Legal Gambling & Poker Laws in the United States

An Overview of Gambling Laws in Various US States

Though the United States federal government has its own set of laws governing the legality of gambling and plenty of restrictions therein (more on all of that below), most states have their own legislation that addresses everything from age limits to whether you have friends over for a friendly game of poker on a Friday night. Most states have gambling codes that reflect the values of the population: states in the Bible Belt trend towards the most conservative end of things while Nevada and New Jersey are consistently pushing the boundaries of progress.

Each individual state page, linked below, delves into the details of state statutes that define relevant gambling terms and shape how residents can risk their hard-earned wages. Some laws seem more reasonable than others and the loopholes are numerous (and in some cases quirky almost beyond belief). We also take a look at the still hazy laws outlining internet gambling. With technology still on the rise, regulations often lag behind and online poker players are caught between federal decrees and hazy laws in their home states. The answer? Often its offshore virtual casinos but that’s another story.

One thing is for sure – gambling law in the United States is an ever-evolving thing and it pays (sometimes literally) to stay on top of each and every change.


Gambling Rules State by State: A Brief Introduction

Alabama: Welcome to the confusing gambling laws of the Bible Belt! As a conservative state, Alabama takes a fairly negative stance towards gambling, but they defy their own disapproval by allowing pari-mutuel betting and e-bingo. Combine that with tribal casinos (though game offerings there are depressingly limited) and you may have more options for betting in Alabama than you thought.

Alaska: You can’t do much in the way of traditional gambling in Alaska but if you get the itch to place a bet in The Last Frontier state there’s always charity betting on dog mushing or pull-tab games. That counts, right?

Arizona: Arizona is home to 22 federally recognized tribes, and that has made the state a jackpot for anyone interested in visiting a tribal casino. From bar poker to blackjack, gambling is alive and well in this hot, southwestern state, and that includes both pari-mutuel betting and the lottery.

Arkansas: If you love Atlantic City and Las Vegas, you would’ve gotten a kick out of Hot Springs, Arkansas, when the city was in its gambling heyday. Unfortunately, today’s gambling opportunities in the state are limited to a couple casinos, some bingo halls, and a few other interesting exceptions.

California: When western expansion and fortune hunting sent thousands racing to California in the 1840s, gambling become almost a way of life. Not much has changed, although these days games mostly take place in tribal casinos and thriving poker rooms, with online sites potentially on the horizon.

Colorado: Colorado’s Brown Saloon might be the first legal casino to have opened in the U.S., but it took Colorado a century and a half to open another. Luckily, that second spot was just the beginning and gamblers in the Centennial State now have their pick of everything from roulette to charitable raffles.

Connecticut: Connecticut might not seem like a gambler’s paradise but tribal casinos in the Constitution State are every bit as big and thriving as the ones in Sin City. Outside the casinos, though, it’s another story – and that story may or may not include wagering on duck racing…

Delaware: Delaware has several casino complexes, sports betting, and a state lottery, but its biggest claim to fame is that it was the first state to legalize online gambling.

Florida: Florida gives its residents plenty of spots to gamble at top-notch tribal casinos – the Hard Rock has several homes here – but bet outside the lines (as in outside those casinos) and you could set yourself up from some stiff penalties.

Georgia: If there was a contest for the state least likely to legalize gambling, Georgia just might win. These peach enthusiasts have all but banned commercial gambling and charity games, the lottery, and “just for fun” poker leagues are about as far as the fun goes.

Hawaii: Want to gamble in Hawaii? You’re better off heading to the islands for a lei and a luau because gambling is a major no-go here. Casinos are banned, as is almost everything else. The one exception? Social games, and you’ll have to check out the restrictions on those before anteing up.

Idaho: Gambling laws in Idaho were once done on a town-by-town basis, but these days the state has the final word and that word is often “no”. From the height of gambling back in the days of gold speculators to today’s infinitely more restrictive climate, we’ve got the history, the current legislation, and a look at the future.

Illinois: You don’t want to get caught operating an online gambling site in Illinois but you might get a pass for just playing – maybe. There are also gambling boats, race tracks, and lottery tickets on offer, and that’s not half bad.

