $3 billion.’  This estimation is of only online gaming and gambling. Otherwise, the statistics were much higher as $92 billion worth of revenue in 2012 just from gambling games.

Many of us seem confused by reading about the online gambling legal scenario in the United States and certain questions pop into our minds as far as US Gambling Laws are concerned.

Let us first understand a bit of history of the gambling and laws before coming to the present situation.

The Words “Gamble” and “Gambling”

The words “gamble” and “gambling” are generally used for an activity that may violate and play fully applicable to criminal laws. The word “gaming” is usually reserved for those instances where the activity has been specifically legalized by applicable laws or where the activity is exempted from criminal laws.

The two words are not mutually exclusive. That is, a gaming activity could turn out to be gambling where applicable laws regulating that particular gaming are violated.

Similarly, a gambling activity may turn out to be gaming if it is exempted from a given criminal statute. For example, playing a card game for money in a purely social setting where no one earns anything from the game other than as a mere player would be gaming if such social games were excluded from the reach of the criminal anti-gambling laws in the state where the game takes place.

The Gaming Acts and History

The Federal Wire Act- 1961

The Federal Wire Act was first put into law in 1961 by John F. Kennedy. This law was part of Kennedy’s efforts to stop the laundering of money by organized crime through betting on casino games and sports. This law specifically prohibited the use of wire communications for placing wagers or collecting money from the placing of wagers on sporting events or contests.

The Federal Wire Act- 2002

In 2002 the Federal Wire Act came back because the Department of Justice during President Bush’s reign concluded that the Federal Wire Act meant a complete ban on online casino gambling, including poker and sports, betting. This was a severe blow to sites such as PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker, which had been courting United States players for many years.


The UIGEA, or Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, was added to United States law in late 2006. It pertains to online gambling, with the law stating that businesses are not allowed to knowingly accept money from players about online betting. Placing wagers on fantasy sports is excluded from this law, in addition to tribal gaming institutions that are legally licensed.

The Three Sets of Gaming Regulations in America

United States gambling law is governed by three sets of gaming regulations, one each for local, state, and federal entities. Some states have gaming regulations that go back more than two centuries; other states have yet to address major aspects of the industry at all. The modern laws on gambling are complex in part because they’ve been developed over several decades. Over that time, technology and society have changed, while US gaming laws (for the most part) have not.

In some ways, American gaming law is liberal. The following are good examples of this.

  • State-run lotteries are available in 44 US states.
  • Tribal casinos operate in more than half of American states, with a dozen large-scale venues under construction as we put this article together.
  • Small-scale game and card rooms can be found in most major cities, and plenty of small towns, too.
  • The government allows a few forms of betting (for charity, or the elderly) with little regulation.

Federal Online Gambling Law

Three significant federal laws apply to the practice of gambling in general and online gambling in particular.

  • The Interstate Wire Act
  • The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act
  • The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act

If we come to discuss each of them in detail then it has a long chapter to write and discuss. But we will look into the current legal aspect of each and how they affect a player.

The Interstate Wire Act

The year 2011the US Department of Justice clarified the Interstate Wire Act, and the legal status of certain types of betting became crystal clear. In a statement, the department of justice decided that “… interstate transmissions of wire communications that do not relate to a ‘sporting event or contest’ fall outside the reach of the Wire Act.”

That’s good for online poker and casino game players but still troublesome to sports bettors. In an appeal, the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the department of justice that the Wire Act prohibits the transmission of sports wagers but not any other type of online gambling.

Points to Remember

  • Remember that the Interstate Wire Act has not been used to prosecute any individuals for placing bets by wire.
  • The FBI has stated numerous times that its focus is on prosecuting large-scale operations.
  • The worst the FBI can do is warn you that funds in your player account may be seized if the site you bet with gets busted.

The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act

  • Passed in 1992, PASPA is the least-known of American gaming regulations and the one with the smallest impact on Americans’ everyday online gambling activity.
  • The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act is sometimes called “the Bradley Act” after Senator Bill Bradley. The full title of this bill is -“An Act to prohibit sports gambling under State law.”

