Many people have questions about the legality of online casinos in the United States, but very few have a good understanding of the laws that govern Internet gambling in America. Admittedly, the situation is somewhat complex: it isn’t always easy to understand why it is often perfectly legal for you to play on a site that can’t legally operate in the USA.
We’ve created this page to help you better understand the legal standing of casinos in America. If you have any specific questions, it is best to contact a lawyer or legal expert in your state, but this should give you a general overview of where things stand at the moment.
To understand the current state of online gaming in the US, there are two laws that we need to discuss. The first is the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA), which was passed in 2006. This bill made it illegal for businesses and financial institutions to process payments for Internet gaming, and was an attempt to block the transactions that funded offshore casino sites. You may have heard about this law when federal government indictments caused the end of American operations for PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker in 2011. However, it is important to note that this legislation only targeted the gaming businesses and banks, and did not make it illegal for individuals to play on gambling sites.
Another key piece of legislation is the Interstate Wire Act of 1961. This law was designed to criminalize the transmission of bets on sporting events and other contests across state lines, and as such, was also frequently applied to online wagering transactions as well. However, in 2011, the Department of Justice issued a legal opinion that this legislation only applies to sports betting, and did not apply to other wire communications.
That opinion was enough to get the ball moving in some states towards regulating online gambling on their own. As of November 2015, there are three states in the US that have some form of regulated Internet gaming: New Jersey, Nevada, and Delaware. In most cases, these markets are intrastate only, meaning that the sites service only adults physically located in the state where they are based.
The size and style of the three markets varies. New Jersey is by far the largest, and is home to several regulated sites that are operated by Atlantic City casinos. In Nevada, only Internet poker is permitted. Delaware allows full Internet casinos operated by the state’s racetracks, but has so far been a very small market. In an attempt to aid their poker sites, Delaware and Nevada have agreed to share player pools, forming the first regulated interstate poker network in the United States.
Most other states in the USA are considered grey markets by the gaming industry. This is the term given to places where online gambling is not expressly illegal, but where there is no regulatory framework for sites to work within, and where the government may be unfriendly to offshore sites that accept US players. The reason for putting most of the US in this category is obvious: players can freely access these sites (provided operators want them too – some opt out of the American market), but the companies themselves may risk legal repercussions from the federal government because of UIGEA.
The key point to remember is that, in most states, there are no laws criminalizing online casino play. Where laws exist, they target operators, not players – so you can safely play on sites of your choosing from the United States.
Internationally, things are much more complicated. Laws vary tremendously, with many grey markets and regulated jurisdictions existing throughout the world. Some nations regulate gambling at the federal level, while others allow state or provincial governments to take a leading role, while others use a combination of both.
Even when it comes to regulation, exactly how it is implemented can change wildly from one nation to the next. Some countries, like Belgium and Sweden, are notoriously strict about their licensing schemes, only allowing a very select number of companies to offer gaming to their citizens. Others, like the UK, allow offshore operators to apply for licenses, but implement a point-of-consumption tax to make sure that they receive some of the fruits from their market.