The relationship between gambling and the citizens of the USA would accurately be described as complex. It is a fact. It is still very much governed on a state-by-state basis (as per 2019) and the gambling laws in some areas would be seen as draconian in many other Western countries. Despite the gambling restrictions, a study by the American Gaming Association in 2017 said that the gaming industry in the US was a $260bn industry employing 1.8m people.
Traditionally, U.S. gambling has been limited to casinos and on a course at racetracks, thriving in states like Nevada that relied on it to drive tourism from home and abroad.
U.S. Gambling’s rise and fall
The history of gambling in America is a troubled but long-established one, with the early settlers viewing lotteries as a legitimate way to raise funds. The proceeds were used to build cities, establish universities and even helped finance the Revolutionary War. Casinos did not arrive until the 1800s but even before that there were dice and card games played in taverns and roadhouses.
Horse racing is very much part of American culture with the first race track believed to have been built on Long Island in 1665. Gambling then was limited to the friends of horse owners, with the sport really growing in the second half of the 19th century with the establishment of races like the Belmont Stakes and Kentucky Derby. However, as the popularity of gambling grew so did its pitfalls. It was the early part of the 20th century when concerns grew over lottery scandals and the social downside of gambling.
Many see the 1919 Black Sox scandal as the event that saw society really turn against it. The hot favorites for the World Series were the Chicago White Sox team but eight of their players were accused of throwing the best-of-nine match-up against the Cincinnati Reds. The bribe from a gambling syndicate was believed to be worth $10,000 per man. The fall-out was severe with all eight banned for life from professional baseball and a clampdown on gambling initiated.
States began prohibiting various forms of gambling by targeting the gaming operators and the bookies. The result was that gambling still went on but in secret, with its criminal nature helping boost the influence and growth of the mafia and other criminal organizations.
Growth of Las Vegas
The state of Nevada legalized casino gambling in 1931 to drive tourism following the stock market crash but Las Vegas itself was still in its infancy. It wasn’t until after the Second World War, with gambling laws elsewhere still strict, that Vegas really began to develop as the city it is today.
A further restriction on gaming in a bid to tackle organized crime was introduced in 1961 by Attorney General Robert F Kennedy. The Federal Wire Act made interstate and international gambling illegal. By the 1970s some states were looking into ways to mimic the popularity of Vegas. New Jersey made the move to legalizing gambling in Atlantic City in a bid to make it the Vegas of the East Coast. In 2018 Jersey became only the third state in the US – after Nevada and Delaware – to legalize sports betting. Another area of gambling expansion was on Native American reservations, where locals took advantage of their hard-earned tribal sovereignty to raise revenue. In 2011 there were 460 casinos, gambling halls and other gambling operations run by 240 tribes with a total annual revenue of $27bn.
The advent of internet betting has produced more headaches for states keen to retain their strict stance on gambling. Last year the supreme court struck down a federal law that barred gambling on football, basketball, baseball, and other sports in most states. This gave states the go-ahead to legalize betting on sports. The move effectively ended the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, PASPA, which made Nevada the only state where a person could bet on the result of a single game.
It is estimated that in excess of 30 states will be offering sports betting within the next five years. To say gambling in the US remains complex is an understatement, but it is legal under federal law. The restrictions for the average punter, however, are significant, with each state free to regulate or prohibit the practice within its borders.
U.S. Online Gambling Laws since 1992…2021
SLOWLY but surely, the average US gambler is seeing the expansion of their online betting opportunities. Last year the supreme court struck down a federal law that barred gambling on football, basketball, baseball, and other sports in most areas of the country. The move effectively ended the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, PASPA, which made Nevada the only state where a person could bet on the result of a single game. Since the decision some states have legalized sports betting, some are about to, and some are still weighing up their options.
It is effectively legal in 14 states plus Washington DC, but you’ll still find it difficult in most states to place a bet on your own laptop or phone.
The First U.S. Gambling Legislation Wave
Delaware led the way in making betting legal, becoming the first state outside of Nevada to allow single-game wagering at its casinos. However, if you want to bet on the Phillies from the comfort of your home in Dover, you’ll have to wait as officials are yet to authorize online sports betting.
New Jersey, which started the ball rolling by bringing the case against PASPA, is ahead of their neighbors. The state is the closest to Nevada for its range of sports betting – residents and non-residents can wager on their phones so long as they are within the state’s borders.
New York has authorized sports betting at its casinos and it is hoped mobile betting will be allowed in the very near future. There are growing concerns amongst politicians there that they are losing tens of millions of dollars as people head to Jersey to place their bets.
Mississippi, Nevada, and Montana
Along with Jersey and Nevada, mobile betting is permitted in Mississippi and Montana, but in both states, it is severely restricted. In Montana to casinos, and in Mississippi inside licensed restaurants and bars.
Pennsylvania, Iowa, Montana, Indiana, Illinois
Pennsylvania offers mobile betting but only on Android, not iOS devices. The states where online gambling is legal but not yet available are Iowa, Montana, Indiana, and Illinois.
Tennessee, Rhode Island, and West Virginia
Tennessee has no casinos so it will be offering only online betting, with its target the start of the football season. That is also the online target for Rhode Island where the legal betting age is 18, unlike any other state, where it is 21. Online gambling is live in West Virginia but there are currently issues with the vendor.
New Mexico, Washington DC
There are no online facilities in New Mexico – the Native American tribes there ruling they have a legal right to run sportsbooks in their casinos. Washington DC allows sports betting but the introduction of online services is complicated by the influence of lottery administrator Intralot.
Oregon hopes to have online services up and running by the start of the football season while Arkansas needs clarification on existing laws before moving ahead. There remain hopes that Michigan can implement laws this year as their legislative session goes on until December.
U.S. Online Gambling States 2020 and Beyond
New Hampshire, Colorado and Louisiana
New Hampshire is expected to pass online gambling legislature soon in time to be up and running early next year, while Colorado and Louisiana may require a referendum. If successful in Colorado betting can be legal there by May 2020.
There are hopes that Kentucky and Kansas will get quick approvals next year, and other states will hopefully follow suit. There remain tribal gaming issues in some areas that appear to be slowing progress down but it is hoped U.S. online gambling will be available in most states by the end of 2021.
Utah and Alaska
However, certain U.S. states like Utah and Alaska appear to be in no rush to legislate for sports betting, online gambling or otherwise. Gamblers there may be waiting a very long (not in 2020 for sure). Photo by vegasnews.com