Reason I like Bovada #3:

One-stop shopping

Let me share my experience at another online casino whose name I won't mention:  I wanted to try out their free-play games, and they made me sign up for an account.  That was annoying, just for free-play, but actually most casinos make you register, so they can annoy you by email to pressure you into depositing real money.

I didn't get to choose my own username, they assigned one, and it was long! An astounding twelve digits of mixed numbers and letters.  There was no way I'd be able to memorize it, I'd have to write it down.

After trying out the free-play games I decided to deposit money and play for real.  And guess what? I had to register a separate account to play for real.  They assigned me a brand-new twelve-digit username.  Great.

Shortly thereafter they started offering play-in-browser games.  That's convenient, so I wanted to get in on that.  Guess what?  Yet another username.

And guess how they handle they money they give you as a matching bonus on your deposit?  You guessed it, another account.

Okay, now let's fast-forward to Bovada: One account gets you everything.  And I mean everything.  Real money, fake money, bonuses, you name it.  I didn't get to choose my account name, but at least it's easy to remember.

And if you want to play for free with fake money, you don't even need an account at all.  For example:

Play for free, no B.S.
One click and you're in.

All in all, I think Bovada is the best bet for U.S. players.


Gambling problem?
  1. Call the 800-522-4700 hotline or get online help
  2. See these horror stories.
  3. Know that Parkinson's drugs encourage gambling.

The domain name GamblingAds.com is for sale now on Sedo for $6,000 Buy It Now.
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Play these
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Gambling problem?
  1. Call the 800-522-4700 hotline or get online help
  2. See these horror stories.
  3. Know that Parkinson's drugs encourage gambling.

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.

Short answer: Not illegal under federal law, possibly illegal under state law,
but even there penalties are typically low and prosecution is rare.

Last update: February 2020

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

There is no U.S. federal law against gambling online.  At the federal level, gambling online is perfectly legal, because of the lack of a law against it.  It's possible to run afoul of state law (especially in extremely conservative states), but even there prosecution is extremely rare, and penalties are usually slight.

U.S. Attorney Catherine Hanaway admitted in a House hearing that just placing wagers online doesn't violate federal law.  To the best of my knowledge, no American has ever been arrested, indicted, or prosecuted by the feds for gambling online, because there's no law against it.  If online gambling were illegal I wouldn't be running his website for nineteen years, as an American citizen, living in the U.S., using my real name.  And I occasionally gamble online, too, 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.  The law simply does not create or extend any ban on gambling itself.  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 few states where it's explicitly legal and the operator is licensed.  So don't think you can start an online casino or run Facebook raffles.

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


States where online gambling is explicitly legal

Very few states have specific laws against online gambling, though many have laws against gambling in general, which apply equally to online and offline gambling.  A small handful of states have explicitly legalized online gambling, as long as you play at one of the handful of approved online casinos.  In some states, only certain kinds of gambling might be legal (e.g., poker).  The states which have legalized at least some form of online gambling are:

  1. Delaware became the first state to legalize online gambling, in June 2012, and the third to launch (Nov. 26, 2013). (USA Today, Delaware Online, Casino.org)
  2. Nevada became the first state to legalize online gambling (well, poker at least), on Feb. 21, 2013 (CBS) and launching on April 30. (LVRJ)
  3. New Jersey became the third state to legalize online gambling (poker + casino), signed into law in February 2013, and launching on Nov. 25th. (NJ Poker Online)

Note that Bovada won't accept players from these states.

The District of Columbia became the first jurisdiction to legalize online gambling in the U.S., in April 2011.  However, the measure was repealed in February 2012 before it ever became active. (NY Times)


State violations of gambling are usually misdemeanors

Even when states don't allow players to gamble, the penalties are almost always light.  The only states where simple gambling is a felony are the two Washingtons:  Washington, DC, and Washington state. (source)  In most states simple gambling is just a misdemeanor, and in Arkansas and Colorado it's a simple petty offense, like a traffic ticket. (Source: Gambling Law US, defunct as of 2019)


States with an online gambling prohibition

Even states that ban gambling in general usually don't have a specific ban on online gambling.  If it's against the law to gamble in your state, that applies online and offline, even if the law doesn't mention online.  But a few states do specifically outlaw online gambling.  Those states are:

  1. Illinois
  2. Indiana
  3. Louisiana
  4. Montana
  5. Nevada (go figure)
  6. Oregon
  7. South Dakota
  8. Washington
  9. Wisconsin
(Source: Gambling Law US, defunct as of 2019)

Players convicted of breaking State laws

I know of only two cases in which a player ran afoul of state laws (in extremely conservative states), both of whom were charged under their state's general anti-gambling laws, not any specific anti-online-gambling law:
  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 doesn't violate the terms of his probation, he will likely face no jail time). (News OK)


Kentucky seized domain names

A Kentucky judge agreed to allow Kentucky seize 141 gambling-related domain names, on the spurious grounds that a domain name constituted a "gambling device" under state law.  But even if it were clear that gambling domains violated Kentucky law, the seizure was still absurd, because by that logic any country could seize any domain anywhere in the world if the website happened to violate its local law.  In any event, as FlushDraw said, "Only a small number of US-based registrars complied, and the seizures themselves were rendered somewhat moot when most of the affected domains relocated to non-US registrar services and stopped using “.com” domains."

The Kentucky Court of Appeals quickly overturned the seizure action, but then the State appealed.  I couldn't find any updates between 2014-2018 (EFF 2008, KY appealed in 2009, 2014 ruling)


Taking bets is illegal

It's always been against federal law to take sports bets over the Internet (not to make them).  That is, you can't set up a website and accept sports bets from the public.  The law that prohibits this is called the Wire Act.  For years the feds said that the Wire Act applied to taking casino and poker bets too.  Then in 2011 they reversed themselves and said the Wire Act applied only to sports. (Forbes)  Then in 2019 they reversed themselves again and returned to the previous position that the Wire Act indeed applies to taking casino and poker bets as well. (source)  Though again, placing bets remains perfectly legal under federal law.  The challenge is finding a reputable place to play.  Because of the legal issues, there aren't many operators serving the whole U.S., and many of those which do are kind of sketchy.  That's why I advertise only Bovada on this site, because they're the best one for U.S. players.

States can now offer sports betting

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 should they choose to do so.  However, the court's ruling does not speak to the Wire Act, so online sportsbooks still violate federal law (for the operator, not the player). (Forbes)


Other resources


Practice gambling with play money

Before you throw down your hard-earned cash in a casino, PRACTICE FIRST!  Learn the games with play money where it doesn't cost you anything if you lose.  Seriously.

I like Bovada's practice games the best, because you can play right away without registering for an account.  Most every other online casino makes you give up your email address just to play the games — ugh.  That's why Bovada is the only online casino that gets space on my site.  I hope other casinos will eventually start treating their visitors like human beings rather than walking wallets, but until they do, there's Bovada. One click and you're in.

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I believe everything herein to be accurate, but I'm not responsible for errors or omissions.  I'm pretty irresponsible, actually.

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