Section 3702

  • The most important part is Section 3702 of PASPA. It disallows any “governmental entity” (translation – state) from allowing bets on amateur or professional athletics.
  • It goes so far as to outlaw bets on fantasy sports, the results of which are tied directly to the individual performances of athletes.
  • States in which daily fantasy sites are explicitly legal, such as Iowa and Maryland, may already be in direct violation of PASPA.
  • PASPA has been used recently to shut down New Jersey’s attempt to legalize sports betting in Atlantic City. A referendum on the issue passed with a strong majority before the Department of Justice swooped in and invalidated the law based on a claim from PASPA’s language.
  • The Bradley Act was ultimately too limited in its scope by the existence of a few state sports betting markets. Specifically, existing sports betting markets in Oregon, Delaware, Montana, and Nevada were outside the scope of the law.
  • An exception was made allowing the state of New Jersey to pass a law making sports wagers legal within one year. The state government of New Jersey failed to do so and lost the right to offer legal bets on sports.

The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act

You have come to know of this act as described at the beginning of this page. UIGEA is not something that individual sports bettors need to worry about. It is used to prevent banks and credit card companies from doing business with providers of illegal gambling – not to prosecute individuals who use those payment processors.

State Gambling Laws

When we speak of America’s State laws we have to look into 50 states, two territories and the District of Columbia. Also, some states defer to county or even municipal laws when it comes to gaming regulations.

  • The first modern state gaming laws appeared immediately after World War II.
  • Because of conservative politics some states moved to outlaw gaming in light of casino development in Nevada. In fact, outside of Nevada, only Maryland offered any form of regulated gambling in the middle 20th century, legalizing slot machines in certain southern counties as early as 1949.
  • Major reforms to state gaming regulations occurred in the 1970s, as a budget crisis hit every state in the union. Relaxed lottery, pari-mutuel, and casino laws swept the country, from the new gambling Mecca of Atlantic City to tribal gaming’s origins at the end of that decade. Since that time, state law related to gambling has continued to evolve.
  • Some US states have gone so far as to outlaw online gambling outright. The states of New Jersey and Nevada, for example, have declared that all non-state-regulated online gambling is illegal. The other anti-online gaming states outlaw Internet betting in all forms.
  • The states of Washington and Maryland represent a new movement to ban online gambling in light of confusing evidence about its popularity and impact on health and society.

The three US States as examples showing the kind of regulations common in American states.


  • Alabama gaming law depends on outdated definitions of gambling and old cultural traditions against betting.
  • Alabamans can place bets at four different pari-mutuel facilities that include e-bingo games, even though state law makes these activities illegal.
  • It is also home to three tribal venues that operate slot and video poker games.
  • Alabama has a draconian approach to social gambling, every instance of which is illegal within state lines.
  • The state legislature has yet to address the issue of the legality of online gambling.


  • This state explicitly outlaws online betting and is one of just five that outlaws all forms of private gambling.
  • Some regulated wagering is available in the state, in the form of one commercial casino, several riverboat casinos, and racinos at the state’s licensed horse and dog racing tracks.
  • With restrictions on two of the most popular forms of betting in America, Indiana is not a gambler-friendly state.


  • The state of Massachusetts has a generally liberal approach to gambling law.
  • Massachusetts citizens can place legal wagers in several markets.
  • It is home to tribal and commercial casinos, state and regional lottery sales, dog and horse racing, and plentiful charity bingo and poker games.
  • Social gambling (private games of chance and skill among friends) is essentially unregulated in the Old Line State.
  • Massachusetts law makes no mention of the practice of online gambling.

After reading the above change and slow transformation in the Gambling Laws here is the present scenario as far as gaming and gambling are concerned and the answers to the questions that mostly occur in our minds when we think of gambling laws in the US.

Is it legal to gamble online in the US?

If you want to know the basic answer to the question, ‘Is online gambling legal in the US’, the answer is ‘Yes’. But it does get a little more complicated when you dig a little deeper.

So for now, only three states have legal, licensed and regulated online gambling: Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey.

Some other locations may follow suit. Like California with 39 million residents, the state is ruled out for the immediate future. Some states ban almost all forms of gambling outright – in Hawaii, for example, a home poker game where only players can make money is the only legal form of gambling.

How can I participate in online gambling?

To participate in legalized US online gambling, you must be physically present in one of the three states mentioned above. For example, an American citizen in Texas cannot register a real money casino gambling account at one of the online casinos in New Jersey.

Where can casinos apply for a license for online gaming?

Only casinos that operate within those states as stated above can apply for a license. There can be partnerships between land casinos and existing online gambling operators (as a software-licensing arrangement), though, such as Borgata and Party Poker, Caesar’s Interactive and 888. com. Though both these established online operators have lots of experience and brand recognition to bring to the table. It’s also the only way for online operators to get into the US market.

