The short answer is that gambling is not illegal in the United States. However, gambling has a long and complicated history in the country. Specific forms of it have been prohibited at various points in the country’s history, while laws surrounding it have been more permissive at other times.
This back-and-forth over the legality of gambling, combined with the fact that individual states have their say over whether or not to allow it, has left many people in the dark. In this article, we’ll go over which types of gambling are legal in the United States, as well as which states allow them.
In the United States, there are federal laws governing gambling.
In general, gambling is not illegal in the United States. This is because there is no federal law prohibiting gambling in the United States.
However, the full story is far more complicated. The United States does have specific laws, such as the Federal Wire Act of 1961, that prohibit interstate gambling. Placing a bet in a single state may be legal, but placing a bet with a bookie in the next state may be illegal.
Furthermore, sports betting was severely restricted until recently due to the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which was passed in 1992. That law did not make sports betting illegal in and of itself, but it did prevent states that did not already allow it from legalizing it in the future. In 2018, the Supreme Court overturned that federal law, allowing states to make their own legislative decisions about whether or not to allow sports betting.
Online gambling is a can of worms as well. The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 makes operating an online gambling website anywhere in the United States illegal. However, it does not make it illegal for individuals to place bets on an online gambling website. As a result, several offshore gambling websites accept wagers from Americans, such as Bovada and BetOnline.
It should be noted that online fantasy sports leagues, including daily fantasy sports platforms, are exempt from the provisions of the 2006 Act.
In the United States, gambling laws vary by state.
For the most part, the US government defers to states in establishing their own gambling regulations within their respective borders. That is, whether gambling is legal and in what forms it can take varies depending on where you live in the United States.
In 48 of the 50 states, gambling is legal in some form or some areas. Utah and Hawaii are the only two states that outright prohibit it. It is legal to gamble almost anywhere in Nevada, which is known as a gambling haven. The majority of other states fall somewhere in the middle, for example, only allowing gambling in licensed casinos.
Furthermore, many states permit some forms of gambling but not others. States such as New Jersey allow bets on horse races both on and off the track and sports, betting, and casino games. At the same time, horse race bets are legal in Washington, but other sports bets are not. Furthermore, in Washington, casino games are only permitted on Native American tribal lands.
We’ve gone into greater detail in our dedicated advice guide on which states have legalized gambling.
It’s also worth noting that even if gambling is legal at the state level, local governments have the final say on whether or not to allow it. Individual cities and counties can prohibit gambling or prohibit casinos from operating.
Your quick takeaway on gambling legality
In general, gambling is not illegal in the United States. There are no federal laws that prohibit gambling as long as it does not cross state lines or involve an online betting platform based in the country.
However, states are free to make their gambling laws, and many have enacted some form of restriction. While only Utah and Hawaii outright prohibit all forms of gambling, it is critical to check your state and local laws to determine what types of gambling are legal and illegal in your area.