US Gambling Laws & Legal Online Gambling in the USA

US Flag MapIn the United States, gambling is restricted almost everywhere, except in Las Vegas and in Atlantic City, New Jersey.  If you do not know this and unwittingly participated in a gambling scheme that turned out to be illegal, you can still be charged with a gambling crime and may be slapped with significant penalties that may result in some serious repercussions. In these kinds of scenarios, knowing your rights and the gambling laws of your state can spell the difference between a safe trip home and a one-way ticket to prison.

The laws related to gambling are not only important for those involved in the industry operating such games like poker, bingo, and other casino-type games, but also for all those regular Joes who want to know whether he or she can start a fantasy football league, a home poker game, or an NCAA tournament betting pool at the workplace.

The words “gamble” and “gambling” are generally used to discuss an activity that may run afoul of applicable 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 the criminal laws. Thus, playing a casino-style game at a for-profit website online in the United States is referred to as gambling, since no state has yet to finalize any gambling law that specifically authorizes a for-profit website operator to offer any casino games.

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 Spread of Legalized US Gambling

Decades ago, gambling used to be illegal almost in every part of the continental US, again, except for Nevada and New Jersey. However, as time flew by, more and more states have made various types of gambling legal, ranging from Indian casinos, bingo and poker rooms, off-track horse race betting, and more. While some states have approved certain types of gambling, there are other types that have remained “illegal”, so to speak, like online gambling.  In fact, almost all states have laws that ban at least some form of gambling.

Gaming and gambling in the United States have undergone a great boom. During the past decade, most states have expanded legalized gaming, including regulated casino-style games and lotteries. There has been an explosion in opening Native American casinos. The popularity of online gambling and betting has increased exponentially.

Online Gambling in the USA

Online gambling has been more stringently regulated by the US government. Some of the federal laws that encompass online gambling include the Federal Act Wire of 1961 and the UIGEA (Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act) of 2006. The former outlaws interstate wagering on sports but fails to address the other forms of gambling. The latter did not specifically ban online gaming, however, it disallowed US-based payment processors from participating in any financial transactions involving online gaming services.  These rigid regulations made most online gaming operators decide to move their businesses offshore where they can be left untouched by US federal laws.

It may seem that the United States has been very slow when it comes to reacting to online gambling. In fact, when online gambling sites started appearing in the early ‘90s, there were not even any legal guidelines set in place to regulate the operations of these sites,  even though their services are easily accessed by US-based players.

This, however, changed in the year 2006, when then-US President George Bush signed the Safe Ports Act – a law that had a section that made it illegal for US banking institutions to allow their customers to send money to gambling sites offshore.

The fact is, before 2006, any US resident could quite easily gamble online for real money by using any of their US-issued debit or credit cards to fund their accounts. Then again, when the aforementioned law took effect on that year, all US banking institutions were legally required to block all these types of payments, making it extremely difficult for US-based players to fund their online gaming bankroll.

As the years have gone by, many US States have started to look at online gambling sites, and several of them have placed their own robust sets of regulations that will allow gambling sites located in certain US states to operate legally after applying for and being granted a gambling license, but only within state boundaries.

There are still a lot of websites offering casino-type games that are located offshore that accommodate US-based players, though.  However, sending and requesting money from those sites might take some time and in doing such, players are encouraged to exercise extra vigilance in checking where the gambling site of their choosing is licensed and regulated before they start playing, because they will have very little protection should they encounter any kind of issues or problems with an unlicensed and offshore gambling website.

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