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Online Casinos & Gambling in the USA in 2018

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There is much confusion over whether it is legal or illegal to gamble online in the USA. This is partly due to ambiguous legislation, and also because various states have their own laws and regulations.

The first thing to state is that there is no federal law against real money casino gambling online. There are other legislative barriers in the USA and some states may have their own laws, but prosecutions are almost unheard of. The laws are intended to be applied to operators rather than individual bettors. In reality, many US states still have gambling laws stretching back to the 1800s. That doesn't help the growing population of players at online casinos. The USA is slow in catching up with the online revolution.

Apart from a few states that have gone it alone, the US still doesn't have a proper all-round law regulating gambling. Let's look a little closer at where Americans can play online and how they can stay safe.

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Gambling Laws in America

The lack of a federal framework might seem strange considering the proliferation of land-based casinos in the country, but things are quickly beginning to change.

There is no law against an individual placing a bet online, but it is against federal law for a website to accept a sports bet over the internet. This relates to the Federal Wire Act of 1961 which prohibits the use of a wire communication to place a bet on a sporting event or contest. Until recently the Department of Justice had interpreted this to include bets on “games of chance” such as casino games and poker.

The other complication for US players is that it is against federal law for banks and payment processors to handle gambling transactions. This relates to the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006, which made it illegal for banks to process transactions associated with online gaming. This has no effect on the player making the transaction, but prohibits banks and payment services from facilitating deposits and withdrawals. Therefore, playing at USA online casinos is not illegal, but processing transactions for them is.

After Black Friday in 2011, the Department of Justice simultaneously shut down the operations of several leading online poker rooms with offices in the USA. However, later that year the DOJ publicly released a formal legal opinion stating that the law only applies to wire communications relating to a “sporting event or contest”. It effectively paved the way for individual states to regulate online gambling, poker and casinos if services were kept within state borders.

Green Shoots of Legalized Online Gambling in America

The state of New Jersey became the first state to fully legalize online casinos and poker in February 2013. Likewise, Nevada and Delaware currently offer legal poker, though as of now are yet to sanction real money casino games in the state. Geolocation has been an issue, with some residents living near the state borders denied access to legal casino sites. Some major payment providers like Visa have also been jittery about processing new legal online transactions over the web.

And in late 2017, Pennsylvania joined the growing list of states to regulate online gambling. The first regulated real money sites are expected to launch in 2018. Applications for online casino operators are already coming in, but that state’s Gaming Control Board has yet to approve any. New York is also exploring ways to regulate land-based casinos.

Eight other states are said to have bills in the pipeline, and the industry in the US is expected to grow rapidly as regulations are changed. In the meantime, there are still plenty of USA casinos online which Americans can access completely legally to play blackjack, craps, slots and every other game you'd find at your local. We’ve put together a list of the best 100% legitimate, USA-friendly sites below, as well as a list of the most popular social casinos and Facebook apps for playing online.

Outside the newly-regulated states like Nevada and New Jersey, it is technically illegal to accept real cash bets online. However, despite some major operators leaving the US market since the government crackdowns there are hundreds of sites Americans can access. Most operate overseas with licenses from jurisdictions like Curacao.

Only the Restoration of America's Wire Act (RAWA) threatens to throw a spanner in the works. Supporters of the bill, like casino giant Sheldon Adelson, want the DOJ's relaxation of laws to be reversed. They want an outright ban on all online gambling and poker in the USA, even in states that have legalized it, such as Nevada and New Jersey.

New Jersey Paves the Way

New Jersey was the first state to legalize internet gaming. The Garden State already had a long history of brick ‘n' mortar casinos, however. Nevada, with its massive land-based casino market, was next but the regulation doesn't stretch to online casinos. USA-based players in Nevada have to make do with poker only.

US States with Legal Online Gambling in 2018:

New Jersey: Casinos, poker
Nevada: Poker
Delaware: Poker, casinos
Pennsylvania: Slots, poker

Popular Casino Games Online

By far, slot machines and table games are the most popular hits for Americans at online casinos. Most US-facing operators offer hundreds of slots and progressive jackpot games. American Roulette is available at virtually all US online casino too.

Sports betting has become massively popular in the past few years, as well as Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS). Some sites are beginning to merge their casino, sportsbook and DFS offerings in one handy portal.

Individual states also run huge lotteries, even if casinos are banned there, as well as bingo, keno, and some horse racing.

Best Deposit Methods for US Players

When gambling at online casinos, USA players' biggest issue is declined payments. Some major credit card providers are reluctant to process payments if they are for online gambling. This is especially true if you live outside one of the newly-regulated states.

Bitcoin

New cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Litecoin are becoming more accepted at online casinos. USA-facing sites love the anonymity and the lack of a central bank handling payments. The fees are pretty low too. All you need is a Bitcoin wallet at a reputable exchange.

Western Union

There are thousands of Western Union outlets around the USA. Online casino players can visit their local store and send physical cash to a gambling site for a small fee. The best part about WU is that the reason for transferring cash is kept off your bank account.

Visa

Visa is one of the safest ways to fund your online gambling. At a regulated internet casino or poker site, Visa payments are quick and safe, and you only pay fees if you use a Visa credit card.

Live Betting and Casinos

Casinos and racetracks are permitted in many US states. However, laws can change hugely from one state to another. Nevada has one of the most liberal attitudes towards casinos, for example, whereas nearby Utah has virtually outlawed all casinos and gambling.

In Washington State, some gambling is outlawed and treated as a Class C felony. In California, meanwhile, poker is legal while casinos are banned outside tribal casino resorts. You will find a full breakdown of live betting and casinos on our state pages.

Find the Best Online Casinos in 2018

The USA online betting scene is healthier than ever. There are several states showing that internet casinos can turn a profit. That may attract more states and lawmakers to change their stance.

And while the Restoration of America's Wire Act isn't dead and buried just yet, Americans should still tread carefully. Only sign up and deposit at reputable gambling sites that look after your games and your USD. And trust our state-by-state guide to see where you stand in 2018.

USA at a Glance

Population: 260 million
Legal Age of Gambling: 19-21
Land-based Casinos (Y/N): Y
Online Casinos Legal (Y/N): Y
Popular Games: Slot machines, roulette, poker, sports betting, lottery, bingo, keno

Brief History of US Gambling & Casinos

1800s: Gambling, casinos, and poker are widely played but not legal.

1930s: Nevada legalizes gambling.

1930s-1960s: More states introduce legal lotteries and racetracks, as well as bingo rooms.

1976: New Jersey legalizes casinos. Atlantic City opens first legal casino two years later. 

1988: The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) is passed. It provides a framework that allows casinos and gambling on Indian reservations around the US. A regulatory National Indian Gaming Commission is set up to oversee licensing.

1990s: By this period, every state in the USA other than Utah and Hawaii offers some form of legal gambling.

2006: Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) is passed at the last minute. It effectively outlaws all real money online transactions made to gambling sites and poker rooms.

2009: UIGEA fully comes into effect.

2011: Department of Justice (DOJ) opens indictments against operators of several large online poker rooms. Overnight, thousands of US players have their funds seized. Some American players are still being paid back by the government.

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