Reason I like Bovada #4:

It's fair and safe

The best way to avoid losing money by gambling is to not gamble in the first place.  That goes double online, because online gambling is mostly unregulated in the U.S.  That means the casinos serving the whole U.S. don't answer to anyone.  If you have a problem with a casino (like they won't pay you), then you're usually out of luck.  I can't count how many players have written to ask me for help because they didn't get paid by some other casino.  (Not that I helped them, it's not what I do—if a dodgy casino won't pay you then you're on your own.)

So if you're intent on gambling online, then the #1 most important thing is to pick a good casino.  The good ones know they make more money with fair games and consistent payouts than the dodgy casinos, because fair play means repeat customers and good word-of-mouth referrals.  It's no coincidence that the most successful online casinos are the ones that focus on their players.

Many casinos try to find excuses to not pay winning players, especially players who have won big.  Outright cheating (rigged games) is pretty rare, but it happens.  Either way, if you have a problem with most U.S.-facing online casinos, you're usually out of luck.

This is another reason why Bovada is the only online casino I've accepted advertising from for over 15 years.  They use industry-standard software, it's absolutely fair, and players get their payouts, consistently.  I have a choice in whom I advertise, so I purposefully picked a casino with a good reputation where I'm confident my readers will have a good experience.

To be clear, Bovada's not perfect.  Once they got duped by a bad vendor (Betsoft) who provided progressive slots whose jackpots weren't winnable.  When I discovered this I alerted Bovada, and they pulled all the Betsoft games from the site, but I thought they were slow to do so and didn't offer proper restitution to affected players. (more on this)  Still, even with this incident, their overall history is better than most; as just one example, there are many other casinos still offering Betsoft's questionable games.

Another good thing about Bovada is that they allow me to mediate if one of my readers clicks over to them, plays the games, and has a problem they can't get Bovada to resolve.  My time is valuable and I wouldn't offer that service if I had to do it very often.  I think I've gotten maybe one or two inquiries from affected players in the 15+ years I've been advertising Bovada.

Bottom line: I'm confident that Bovada is fair and reasonably safe.  You might have a good experience with another casino...and you might not.  I trust Bovada, and that's why I picked them.

Visit Bovada


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.

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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.

Penalties for online gambling, state by state

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.

Last update: September 2020

This article covers only the penalties in states where online gambling is illegal.  For the states where only gambling is legal, as well as general issues, see my article, Is online gambling legal in the U.S.?


State penalties for online gambling

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).

The only states where simple gambling is a possible felony on first offense are Iowa, Montana, and Washington, though again, as far as I can tell, nobody's gone to jail for gambling online.

Even in most of the few states where online gambling is legal, it's still against the law to play at an unlicensed online operator, and that's why I list penalties in the table below for those states.

Penalties for unapproved online gambling by state, 1st offense, for ≤$25 per hand or spin1
State Level of Offense MAXIMUM Penalty2 Jail possible? 17 Jail ever happened
for online gambling?
Sources
Alaska Violation $500 1st offense
$1000 2nd+ offenses
No n/a 11.66.200, 12.55.030
Arizona Misdemeanor (Class 1) 6 months
No18 13-3301, 13-3304, 13307
Arkansas not specified $25 (!) No n/a 5-66-113
California Misdemeanor $1000 and/or 1 year No5 330
Colorado Petty Offense (Class 1) $500 and/or 6 mos. No5 18-10-103, 18-1.3-503
Connecticut Misdemeanor (Class B) $1000 and/or 6 mos.
No5 53-278b, 53a-36, 53a-42
Delaware (not illegal) - - - Legal US Poker Sites
Florida Misdemeanor (2nd degree) $500 and/or 60 days No5 849.08, 775.082, 775-083
Georgia Misdemeanor $1000 and/or 1 year No5 16-12-21, 17-10-3
Hawaii Misdemeanor $2000 and/or 1 year No5 712-1223, 706-640, 706-663,
Idaho Misdemeanor $500 and/or 6 mos. No5 18-3802, 18-303
Illinois Misdemeanor (Class A) $2500 and/or <1 yr. No5 720 5/28-1, 730 5/5-4.5-55
Indiana
Misdemeanor (Class B)
$1000 and/or 180 days
No5 35-45-5-2, 33-50-3-3
Iowa Felony (Class C)3 $10,000 and 10 yrs.! Search in progress...
725.7, 902.9
Kansas Misdemeanor (Class B) $1000 and/or 6 mos. No5 21-6404, 21-6602, 21-6611
Louisiana not specified $500 and/or 6 mos. No5 14.90.3 D, 14.90
Maine Class D crime6 winnings and ($2000 and/or <1 yr.) No5 17-A:39:954, 17-A39:954-11, 17-A:63
Maryland Civil Violation $1000 No No5 12-103 • Decriminalized in 2019 (Westlaw, MD Reporter)
Massachusetts not specified Double the winnings and ($50 or 3 months) No5 273-1, 273-2
Michigan Misdemeanor $1000 OR 1 yr. No5 750.314
Minnesota Misdemeanor $1000 and/or 90 days
No5 609.755, 609.03
Mississippi not specified $500+winnings7 7 No5 97-33-1
Missouri Misdemeanor (Class C)8 $750 and/or 15 days
No5 572-020, 572-010, 558.011, 558.002
Montana Misdemeanor if ≤$750 bet/won on 1st offense; felony if >$750 $500 & no jail for 1st offense & ≤$750 bet/won
$50,000 and/or 10 yrs if bet/won >$750 9
Search in progress... 23-5-151, 23-5-156, 23-5-112, 23-5-161, 23-5-162
Nebraska Misdemeanor (Class II)10 $1000 and/or 6 mos.
No5 28-1103, 28-106
New Hampshire Misdemeanor (Class B)11 $1200
No
n/a
647:2-I-(b), 651:2-IV-A
New Mexico Misdemeanor (Petty) $500 and/or 6 mos.
n/a
30-19-2, 31-19-1
North Carolina Misdemeanor (Class 2) $1000 and/or 60 days
No5,12 14-292, 15A-1340.23
North Dakota Infraction13 $1000
No
n/a
12.1-28-02, 12.1-32.01
Oklahoma Misdemeanor $100 and/or 30 days
No5 21-942
Oregon Misdemeanor (Class A) $6250 or 2x the winnings, and/or 365 days
No5 167.122, 167.117(24), 161.635, 161.615
South Dakota Misdemeanor (Class 2)14 30 days and/or $500
No5 22-25-1, 22-6-2
Tennessee Misdemeanor (Class C) 30 days and/or $50
No5 39-17-502, 40-35-111
Texas Misdemeanor (Class C) $500
No
n/a
Penal 47.02, 12.23
Utah Misdemeanor (Class B)15 6 mos. and/or $1000
No5 76-10-1102, 76-3-204, 76-3-301
Vermont not specified $200 and/or 60 days16 No5 13-051-2133, 13-051-2141
Virginia Misdemeanor
(Class 3)4
$500 No n/a 18-2-325, 18-2-326, 18-2-11
Washington Felony (Class C) $10,000 and/or 5 yrs.
Search in progress...
9.46.240, 9A.20.021
West Virginia Misdemeanor $300
No n/a
61-10-5
Wisconsin Misdemeanor (Class B) $1000 and/or 90 days
No5 945.02, 939.51
Wyoming Misdemeanor $750 and/or 6 months
No5 6-7-102

