There’s no U.S. National law against gambling online
There’s no U.S. federal law against gaming online. At the federal level, gambling online is perfectly legal, due to the absence of a law against it. It is likely to run afoul of state law (notably in extremely conservative countries ), but there prosecution is very uncommon, and penalties are often slight.
U.S. Attorney Catherine Hanaway confessed in a House hearing that only placing wagers online doesn’t violate federal law. No American has ever been arrested, indicted, or prosecuted by the feds for gaming online, since there’s no law against it. If online gaming were illegal I wouldn’t be running his website for nineteen years, as an American citizen, living in the U.S., using my real name. And I sometimes gamble online, too, and I admit that publicly, like I’m doing right now.
This might be confusing because other outlets erroneously noted that Congress banned online gaming in 2006. These reports are simply erroneous. The 2006 law makes it illegal for banks to move betting money once the stakes are already prohibited (including from a country law), but doesn’t make it illegal for players to make bets. The legislation just does not make or extend any ban on gaming itself. In fact, the legislation states quite clearly,”No provision of this subchapter shall be construed as altering, limiting, or expanding any Federal or State legislation or Tribal-State compact prohibiting, permitting, or regulating gambling within the USA.” You can see for yourself by checking out the full text of this law.
Despite the fact that you do not break any national laws from placing bets online, it is not legal to run a gambling operation (i.e., to take bets), except in those few countries where it is explicitly legal and the operator is accredited. So don’t believe that you can begin an online casino or operate Facebook raffles.
And yes, the FBI published a scary warning online where they claimed that putting bets on the internet is against the law. In summary, they lied, and the DoJ eventually reversed that place anyway. (more on that)
States where online gambling is explicitly legal
Not many states have specific laws against online gambling, though many have laws against gaming in general, which apply both to offline and online gaming. A little handful of countries have legalized online gaming, provided that you play one of the handful of approved online casinos. In some countries, only certain kinds of gaming might be lawful (e.g., poker). The states which have legalized some Kind of online gambling are:
Delaware became the first nation to legalize online gaming, in June 2012, and the next to start (Nov. 26, 2013). (USA Today, Delaware Online, Casino.org)
Nevada became the first nation to legalize online gaming (well, poker ), on Feb. 21, 2013 (CBS) and launch on April 30. (LVRJ)
New Jersey became the third state to legalize online gambling (poker + casino), signed into law in February 2013, and launch on Nov. 25th. (NJ Poker Online)
Be aware that Bovada won’t accept players from these states, nor will they accept players out of Maryland or New York.
The District of Colmbia became the first jurisdiction to legalize online gaming in the U.S., in April 2011. On the other hand, the measure was repealed in February 2012 until it ever became active. (NY Times)
State offenses of gaming are usually misdemeanors
Even if countries don’t allow players to gamble, the penalties are always light. The only states where simple gambling is a felony would be the two Washingtons: Washington, DC, and Washington state. (source) In most states easy gaming is just a misdemeanor, and in Arkansas and Colorado it is a straightforward petty crime, like a traffic ticket. (source)
States with an Internet gaming prohibition
Even countries that ban gambling generally usually do not have a particular ban on online gambling. When it’s against the law to bet on your nation, that applies online and offline, even if the law does not mention online. But a couple of states do specifically outlaw online gaming. Those countries are:
Nevada (go figure)
Resource: Gambling Law U.S.
Players convicted of violating State laws I know of only two instances in which a participant ran afoul of state legislation (in exceptionally conservative nations ), both of whom were billed under their state’s general anti-gambling laws, no specific anti-online-gambling law:
North Dakota. Jeffrey Trauman paid a $500 fine on what was likely over $100,000 in online sports wager winnings, in 2003. (Gambling & the Law)
Oklahoma. Online sports bettor Roland Benavides was charged in 2011 and in 2012 received a deferred sentence (meaning that if he doesn’t violate the terms of his probation, he will probably face no jail time). (Information OK)
Kentucky seized domain names A Kentucky judge agreed to let Kentucky capture 141 gambling-related domains, on the spurious grounds that a domain name comprised a”gambling device” under state law. But even if it were clear that gaming domains broken Kentucky law, the seizure was nevertheless ridiculous, because by that logic any nation could seize any domain anywhere in the world when the site happened to violate its regional law. In any case, as FlushDraw stated,”Only a small number of US-based registrars complied, as well as the seizures themselves were rendered somewhat moot when most of the affected domains relocated to non-US registrar services and stopped using”.com” domains.”
The Kentucky Court of Appeals promptly chased the seizure action, but then the State appealed. I couldn’t find any updates involving 2014-2018 (EFF 2008, KY appealed in 2009, 2014 judgment )
Taking bets is illegal It’s always been contrary to national law to carry sports bets over the Web (to not create them). In other words, you can not set up a site and take sports bets from the general public. The law that prohibits that is called the Wire Act. For many years the feds said that the Wire Act applied to taking poker and casino bets too. In 2011 they reversed themselves and said the Wire Act applied only to athletics. (Forbes) Subsequently in 2019 they reversed themselves again and returned to the previous position that the Wire Act actually applies to accepting casino and poker stakes as well. (source) Though again, placing bets stays perfectly legal under national law. The challenge is finding a reputable place to playwith. Because of the legal issues, there are not many operators operating the entire U.S., and many of those that do are kind of questionable. That is why I advertise only Bovada on this website, since they’re the best one for U.S. players.
States can now offer sports betting In May 2018, the Supreme Court overturned a law that prohibited sports betting in all countries but Nevada. This permits individual countries to legalize sports betting if they opt to do so. On the other hand, the court’s ruling does not talk to the Wire Act, therefore online sportsbooks nevertheless violate federal law (for the operator, not the player). (Forbes)