Indiana: A friendly home poker game in Indiana could cost you, but fear not – step outside the confines of your house and you can legally bet everywhere from riverboat casinos to racinos. AS for online poker, that still seems like a dodgy prospect (you can blame those casinos).

Iowa: In Iowa, it’s a major case of “if you can’t pay the fine, don’t do the gambling crime”. Consequences for illegal gambling are no joke, but there are plenty of riverboat and land-based casinos that offer legal opportunities for poker and slot play so you can have fun instead of facing charges.

Kansas: Who remembers Dodge City? Those smoky saloons may be a distant memory but gambling in Kansas is alive and well. There are casinos in the state as well as pari-mutuel betting and the lottery, but expansion into online gaming seems dicey at best.

Kentucky: Kentucky is mostly known for two things – bourbon and the Kentucky Derby. It’s no surprise then that the state has a thriving pari-mutuel scene but beyond that, gambling isn’t quite the popular pastime you might have expected from such a boozy and fun-loving state.

Louisiana: Louisiana might be the land of bayous and crawfish, but put down the gumbo for a minute or two and you might hear the ding of slot machines through all that incredible jazz music. There are a couple casinos here and, if you like video poker, you’re going to love it here in Sportsman’s Paradise.

Maine: There are only two casinos in Maine and few other opportunities for gambling. On the positive side, the lobsters and blueberries are delicious and pari-mutuel betting and the lottery are still perfectly legal.

Maryland: One of the 13 original colonies, Maryland has a long and complex history with gambling. The state was once called “Little Vegas” thanks to a proliferation of slot machines in the 1950s, but these days new laws are pushing Maryland towards the forefront of legalized gambling.

Massachusetts: Casino gambling is a new development in Massachusetts as the state tries to be more competitive with its more lenient neighbors. Will this spell success for current pro-internet gambling initiatives? We wonder…

Michigan: Tribal casinos rule the roost in Michigan, and tourists from neighboring states know it. Head to the big mitten to enjoy everything from poker to pari-mutuel betting, and you might want to pack your passport – Canada’s Windsor Casino is just across the water!

Minnesota: There are plenty of tribal casinos in Minnesota but what really stands out is the scope of the state’s charitable gambling – we’re talking billion-dollar years, here, and that means a whole lot of pull-tab games and e-lottos.

Mississippi: Mississippi put riverboat gambling on the map, but these days things are significantly more land-based – and that includes an assumed ban on online poker, which progressives have repeatedly failed to legalize.

Missouri: Missouri’s riverboat casinos may be docked these days, but that doesn’t mean there’s been any dip in the fun. The state offers plenty of gambling options and those floating game boats are just the start.

Montana: From campfire poker to prohibition to a whopping 140+ legalized casinos, Montana has seen it all – and we’ve got the scoop on everything from then til now.

Nebraska: Omaha Poker may have been born in Nebraska, but that doesn’t mean the state is exactly in love with gambling. There are casinos – all tribal – and pari-mutuel betting, but beyond the options are rather sad – and that includes poker.

Nevada: Ever since the mob era in the mid-20th century, Nevada has been a hotbed for all types of adult entertainment, gambling included. Today, the scene is still incredibly energetic, with huge casino complexes offering everything from tables to slots to world-class music and magic acts, and the celebrity chefs are on the scene, too.

New Hampshire: You can “Live Free or Die” in New Hampshire but there’s not much you can do gambling-wise. This state severely restricts gaming opportunities of all shapes and sizes but pending legislation may just change things for the better.

New Jersey: Nevada might be the United States’ de facto gambling mecca, but New Jersey (and in particular Atlantic City) aren’t far behind. See how this state is pushing progress one internet gambler at a time.

New Mexico: New Mexico may have its share of commercial and tribal casinos, but when it comes to online poker the state takes a somewhat hands-off policy. From games of chance to the future of internet gambling, here’s a look at gaming in the Land of Enchantment.

New York: In New York, Black Friday isn’t just a crazy shopping day in November. The state has led the crackdown against internet gambling (including that famous Friday in 2011) but the proliferation of casinos and racetracks tells a different story.

North Carolina: Gambling in North Carolina centers around a single tribal casino. Beyond that, picking in the Tar Heel State are sadly slim – but not nonexistent.

