We answer the question:

Is online gambling legal in the U.S.?

I'm not a lawyer. Do not rely on this article as legal advice.  I also can't guarantee to have heard of every relevant case or found every law.

Last update: June 27, 2024

This article was cited in the book Legal Principles for Combatting Cyberlaundering.

Short summary

  1. There is no federal law against online gambling. (more...)
  2. Several states have legalized some form of online gambling, but you have to play in one of their approved casinos or sportsbooks. (more...)
  3. Most states outlaw unregulated gambling in general, which applies equally to online and offline gambling.  However...
  4. Even in states where online gambling is illegal, prosecution is rare and penalties are usually slight.  In most cases it's only a misdemeanor, and in some cases it's a minor infraction, like a traffic ticket.  The penalty in Arkansas is a whopping $25.  I'm so confident that almost nobody gets jailed for gambling online that I openly offer to pay $100 for each report of a U.S. citizen serving even one night in jail after being sentenced for online gambling (as a player) under any U.S. state law. (details)  
  5. Bovada takes players from most states, even from states where Internet gambling is technically illegal.  The states where Bovada does not take players are CO, DE, MD, MI, NJ, NV, and NY. (source, section 2.3) advertisement


Summary of state laws about online gambling

Summary of State ONLINE Gambling Laws
State Bovada accepts players When legal online betting started Betting at an unlicensed site
Jail not possible  Jail possible  Felony
Casino (6)
Sports
(26)
Poker
(7)
Legal, b/c no
law against it (11)
Max Penalty,
but seems to be
almost never
prosecuted
Level of Offense Sources
Alabama
Play now



not illegal
Alaska
Play now




$500 1st offense
$1000 2nd+ offenses
Violation
11.66.200, 12.55.030
Arizona
Play now
9/21


6 months
Misdemeanor, Class 1
13-3301, 13-3304, 13307
Arkansas
Play now
3/6/22

$25 (!) (level not named) 5-66-113
California
Play now Voters voted against legalizing in 2022
$1000 and/or 1 year Misdemeanor
330
Colorado


5/1/20


$300 and/or 10 days Petty Offense
18-10-103
Connecticut
Play now 10/19/21
10/19/21
5/27/21 but not available

$1000 and/or 6 mos. Misdemeanor, Class B
53-278b, 53a-36, 53a-42
D.C.
Play now
5/20


not illegal
Delaware

11/7/13 1/3/24
11/7/13
not illegal
Florida
Play now
2021, 11/7/23, status

$500 and/or 60 days Misdemeanor, 2nd Deg.
849.08, 775.082, 775-083
Georgia
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$1000 and/or 1 year Misdemeanor
16-12-21, 17-10-3
Hawaii
Play now



$2000 and/or 1 year Misdemeanor
712-1223, 706-640, 706-663
Idaho
Play now



$500 and/or 6 mos. Misdemeanor
18-3802, 18-303
Illinois
Play now
6/18/20


$2500 and/or <1 yr. Misdemeanor, Class A
720 5/28-1, 730 5/5-4.5-55
Indiana
Play now
10/3/19


$1000 and/or 180 days Misdemeanor, Class B
35-45-5-2, 33-50-3-3
Iowa
Play now
1/1/21


$10,000 and 10 yrs. Felony, Class C
725.7, 902.9
Kansas
Play now
9/1/22


$1000 and/or 6 mos. Misdemeanor, Class B
21-6404, 21-6602, 21-6611
Kentucky


9/28/23


not illegal
KRS 528
Lousiana
Play now
1/28/22


$500 and/or 6 mos. (level not named)
14.90.3 D, 14.90
Maine
Play now



winnings and ($2000 and/or <1 yr.) Class D Crime 17-A:39:954, 17-A39:954-11, 17-A:63
Maryland


11/23/22


$1000 Civil Violation 12-103 • Decriminalized in 2019 (Westlaw, MD Reporter)
Massachusetts
Play now
3/10/23


Double the winnings and ($50 or 3 months) (level not named) 273-1, 273-2
Michigan

1/22/21
1/22/21 1/29/21
$1000 or 1 yr. Misdemeanor 750.314
Minnesota
Play now



$1000 and/or 90 days Minnesota 609.755, 609.03
Mississippi
Play now
in-person only


