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    The Curious Case of Legal Gambling in the United States

    To play a casino game in many countries of the world, you can simply search for “best online casino” and click on one of the results. You can complete the registration process in a maximum of 5 minutes and get your first win in 10 minutes, it is that easy. Unfortunately, in some countries of the world, this is not that easy and can turn into a challenge in itself. Believe it or not, the United States of America is one of those countries. In a country that hosts Las Vegas, the gambling capital of the world, legal gambling is a real problem and something that is still not possible in most states. So, why does this happen? Is it illegal to gamble in the USA or are there other reasons? Below, we answer these questions and take a look at the strange situation of legal gambling in the US.

    It Is Not Exactly Illegal but Also Not Legal

    Most people (even most Americans) think gambling is prohibited in the US except for a few states. However, this is not the case: there is no federal law in the country prohibiting gambling. But there is also no law that says gambling is legal, so at the federal level, this issue remains in a “gray” area.

    So why is gambling considered illegal in the US? This is due to a strange overlap of many local and federal laws. If we explain it in a list:

    • There is no federal law stating that gambling is illegal. However, the Federal Wire Act of 1961 criminalizes all gambling activities outside of state borders. This means that if you want to gamble, you can only use casinos and bookmakers in your state. So, gambling for you is prohibited throughout the country if your state of residence does not have a casino or bookie.
    • The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act in 1992 banned states from legalizing sports betting. The “trick” here is: this act did not make sports bets illegal, it just prohibited the states from making it legal. So if you do not live in a state where sports betting is already legal, betting was becoming illegal for you all over the country as per the Federal Wire Act of 1961.
    • The Supreme Court repealed The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act in 2018 as it was unconstitutional. States are now free to legalize sports betting within their borders, and many states have already done so – we’ll talk more about that below.
    • But wait, what about online casinos? Their situation is, unfortunately, more complicated: the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 strictly prohibits the opening of an online casino site in the US. However, it does not contain any restrictions for Americans to play in online casinos. So, theoretically, you can play in any of the international casinos.
    • The problem is that many federal and local laws do not allow gambling-related international bank transfers. So you cannot deposit or withdraw. Playing on international casino websites is legal on paper but practically prohibited.

    Now, do you understand why we said: “not illegal but also not legal”? There is no law in the US that says gambling is prohibited at the federal level, but many regulations make it almost impossible to do so in practice.

    What is the Current Situation of Legal Gambling in the USA?

    The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act is still in effect, so we have no good news for online casinos. Although some states, such as New Jersey, allow this to a limited extent (companies with a land-based casino in the state may open a website with a limited number of games), we may have to wait for years to see legal online casinos at the federal level. The situation for legal sports betting is much better: after The Supreme Court’s decision in 2018, many states legalized sports betting. You can see a complete list of them in the table below.

    STATE LAND-BASED BETTING ONLINE BETTING
    Colorado Legal Still Illegal
    Delaware Legal Legal
    Washington, D.C. Legal Still Illegal
    Illinois Legal Legal
    Indiana Legal Legal
    Iowa Legal Legal
    Michigan Legal Still Illegal
    Mississippi Legal Still Illegal
    Montana Legal Still Illegal
    Nevada Legal Legal
    New Hampshire Legal Legal
    New Jersey Legal Legal
    New Mexico Legal Still Illegal
    New York Legal Still Illegal
    North Carolina Legal Still Illegal
    Oregon Legal Still Illegal
    Pennsylvania Legal Legal
    Rhode Island Legal Legal
    Tennessee Legal Still Illegal
    Virginia Legal Still Illegal
    Washington Legal Still Illegal
    West Virginia Legal Legal

    This table shows the current situation (2021), and we predict that many other states will legalize sports betting before the year ends. After all, legalized gambling is both a source of income for states and helps the fight against organized crime.

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