North Dakota: North Dakota may be small, but thanks to tribal casinos the gambling scene is rather mighty. Head to the Roughrider State and try your luck – just watch yourself if you’re intending to roll the dice off tribal land.

Ohio: Legalized gambling is a fairly recent development in Ohio, but the new commercial casinos are a hit and even new laws may be in the offing.

Oklahoma: Tribal casinos? Oklahoma has them – more than 100, actually, and the state is reaping the benefits big time. Poker fans and bingo bunnies alike will hit their stride in this land of plenty.

Oregon: Oregon is a fairly easy-going state and in many ways gambling follows that trend. From social poker to sports betting, you can place your wagers and maybe even win them, too.

Pennsylvania: When it comes to gambling, Pennsylvania rakes in the dough, but most of that revenue is courtesy of some fairly recent legal changes. See what led to the betting boom and where the state might go from here.

Rhode Island: The residents of Rhode Island often head to neighboring states to gamble, and once you take a look at the restrictive laws those gamblers face back at home, the reason for rambling becomes pretty clear. Still, there is hope as well as some gaming fun thanks to Twin River Casino.

South Carolina: If you want to gamble in South Carolina, you’d better hope you have your sea legs. Casino cruises are the go-to option here and there’s little else to help you scratch your gambling itch.

South Dakota: Back in the day, Deadwood, South Dakota, was the home of some of the most renowned gambling saloons in the country. That gold-rush glory has been somewhat restored and tribal casinos are helping to pick up the slack, too.

Tennessee: Eager to gamble in Tennessee? You’d better be a bingo fan or feel like falling in love with the lotto because those are your biggest options for betting in the Volunteer State.

Texas: The current climate for gambling Texas is pretty restrictive, but new laws – and the fact that the state loses tons of revenue to its neighbors – may lead to progress soon than you think. In the meantime, it’s all about race betting and social poker.

Utah: In a word, gambling in Utah is dire. The state’s residents are mostly Mormon and that deeply religious conservatism has stifled gambling in all its forms.

Vermont: If you want to gamble in Vermont, you better put on your do-gooder hat. Charitable gambling is the one loophole here, so any bets you make will benefit a worthy cause – just not necessarily your own bank account.

Virginia: Like to play the ponies? Sports betting – in particular wagers on horse and dog racing – is alive and well in Virginia. It’s the other gambling opportunities that are less than stellar.

Washington: Washington loves gambling as long as it’s done in one of the state’s 100 or so brick-and-mortar casinos. Take your poker play online, though, and it’s a much different story.

West Virginia: In many ways, West Virginia is moderate when it comes to gambling. A handful of casinos, a lottery, and some other options make this a fairly friendly place for those who want to wager and win.

Wisconsin: America’s Dairyland owes its gambling scene to federal Indian gaming laws. Thanks to several compacts, tribal casinos are alive and well here as is racetrack betting – even though there are no racetracks…

Wyoming: Wyoming is so dedicated to its anti-gambling environment that it illegally denied tribes the right to host casinos on Indian land. The federal government intervened and now things in the Equality State are little more interesting.


Federal Gaming Laws & Statutes

Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA)

In 2006, the United States federal government introduced the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) as part of the SAFE Port Act, which mostly dealt with port security. Following a vote by Congress, then-President George W. Bush signed the act into law on October 13.

As the UIGEA states:

No person engaged in the business of betting or wagering may knowingly accept, in connection with the participation of another person in unlawful Internet gambling

  1. (1) credit, or the proceeds of credit, extended to or on behalf of such other person (including credit extended through the use of a credit card);
  2. (2) an electronic fund transfer, or funds transmitted by or through a money transmitting business, or the proceeds of an electronic fund transfer or money transmitting service, from or on behalf of such other person;
  3. (3) any check, draft, or similar instrument which is drawn by or on behalf of such other person and is drawn on or payable at or through any financial institution; or
  4. (4) the proceeds of any other form of financial transaction, as the Secretary and the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System may jointly prescribe by regulation, which involves a financial institution as a payor or financial intermediary on behalf of or for the benefit of such other person.”