$500+winnings7 (level not named) 97-33-1
Missouri
Play now



$750 and/or 15 days Misdemeanor, Class C 572-020, 572-010, 558.011, 558.002
Montana
Play now
in-person only


$500 & no jail for 1st offense & ≤$750 bet/won
$50,000 and/or 10 yrs if bet/won >$750 9
Misdemeanor if <$750 bet/won on 1st offense, otherwise felony 23-5-151, 23-5-156, 23-5-112, 23-5-161, 23-5-162
Nebraska
Play now
in-person only


$1000 and/or 6 mos. Misdemeanor, Class II 28-1103, 28-106
Nevada


9/10
1ST!
4/30/13

not illegal
New Hampshire
Play now
12/30/19


$1200 Misdemeanor, Class B 647:2-I-(b), 651:2-IV-A
New Jersey

11/25/13
8/1/18
11/25/13

not illegal NJ Code 2C:37-2C
New Mexico
Play now
in-person only


$500 and/or 6 mos. Misdemeanor, Petty 30-19-2, 31-19-1
New York


1/8/22


not illegal
North Carolina
Play now
3/11/24


$1000 and/or 60 days Misdemeanor, Class 2 14-292, 15A-1340.23
North Dakota
Play now
in-person only


$1000 Infraction 12.1-28-02, 12.1-32.01
Ohio
Play now
1/1/23

But illegal to be a
pro player
not illegal 2915
Oklahoma
Play now



$100 and/or 30 days Misdemeanor 21-942
Oregon
Play now
10/19


$6250 or 2x the winnings, and/or 365 days Misdemeanor, Class A 167.122, 167.117(24), 161.635, 161.615
Pennsylvania
Play now 7/15/19
5/28/19 11/6/19

not illegal 5513(a)
Rhode Island
Play now
9/4/19

not illegal
South Carolina
Play now



not illegal
South Dakota
Play now
in-person only


30 days and/or $500 Misdemeanor, Class 2
22-25-1, 22-6-2
Tennessee
Play now
11/1/21

30 days and/or $50 Misdemeanor, Class C
39-17-502, 40-35-111
Texas
Play now



$500 Misdemeanor, Class C
Penal 47.02, 12.23
Utah
Play now



6 mos. and/or $1000 Misdemeanor, Class B
76-10-1102, 76-3-204, 76-3-301
Vermont
Play now
1/11/24

$200 and/or 60 days16 (level not named)
13-051-2133, 13-051-2141
Virginia
Play now
1/21/21

$500 Misdemeanor, Class 3
(jail not possible)
18-2-325, 18-2-326, 18-2-11
Washington
Play now
12/20/21
must be on tribal land


$10,000 and/or 5 yrs. Felony, Class C
9.46.240, 9A.20.021
West Virginia
Play now 7/15/20
12/18 legal but not avail as of 1/10/23

$300 Misdemeanor
61-10-5
Wisconsin
Play now
3/18/24
must be on tribal land


$1000 and/or 90 days Misdemeanor, Class B
945.02, 939.51
Wyoming
Play now
9/21

$750 and/or 6 months Misdemeanor 6-7-102

Footnotes (show)


States where online gambling is legal because there's no law against it

  1. Alabama
  2. Delaware
  3. District of Columbia.  Except it's illegal to play Three Card Monte. (22-1706)
  4. Kentucky.  The section on gambling says, "The status of a 'player' shall be a defense to any prosecution under this chapter".  528.010 (8)
  5. Nevada
  6. New Jersey.  "It is a defense to a prosecution...that the person participated only as a player."  (NJ Code 2C:37-2C)
  7. New York.  Section 225.05 of the penal code says a person is guilty if "he...advances or profits" from gambling, but Section 225.00 clearly states that "advancing" and "profiting" are terms that apply to operators, not players.  (Laws of NY) 
  8. Ohio.  But it's against the law to be a pro player:  "No person shall...engage in betting or in playing any scheme or game of chance as a substantial source of income or livelihood."  (2915.02(A)(4))
  9. Pennsylvania.  Applies only to operators, not players. (5513(a))
  10. Rhode Island.  "Forms of gambling prohibited" speaks to operators, not players. (11-19-1)
  11. South Carolina.  First, the statute outlaws gambling in physical places ("barn, kitchen, stable, street, highway, open wood..."), which wouldn't seem to apply to the Internet.  Second, if it did apply to the Internet, it would seem to apply only to table games (mentioned specifically in the statute), but not slot machines, since the only "devices" mentioned are ones which are "licensed", and online slot machines aren't licensed. (16-19-40, 12-21-2720)

Every state's code listed in this section was current through at least 2019 when I checked it in 2020.


