While the legal framework is very complicated, gambling online in America is simpler than it looks.
The US has a very complex set of gambling laws, with the federal government as well as each individual state having its own legal code. What is clear about American gambling laws is that each state is free to create its own internal land-based and online casino markets. If you are over the age of 21 and living in New Jersey or Delaware you are free to gamble online. For the rest of you, there is a decent chance that you already do (critics of prohibition estimate that Americans wager billions of dollars with unlicensed providers each year). For the newbies out there, here is brief guide to gambling online safely.
The advantages of online casino gambling
One great advantage of online casinos is that they tend to offer a wider range of games than the average brick-and-mortar casino. They all offer the standard Vegas-style games: blackjack, roulette, baccarat, craps, and slots. Often an infinite amount of slot games. Some specialize specifically in slot or bingo games. In addition, sites like Zynga Plus Casino and Big Fish Casino are innovating non-traditional gambling games (unfortunately, neither site currently serves US players).
Aside from the convenience and diverse range of available games, online casino games usually have lower house edges than those found in land-based casinos. Players are given better chances of winning and/or higher payouts because the providers compete more fiercely for their business. In addition, because a given site serves more players in a day they don’t need to make as much revenue off each individual gambler.
Where can you gamble online?
In 2011 the Department of Justice reversed an earlier interpretation of the Wire Act (which the government had used to ban online casinos) and announced that it wouldn’t block states from issuing licenses. Cutting through the legal jargon, this means that residents of New Jersey and Delaware can use their state’s licensed online casinos completely legally. What’s more, Nevada legalized the first online poker sites in America.
• New Jersey and Delaware are currently the only US states with licensed online casino sites
• While the federal government claims it is illegal for Americans to gamble with foreign-licensed online casinos, there are no penalties for players
• While federal law prohibits banks from processing transactions with foreign gambling sites, players can easily deposit money using an e-wallet account
But what about the rest of us? Where can we gamble? The sites licensed in the abovementioned states cannot legally serve residents from anywhere else. There are countless reputable online casinos in Canada, Britain, Malta, Gibraltar and Antigua which serve international customers. But is it legal to access them?
These sites lie in a legal gray area. According to the Wire Act, it isn’t expressly legal to use them, but the government does not penalize users. According to Calvin Ayre, federal legislation “still offers no penalties to private citizens who deposit and bet online. However, the government has issued statements that online gambling is illegal.” However, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Act (UIGA) of 2007 made it illegal for banks and credit card companies to process transactions between Americans and foreign online casinos. So in short, it’s okay to gamble online, but depositing money can be somewhat tricky.
Your bank may not allow you to deposit directly into a casino. To get around this, most internet gamblers set up e-wallets with services like Paypal and Skrill. Most e-wallet providers are located outside of the US so are not subject to the UIGA. Do your homework to ensure that you choose a safe and reliable wallet, but in general they provide a convenient way to place wagers.
How to gamble safely
Given that the US has few licensed online gambling sites, it’s important to know where to put your money. The federal authorities have done a pretty thorough job of seizing the domain names of unlicensed sites, but there are still some sketchy ones floating around. Make sure that you only deposit money with a reputable site which is licensed in a jurisdiction with an up-to-date regulatory system.
Big-name sites are always a good bet. You know they can be trusted and they offer good bonuses. Many of the biggest international sites like Bodog, William Hill and Bet36 choose not to accept US players. But you need not despair, we have a comprehensive list of online casinos in the US. Some foreign-licensed examples include Grand Parker and Casino Win Palace out of Curacao and InterCasino based in Malta. While the federal authorities have been known to seize the domain names of foreign sites illegally serving US players, players have not been penalized.
American online gambling laws are as opaque as they come, but most legislation applies only to providers, not players. If you aren’t a resident of New Jersey or Delaware but you still want to gamble online, you can do so without facing penalties. However, you will need to find a casino which accepts US players, and you will need to set up an e-wallet to deposit money. All of these things are easily doable, it just means you will have to do a bit of homework.