Basically, that means gambling businesses can’t accept payments on a bet or wager over the internet – the very basis of online gambling. Though UIGEA does include some exceptions for skill-based games, tribal gaming, and fantasy sports, without the ability to easily conduct financial transactions with U.S. banks, gambling sites faced a much more difficult road to expansion and success. While proponents considered the act a victory, opposing factions believed – and still maintain – that all the UIGEA accomplished was forcing gambling underground and funneling profits into foreign coffers.

Federal Anti-Lottery Laws

Federal anti-lottery laws mean that lotteries in the United States are run on a state-by-state basis. Each state’s government gets to decide whether they’ll allow a lottery and, if so, how that lottery will be run, who can participate, which games will be offered, and how the resulting funds will be divvied up. In many cases, those lotteries are enacted as the result of a constitutional amendment (thereby overriding constitutional bans at the state level that date back centuries), which requires the majority of voters to be on board.

This whole situation is somewhat surprising given the history of lotteries in the United States. In colonial times, lotteries were widespread and incredibly popular as not only entertainment but also as a means to raise for funds for everything from war efforts to infrastructure and educational initiatives. King George’s War was partially supported thanks to lottery sales promoted by none other than Benjamin Franklin and colleges like Rutgers, Harvard, and Yale owe their existence to ticket sales as well.

As the colonies organized into a country and our network of states slowly emerged, there was a backlash against gambling and lotteries were the subject of protests and then bans. Today, U.S. code still prohibits the importing, transporting, or promotion of lottery tickets across state lines, including by mail or telephone. The rest is up to the states themselves.

Gambling Ship Act

Once upon a time, the coastline of the United States was home to a bevy of so-called casino ships that offered gamblers the opportunity to board, set sail, and wager their hard-earned money on everything from blackjack to poker. These floating casinos were largely (if not entirely) unregulated and often run as part of largely gambling operations overseen by organized crime groups.

Then came the Gambling Shop Act, which stated the following:

It shall be unlawful for any citizen or resident of the United States, or any other person who is on an American vessel or is otherwise under or within the jurisdiction of the United States, directly or indirectly—

  1. (1) to set up, operate, or own or hold any interest in any gambling ship or any gambling establishment on any gambling ship; or
  2. (2) in pursuance of the operation of any gambling establishment on any gambling ship, to conduct or deal any gambling game, or to conduct or operate any gambling device, or to induce, entice, solicit, or permit any person to bet or play at any such establishment,

if such gambling ship is on the high seas, or is an American vessel or otherwise under or within the jurisdiction of the United States, and is not within the jurisdiction of any State.

The penalties for violating the act included possible fines as well as up to two years in prison. Operating an illegal gambling ship could result in penalties of $200-$300 per passenger.

The act has since been amended several times, including a 1994 Congressional ruling that excluded vessels that offered gambling in international waters, beyond the territorial reach of the United States government. The few gambling ships in operation today sail courtesy of that loophole.

Wire Act of 1961

The Wire Act of 1961 – better known as the Interstate or Federal Wire Act – was signed into law by then-President John F. Kennedy on September 13, 1961. The act states that:

Whoever being engaged in the business of betting or wagering knowingly uses a wire communication facility for the transmission in interstate or foreign commerce of bets or wagers or information assisting in the placing of bets or wagers on any sporting event or contest, or for the transmission of a wire communication which entitles the recipient to receive money or credit as a result of bets or wagers, or for information assisting in the placing of bets or wagers, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.

The act was intended to combat interstate racketeering – so-called “kingpins” who lived in one state while operating extensive gambling operations in another – by “cutting the wire” that bookies relied on for the transmittal of gaming information. Later, anti-internet gambling factions attempted to use the Wire Act to put paid to online gaming, but the U.S. Department of Justice didn’t quite see things in the same light. Most importantly, in 2011 the DOJ released their formal legal opinion on the scope of the Wire Act, stating that “interstate transmissions of wire communications that do not relate to a ‘sporting event or contest’ fall outside the reach of the Wire Act.”(More on that in “Wire Act Violation: Internet v. Phone” below.)

Travel Act of 1961

Another of the government’s attempts to reign in racketeering, the Travel Act was signed into law as part of the same legislative package that contained the Wire Act. While the Wire Act dealt with telecommunications, the Travel Act made it illegal for anyone to engage in interstate travel or use an interstate facility while engaging in an illegal activity or unlawful business enterprise – including gambling.