State violations of gambling are usually misdemeanors

Even when states don't allow players to gamble, the maximum penalties are usually light.  The only states where simple gambling is a possible felony on first offense are Iowa, Montana, and Washington.  In most states simple gambling is just a misdemeanor, and in Alaska and Arkansas it's a simple petty offense, like a traffic ticket.

Combining the states where gambling isn't against the law, and adding the states where it's against the law but jail isn't possible, that's 19 states total in which jail isn't possible.  (See the list on top of the page.)


Online players convicted of breaking State laws

I know of only two cases in which an online player ran afoul of state laws, both of them many years ago.  Both players charged under their state's general anti-gambling laws (not any specific anti-online-gambling law), and were not sentenced to jail.

  1. North Dakota.  Jeffrey Trauman paid a $500 fine on what was probably over $100,000 in online sports bet winnings, in 2003. (Gambling & the Law)

  2. Oklahoma.  Online sports bettor Roland Benavides was charged in 2011 and in 2012 received a deferred sentence (which means that if he didn't violate the terms of his probation, he would face no jail time). (News OK)

If you do a Google search for "arrested for online gambling", you won't find examples of players being arrested, only operators.  (Well, maybe you'll find examples well deep into the results, but I couldn't find any on the first few pages.)

I'm so confident that almost nobody gets jailed for gambling online that I openly offer to pay $100 for each report of a U.S. citizen serving even one night in jail after being sentenced for online gambling (as a player) under any U.S. state law. (details)


There is no U.S. federal law against gambling online

There is no U.S. federal law against gambling online, as a player.  At the federal level, gambling online is perfectly legal, because of the lack of a law against it.  (But it might be illegal in your state.  See the table above.)

U.S. Attorney Catherine Hanaway admitted in a House hearing that just placing wagers online doesn't violate federal law.  No American has ever been arrested, indicted, or prosecuted by the feds for gambling online, because you can't break a non-existent law.  If online gambling were illegal under federal law I wouldn't be running his website for twenty years, as an American citizen, living in the U.S., using my real name.  I've occasionally gambled online, too, at Bovada, and I admit that publicly, like I'm doing right now.

This might be confusing because other outlets erroneously reported that Congress banned online gambling in 2006.  Those reports are simply wrong.  The 2006 law makes it illegal for banks to move gambling money when the bets are already illegal (like from a state law), but doesn't make it illegal for players to make bets.  In fact, the law says quite clearly, "No provision of this subchapter shall be construed as altering, limiting, or extending any Federal or State law or Tribal-State compact prohibiting, permitting, or regulating gambling within the United States."  You can see for yourself by checking out the full text of the law.

While you don't break any federal laws from placing bets online, it's not legal to run a gambling operation (i.e., to take bets), except in those states where it's explicitly legal and the operator is licensed. 

And yes, the FBI posted a scary warning online in 2007 in which they claimed that placing bets online is against the law.  In short, they lied. (more on that)


Taking bets online is usually illegal

It's illegal in all states to take bets (as the casino/operator), except for licensed operators in those states where gambling is regulated.  So, for example, don't try to run a raffle on Facebook.

At the federal level, taking sports bets online is plainly illegal, thanks to the federal Wire Act, unless a state has specifically legalized it, and the operator gets licensed in that state.