Which casino operators accept real money players?

The licensed operators in Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey accept real money players. But also some offshore gambling operators accept real-money players from other parts of the US risking fines and possible prosecution in the process. These sites operate from jurisdictions outside of the United States, such as the Mohawk Territory of Kahnawake, Antiqua and Barbuda, Panama and Costa Rica.

Has anyone been convicted of gambling on the internet?

To date (according to thorough research) no one in the U.S. has ever been convicted or arrested for gambling on the Internet

Enforcement action has been limited to operators, such as in the case of United States v. Scheinberg, or payment processors, such as in the case of Neteller. So far, the government has seemed far more interested in what gambling operators and payment processors are doing than what gamblers are doing.

In which states of the US can I play and what are their licensed sites?

You can play in Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey states.

Licensed Sites in New Jersey are

  • Borgata Poker
  • Borgata Casino
  • PartyPoker
  • Pala Casino
  • Harrah’s Casino
  • WSOP com
  • 888 com
  • Caesar’s Casino
  • Golden Nugget Casino
  • Betfair Casino
  • Tropicana Casino
  • Virgin Casino

Licensed Sites in Nevada are

  • WSOP com
  • South Point Poker

Licensed Sites in Delaware are

  • Delaware Park Race track and Slots
  • Dover Downs
  • Harrington Raceway and Casino

Unless you’re physically located inside the three states above, you have no licensed sites to play at. Your only options are gambling sites that operate outside of the US and against the will of the US government.

Most offshore sites have, indeed, stopped accepting US customers, but there are also US-accepting sites with strong track records, such as:

  • 5Dimes
  • Bet Online
  • Bovada
  • Carbon Poker
  • Slots lv Casino

Is there anything I need to look at before playing?

Yes, It’s your responsibility to find out if playing online gambling games is legal or not where you live. Again, some sites haven’t been licensed to operate in the US, and are operating in other jurisdictions to avoid the US government. The safer option is to play at licensed US sites if you happen to be located in Delaware, Nevada or New Jersey.

There are a few incentives (such as taking help from Responsible Gambling Council, Poker Players Alliance, and National Center for Responsible Gaming) for enthusiasts to be active in this regard. Kindly note, we always support a concept like Responsible Gaming – just to make sure a fair and safe happening for all the concerned body.

How can I deposit and withdraw from online gambling sites legally?

There are many ways that US players can get their funds onto betting websites. Credit and debit cards with reputable banks are the easiest and safest options, however, wire transfers and third-party payment processors can also be used. With the effects of UIGEA still being felt, a legitimate deposit may be required.  Many licensed US online gambling websites offer plenty of reliable and convenient payment methods, such as Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Neteller, Skrill, bank transfers (ACH), online banking transfers, PayNearMe and cash that can be deposited and withdrawn at a land casino’s cashier cage.

What are the restrictive states in the US for gambling?

Hawaii, Tennessee, Vermont and Utah are among the most restrictive States when it comes to enjoying gambling games.

Is online poker legal in the US?

Texas Hold’em fans in the United States can find card games available online, although payment processing restrictions make depositing money difficult. The first state to specifically legalize online poker only is Nevada – the home of the entertainment capital, Las Vegas – and they are still in the process of defining their laws.

Are online sports betting legal in the US?

Sports betting is a legally sensitive subject in the United States because large sports organizations oppose any online gambling or sports betting outside of land-based casinos. The recently updated Wire Act specifically forbade Internet sports betting transactions, and sports fans could find themselves left behind if and when online poker is regulated in the US.

Are online casino games legal in the US?

At a federal level at least, the USA has yet to distinguish between poker and casino games when clarifying its stance on the online gambling legal situation. Delaware authorized all legal online gambling recently, but other states could well follow. That means online gambling legal sites offering roulette, blackjack and slots could appear in the US.

Now you see that the gaming regulations in America are changing. States like Maine, Delaware, and Iowa are moving to increase access to commercial and tribal gaming.

Atlantic City wants legal sports betting to compete with new casinos in Pennsylvania. The state of Maryland is close to legalizing online gambling and regulating online bets. At the same time, Nevada has moved to restrict access to daily fantasy sports sites while states like Washington and Louisiana have doubled down on their anti-Internet gambling positions.

Finally, it is always advisable to check what is legal and what is not. It is always important to look at individual state laws on various games as laws can change.