The relevant excerpt reads as follows:

“(a) Whoever travels in interstate or foreign commerce or uses the mail or any facility in interstate or foreign commerce, with intent to –

  1. (1) distribute the proceeds of any unlawful activity; or
  2. (2) commit any crime of violence to further any unlawful activity; or
  3. (3) otherwise promote, manage, establish, carry on, or facilitate the promotion, management, establishment, or carrying on, of any unlawful activity, and thereafter performs or attempts to perform –
    1. (A) an act described in paragraph (1) or (3) shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both; or
    2. (B) an act described in paragraph (2) shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both, and if death results shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life.

(b) As used in this section

  1. (i) “unlawful activity” means
    • any business enterprise involving gambling, liquor on which the Federal excise tax has not been paid, narcotics or controlled substances (as defined in section 102(6) of the Controlled Substances Act), or prostitution offenses in violation of the laws of the State in which they are committed or the United States”

Over the last more than 50 years, the Travel Act has been used to bring a variety of criminal cases, many of which are connected to bribery and corruption charges.

Interstate Transportation of Wagering Paraphernalia Act of 1961

As the federal government cracked down on gambling in the 1960s by regulating telecommunications and travel, it only makes sense that they’d target more tangible products and equipment as well. Under the Interstate Transportation of Wagering Paraphernalia Act of 1961 (ITWPA):

Whoever, except a common carrier in the usual course of its business, knowingly carries or sends in interstate or foreign commerce any record, paraphernalia, ticket, certificate, bills, slip, token, paper, writing, or other device used, or to be used, or adapted, devised, or designed for use in (a) bookmaking; or (b) wagering pools with respect to a sporting event; or (c) in a numbers, policy, bolita, or similar game shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for not more than five years or both.

The act included exceptions for pari-mutuel betting equipment, materials, and tickets, as well as other legally permitted sporting events; betting materials into a state that has legalized that type of betting; transportation of a newspaper or other related publication; state lottery paraphernalia; and several other minor loopholes.

Again, the main intention of the act was to handcuff organized crime operations across the United States, so the language of the law was deliberately left rather vague and open to interpretation in hopes that law enforcement officials and judicial bodies could keep up with whatever new inventions and strategies crafty racketeers might come up with. Today, that somewhat ambiguous language could mean that someone transporting gambling software or even mailing a CD-ROM that contains code for a gambling site could be subject to prosecution under the ITWPA.

Illegal Gambling Business Act of 1970

Another in a long of legislative efforts to fight organized crime, the Illegal Business Act went after gambling as a way to cut off the mob’s funding sources. Unlike similar laws, this act focuses not on federal offenses but on helping individual states enforce their own gambling laws. To be prosecuted, individuals have to be operating a gambling business in violation of local/state law, employing or otherwise involving at least five other individuals, and be in operation more than thirty days or grossing more than $2,000 on any given day.

The penalties for a conviction under the Illegal Gambling Business Act include up to five years in prison and whichever fine is greater – either twice the gain or loss tied to the gambling offense or $250,000.

Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act of 1970

Anyone who is interested in the history of organized crime or just loves mob movies has probably heard of the RICO Act. The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act of 1970 zeroed in on the masterminds behind organized crime syndicates. Anyone who ordered others to engage in criminal acts were no longer free from prosecution simply because they didn’t engage in the act themselves.

The RICO Act has been used to prosecute everyone from the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club to the Gambino Crime Family and even some arms of the Catholic Church. To be charged, the target must have committed at least two acts of racketeering including one within the last ten years.

Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992

Sports betting in the United States is both defined and regulated under the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (aka the Bradley Act). PASPA made the following actions illegal:

  1. (1) a government entity [187] to sponsor, operate, advertise, promote, license, or authorize by law or compact, or
  2. (2) a person to sponsor, operate, advertise, promote, pursuant to the law or compact of a government entity, a lottery, sweepstakes, or other betting, gambling, or wagering scheme based, directly or indirectly (through the use of geographical references or otherwise), on one or more competitive games in which amateur or professional athletes participate, or are intended to participate, or on one or more performances of such athletes in such games.

