Legal online betting is quickly becoming a reality in the United States. Most US states have had legal online horse racing betting for several years now, but more recently we are starting to see individual states legalize additional forms of online betting such as casino games, poker, daily fantasy sports and lotteries.
In 2011, the Department of Justice issued a legal opinion that changed the way the federal government interprets the Wire Act of 1961. Essentially, what the Department of Justice opined was that the Wire Act only applies to sports betting, not to other forms of online gaming. This decision ultimately made it possible for individual states to legalize and regulate new forms of online gaming.
New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware quickly got on board and legalized online casino games, online poker or both provided organizations seeking to organize such games are properly licensed and approved. Pennsylvania joined the party in 2017 and was followed by West Virginia in 2019. Michigan got on board in early 2021 with the launch of online sports betting, poker, and gambling.
Legal sports betting has expanded as well thanks to a 2018 Supreme Court decision striking down the federal prohibition. In addition to Nevada, we now have legal sports betting in Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Mississippi and additional states since then.
The Department of Justice complicated things in 2019 with a sudden decision to go back to its pre-2011 interpretation of the Wire Act. Under the current opinion, the DOJ believes the Wire Act applies to all forms of gambling. The implications of the decision are unclear, but the decision has not stopped a growing number of states from taking up sports betting legislation.
Impact of State and Federal Gambling Laws
Something that isn’t often explicitly explained when discussing the legalization of sports betting and other forms of gambling is how state and federal laws interact with one another. For example, it may not be immediately clear what it means for gamblers in your state specifically when you read that the Supreme Court has stricken down the federal sports betting prohibition.
In short, there are two sets of laws we must address in any discussion of sports betting or gambling. First, there are federal betting laws that apply to all states across the nation. These are the big picture laws that have an impact across all fifty states. Federal laws set the general tone for gambling, but tend not to be too specific in nature.
Some of the more impactful federal betting laws that have been enacted in the USA include:
- PASPA: The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act was the law that prohibited all states except Nevada from legalizing traditional sports wagering. Some states were granted exemptions for limited forms of betting, but overall it was PASPA that granted Nevada a virtual monopoly over sports betting. PASPA was famously stricken down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2018.
- UIGEA: The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 targets the finances of unregulated offshore betting sites that accept American customers. The UIGEA does not criminalize online gambling; it prohibits financial institutions from processing transactions to/from unlicensed gambling websites.
- The Wire Act: The Interstate Wire Act of 1961 was enacted to target mafia groups that ran sports betting organizations across state lines. The Wire Act prohibits the use of “wire communications” to assist in placing wagers across state lines.
State betting laws impact things on the state level and cover everything not already covered by federal gambling laws. State laws tend to be more specific in nature as they fill in the gaps left by federal law. States have wide leeway in determining how to regulate gambling and betting as long as it doesn’t contradict federal law.
This is why, for example, when PASPA (a federal law) was in effect, states had no option to legalize and regulate sports betting. After PASPA was stricken down, states gained the ability to legalize sports betting if they choose. Some states have since chosen to legalize and regulate sports betting. In other states, sports betting is still prohibited by state law.
State laws also tend to deal with the nitty gritty details of gambling regulation. This is where state gambling commissions come into play and spell out all the rules for legal forms of gambling within each state. It is state law that determines things such as accepted business hours for casinos, how quickly winning sports wagers must be paid and so on.
This all goes to explain why we have a page dedicated to the betting laws of every US state. The laws and legal forms of gambling vary from state to state. What’s legal in one state may be outlawed the next state over, so we like to provide that information on a state-by-state basis.
Overall, the general tone in the United States today is drifting to a more accepting view of gambling. No states have moved to clamp down on gambling to any major degree in recent years, but many states have instead chosen to expand legal gambling options for their citizens. As new developments take place in the US, we will update our state-by-state pages to keep you informed and up to date.
States Where Sports Betting is Legal
Individual states now have the right to legalize and regulate sports betting as they see fit. This is a fairly recent development because for years, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) prevented all but four states from authorizing sports betting. Of those four states, only Nevada had a complete exemption allowing true, single-game sports betting.
Delaware and Oregon were also granted limited exemptions for limited forms of parlay-style “sports lotteries.” Montana permitted sports betting squares not run for a profit. Beyond that, no state was allowed any form of sports betting.
That all changed in May of 2018 when the Supreme Court ruled PASPA unconstitutional and struck it down in its entirety. The removal of PASPA did not automatically legalize sports betting across the nation, though. Each state must now alter its own laws to bring sports betting back into play.
Lawmakers in more than two dozen states have introduced legislation seeking to legalize and regulate sports betting. To date, the following states have passed laws and either already have sportsbooks in operation or will soon.