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

1.  Some states allow gambling at tribal casinos, other brick-and-mortar casinos, in a state lottery, etc.  The table above is for gambling at an unapproved site, which would include all online casinos.  Also, in every case except Montana, the prohibition is against gambling in general, not specifically on the Internet.
2.  Penalties listed are the maximum possible.  First offenders for most crimes rarely get the maximum penalty.
3.  "Sum of Money Involved" (SOMI) ≤$100 = Serious Misdemeanor for 1st offense, Aggravated Misdemeanor for 2nd offense, Class D Felony for 3rd offense, Class 3 Felony for 4th+ offense.  SOMI >$100 ≤$500 = Aggravated Misdemeanor for 1st offense, Class D Felony for 2nd offense, Class C Felony for 3rd+ offense.  SOMI >$500 ≤$5000 = Class D Felony for 1st offense, Class C for 2nd+ offense.  SOMI >$5000 = Class C Felony.
4.  Betting at an unlicensed venue on a horse race that takes place within Virginia is a Class 1 Misdemeanor.
5.  At least not that I can find.
6.  An aggressive reading of 17-A:39:953 could make a player guilty of Aggravated Gambling, a Class B crime, with a maximum penalty of $20,000 and/or 10 years.
7.  Up to 90 days if fine is not paid immediately, and 20 days if violator is a certain public officer and used public money. (97-33-3)
8. Class A ($2000 and/or 1 year) if player is a pro, Class B ($1000 and/or 6 mos.) if done with someone <17 years old.
9. Montana's gambling laws are the least straightforward of all the states.  23-5-151 says gambling is prohibited in general but doesn't specify whether that makes it illegal for players only, or operators only, or both.  It also fails to specify a penalty.  Assuming it applies to players, 23-5-156 says that betting or winning money through an "illegal gambling device" is a misdemeanor if the amount won ≤$750, and a felony if >$750.  23-5-112 defines gambling device to include electronic devices, so that would seem to apply to online gambling with a computer.  As for whether the device is an *illegal* device, since gambling is prohibited in general in 23-5-151, we can figure that all gambling devices are illegal gambling devices.  23-5-161 and 23-5-162 prescribe the penalties.
10. Betting less than $500 a day is only a Class IV misdemeanor (28-1104), punishable by a fine of $250 or less.
11. NH code doesn't bother to mention whether the misdemeanor is Class A or Class B, but a NH law firm says that unspecified misdemeanors are Class B unless they involve violence.
12. A NC lawyer says, "Most offenders who are charged with a Class 2 Misdemeanor do not receive any jail time....", and the court training manual says that if their are no prior convictions, then "the sentence must be suspended." ("Imposing Sentences for Misdemeanors", Step 4)
13. Betting >$25 on any hand or round is a Class A Misdemeanor, with a penalty of $3000 and/or 1 year.  For ≤$25, for a third conviction within 1 year of the first, it's a Class B Misdemeanor, with a penalty of $1500 and/or 30 days.
14. Betting on animal races is a petty offense. (22-25-6) • The South Dakota statutes has a section on Internet Gambling (22-25A), but it applies to operators, not players.
15. Second and subsequent offenses are Class A Misdemeanor, punishable by $2500.
16. Jail is possible only if the offense occurs at a "gaming house", which is not defined, but I would presume that an online casino would be considered such.
17. In many jurisdictions, even when jail is not prescribed, jail is possible if you don't pay your fine.
18. In summer 2020, I asked the state government whether anyone had served jail time as a sentence for a violation of the relevant statute in the last ten years, and for states with this footnote number, the answer was no.  It's possible that someone was jailed before that, but extremely unlikely.

 

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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 fake-money 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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