There are only four states that were given exemptions from the PASPA: Montana, Delaware, Oregon, and Nevada. Pari-mutuel race betting and jai alai events were similarly exempted. Congress also included a provision that would’ve allowed states with pre-existing licensed casino gambling to apply for a sports betting permit; New Jersey was the only state with grounds for such an application and it failed to file.

Interstate Wagering Amendment of 1994

This amendment readdressed previously passed laws regulating the sale and transportation of lottery tickets. Under the 1994 amendment, people who were not a resident of a state could not participate in that state’s lottery. While it seems that the law was intended to keep the average Joe from driving across state lines and snagging a ticket, legislators were actually far more concerned about businesses that were using retail-based computer terminals to bulk buy tickets and resell them to local consumers. By giving those consumers computer-generated receipts instead of actually lottery tickets, retailers were skirting around the provisions of older anti-lottery laws that banned the interstate transport of tangible lottery and/or gambling paraphernalia.

Amendment to Interstate Horseracing Act

The original Interstate Horseracing Act was passed way back in 1978, but the most important development related to the world of internet gambling happened in 2000 when the act was amended by Congress. Rather than further restricting pari-mutuel betting, the law went in another direction (much to the dismay of the U.S. Department of Justice) by expanding legalized interstate off-track wagering to include bets made by telephone or other electronic devices – namely smartphones and computers connected via the internet, or at least that’s how the amendment has come to be interpreted. (Note that both states involved – where the bet originates and the race on which the bet is placed – must have legalized pari-mutuel gambling for the act to apply.)

The amendment states that:

…’interstate off-track wager’ means a legal wager placed or accepted in one State with respect to the outcome of a horserace taking place in another State and includes pari-mutuel wagers, where lawful in each State involved, placed or transmitted by an individual in one State via telephone or other electronic media and accepted by an off-track betting system in the same or another State, as well as the combination of any pari-mutuel wagering pools

Though then-President Bill Clinton acknowledged the objections of the DOJ and some concerned legislators, he signed the bill anyway, giving rise to much of the simulcast racing and associated pari-mutuel betting that exists today.

Illegal Money Transmitting Business Act of 1992

Money laundering has been illegal for a long time, but technological advances gave unscrupulous individuals the ability to avoid traditional financial institutions (as in federally regulated banks) and use much harder-to-trace services to funnel and hide funds. The Illegal Money Transmitting Business Act of 1992 aimed to curb those activities by turning anyone who “knowingly conducts, controls, manages, supervises, directs, or owns all or part of an unlicensed money transmitting business” into a potential criminal subject to hefty fines and a possible 5-year prison sentence.

Wire Act Violation: Internet v. Phone

As we’ve already discussed, the Wire Act of 1961 prohibited the use of a “wire” to transmit gambling information. At the time, the term “wire” was interpreted as a telegraph or telephone, the main methods of prompt long-distance communication in the 1960s, but as technology evolved there was a question of whether the provisions of the Wire Act could extend to the near-borderless world of the internet. The debate reached a boiling point when several federal Wire Act cases resulted in the convictions of offshore gambling site operators. One such individual, Party Poker/Party Gaming exec Anurag Dikshit, ended up with a year of probation and a $300 million fine. Another operator, Jay Cohen, was convicted of a Wire Act violation and given both a fine and a 20-month prison term.

Here’s the kicker: the United States Department of Justice eventually reversed its stance on how the Wire Act should be interpreted. Though the DOJ originally maintained – and charged the above individuals on the basis of said interpretation – that the Wire Act applied to any telecommunicated wager placed by someone in the U.S., they later released a statement saying that the act actually doesn’t apply to online gaming, including poker. That clarification has since been supported by federal court decisions.


 

State Gambling Laws – Different Games and How They Are Treated

Not all games are treated equally when it comes to legality across the US. This section gives you an overview of the legal differences focused on the different gambling formats.

Legal Casino Games – While there are some nuances, for example some States outlaw Roulette, on the whole this is a question of either Tribal casinos, commercial ones – or both. Many States have helped their ailing horse-racing industry to prosper by allowing casino games at their tracks, becoming ‘racinos’. Creative ways to get around State bans on these games include cruise-ships which sail into international waters.