The feds keep changing their mind about whether the Wire Act applies to taking casino/poker bets as well as sports bets:

  1. Before 2001, the DoJ said the wire act applied to casino and poker bets too.
  2. Then in 2002, a federal court ruled that the Wire Act applied only to sports betting, not casino. (source)
  3. That didn't stop the DoJ from prosecuting poker sites in 2008 and 2011. (more...)
  4. Then in 2011, after the prosecutions, the DoJ reversed itself and said the Wire Act applied only to sports. (Forbes)
  5. Then in 2019 they reversed themselves again and said it applies to casino and poker. (source)
  6. Later in 2019, a federal court set aside the DoJ's position, with the court saying that the Wire Act applied only to sports bets. (source) 
  7. However, sources say the DoJ will most likely appeal the court's decision.
  8. In the meantime, the DoJ said it's suspending enforcement against non-sports operators. (source)

The beginning of legal online gambling in the U.S.

The District of Columbia became the first jurisdiction to legalize some form of online gambling in the U.S., in April 2011, but the measure was repealed in February 2012 before it ever became active. (NY Times)  Delaware was next to legalize (June 2012), followed by Nevada and New Jersey (Feb. 2013).  Nevada was first to launch (April 2013), followed by New Jersey (11/25/13).

In May 2018, the Supreme Court overturned a law that prohibited sports betting in all states but Nevada.  This allows individual states to legalize sports betting (including online betting) should they choose to do so. (Forbes)  Following that decision, in the next few years several states rushed to legalize sports betting, usually including online betting as well.


Beware of advice on other websites

Lots of other websites say it's legal to gamble online in places where it actually isn't, probably because those sites get advertising money from online casinos.  (I get advertising money too, but that's not gonna make me lie about the law.)  For example "Let's Gamble USA" (LGU) says, for Illinois, "[T]he law doesn’t list any punishments for participating in online games as a player" and so "most experts agree that playing on offshore sites is perfectly legal for Illinois residents."  First, LGU doesn't bother to quote or link to even one of these supposed "many" experts.  Second, online gambling is actually plainly illegal under Illinois 720 5/28-1, which states "A person commits gambling when he or she knowingly plays a game of chance or skill for money or other thing of value...or knowingly makes a wager upon the result of any game [or] contest....Gambling is a Class A misdemeanor."  There is no exception listed for gambling online.  Third, 730 5/5-4.5-55 plainly lists the possible penalty as $2500 and/or one year in jail.

For Arizona, LGU says, "[T]he legal status of online play in Arizona is somewhat ambiguous, as many lawyers argue whether the general laws can be applied to playing on unlicensed iGaming sites or not...[M]ost industry experts agree that Arizona is perfectly safe when it comes to online play."  Here again, they don't bother to quote or link to a single one of these supposed "lawyers" or "experts".  But anyway, let's go straight to the source, the text of the actual laws in Arizona:

"[A] person commits benefiting from gambling if he knowingly obtains any benefit from gambling." (Arizona 13-3304)

"‘Gambling’ or ‘gamble’ means one act of risking or giving something of value for the opportunity to obtain a benefit from a game or contest of chance or skill or a future contingent event " (Arizona 13-3301.4)

There is nothing in the text of the law that suggests that it applies only to brick-and-mortar gambling and not Internet gambling.

For Montana, LGU says "being caught would result in a serious fine", ignoring the fact that the sentence could include up to ten years in jail if the amount bet or won is more than $750.  That kind of omission is either wildly irresponsible or grossly incompetent.

I suspect that LGU commits similar omissions or inaccuracies for the other states, but I stopped checking after I found serious problems with the first three states I checked.  Let the player beware.


$100 reward for reports of a player spending time in jail for online gambling

I think the chances of going to jail for online gambling in the U.S. are so small that I offer a $100 reward for each report of a player actually getting jail.  Here are the details:

  1. The defendant must be the player (not an operator), and must be sentenced for online gambling (not offline), in one of the U.S. states.
  2. The player must actually spend at least one night in jail as a result of the sentence.
  3. I accept reports starting one week after the first night in jail is spent.  If you notify me of an arrest or sentencing before that happens, the reward is only $25.
  4. In the event of a sting in which multiple people are arrested at the same time or under the same operation, the limit is one reward.
  5. Only the first report for a specific case is eligible for the reward.  (e.g., If five people notify me of the same case, only the first person gets the reward.)
  6. Does not apply to any cases I already list on this site.
  7. I don't promise to offer this reward in this format forever.

If you know of any qualifying cases, then contact me and claim your reward.

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