Legal Online Casinos and Poker – This is the latest wave of legislation, and does polarize the States. Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey now have their own State-regulated poker sites. Meanwhile places like Florida, Washington and Oregon have explicitly made internet casinos and poker games illegal. It is early days for regulated online gambling, and many places are watching to see whether the pioneers are successful before initiating their own legislation in this area.

Playing Live Poker Games Legally – Another polarized area, though with enough creative solutions to allow games in most States. Casinos with poker rooms (including tribal casinos) are the top tier here. Places such as California and Washington have separate poker card-rooms in addition to these. Many States have ‘bar league’ type games (with or without entry fees) including New Mexico and even restrictive Utah. In addition there are a lot of different laws covering home-games or ‘social poker’. These range from ‘no-go’ (South Carolina) through small-stakes and only with real social relationships involved, through to no restrictions as long as nobody is making a profit from hosting the games. In general, despite the protestations of players, poker is not treated as a skill game.

Sports Betting Legally in the United States – Nevada is the only State to offer a full range of sports betting action on pro sports as well as horse racing. They were ‘grandfathered’ out of the Federal ban in 1992 (along with Oregon, Delaware and Montana), however none of the other States currently allows this. New Jersey has been locked in a legal battle with the sports-leagues to allow betting from Atlantic City casinos in recent years.

Many States allow betting on horse races and greyhounds. This is done via pari-mutuel (pooled) betting systems and can be either on-track or remote (via ‘Simulcasts’ of live races). Some states have moved forward with betting terminals, either allowing betting on historic races, or simulcast events. There are some States who make horse race betting legal, though have no races to bet at – examples here include the District of Columbia and Wisconsin.

Legal Lottery Betting – Most places enjoy lottery betting, though the scope of what is included here is wide. This ranges from the drawing games (both including the multi-jurisdictional draws), though scratch-cards to VLTs – video lottery terminals. These machines have instant win type games and have been used to replace video poker machines in bars, or to offer entertainment at racetracks. You can now buy lottery tickets online in many States, including Massachusetts and Illinois.

Legal Charitable Gambing And Bingo – Charity gambling includes bingo games, raffles and sometimes ‘casino nights’ type promotions where people compete for (often donated) prizes. This is one of the most common carve-outs from general anti-gambling laws, even restrictive places like South Carolina and Texas have allowances for charity games. Interestingly, these charity bingo laws made it possible for Indian tribes to host high-stakes bingo halls on their land, which were the precursors to full casinos for many native groups.

Bingo is sometimes allowed outside of charity rules, with seniors groups of low stakes ‘beach bingo’ games the main types.


Restrictive Gambling States

Hawaii, Tennessee, Vermont and Utah are among the most restrictive States when it comes to enjoying gambling games. What strikes me with many of these is how creatively people manage to find gaming. Utah residents travel 2 hours west to the Nevada town of Westover in droves, and Vermont residents go south to Connecticut. It is often the ease with which gambling dollars cross borders which triggers governments to look into the legalization of their own casinos. A great example is the Ontario, Canada casino across the river from Detroit leading to the licensing of commercial casinos in Michigan.

Cruises to nowhere are also a popular solution, allowing people in Alaska, Georgia and (in the past) Texas to enjoy casino gaming. Even States which have licensed casinos often offer these cruises, for example Florida and Washington.


Liberal Gambling States

Many online poker players would immediately identify Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey as progressive in their gambling laws. There are actually many more States who are progressive in their approach to live gambling, though do not allow online games at all. These include Pennsylvania, which liberalized its laws recently, California – with a huge choice of tribal casinos and many other options and Louisiana, which has a long standing gambling tradition. There are many other places which enjoy a lot of tribal gambling, for example Oklahoma and Arizona.


Looking To the Future

More than 100 years after most States had blanket bans on gambling, the current direction is definitely towards the liberalization of these laws nowadays. The latest move towards regulating online poker and casino games goes alongside the gradual move towards commercial casino and expanded racetrack offerings. Though out history, it has been shown that banning gambling does not stop this activity – it simply pushes it underground. Regulations and controls, in addition to protecting problem gamblers, are a great way for States to enjoy the tax revenues that gambling brings, while offering their residents the freedom to enjoy this kind of entertainment.