The legal status of gambling has long been a point of contention in the United States. When each state has its own legislation and some differentiate between casino games and sports betting while others don’t, it all gets confusing very fast. That’s why we’ve written this short explainer on which states you can play online casino games in.
If you’re looking at the legal status of casino games, you’re probably wanting to play one yourself. If that’s the case, you can find online casino games that are facilitated on websites hosted in areas where the practice is legal.
Before we get into the states, here’s a short primer that details the three most impactful laws relating to gambling in the US.
The Wire Act
Also called the Interstate Wire Act or the Federal Wire Act, this was a 1961 law that prohibited certain betting types in the USA. Back then, there was a problem with organized crime and their connections to betting establishments, so the Wire Act sought to weaken them. They did this by prohibiting the use of “wire communication” to place wagers across state lines.
The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, or PASPA, was a law that was brought in in 1992. Sometimes you’ll see it called the Bradley Act, too. It prohibited sports wagering in all states except Nevada. There were other exceptions but Nevada was the least affected and monopolized the gambling economy. PASPA was struck down in 2018 as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 targets unregulated betting sites that cater to American customers, especially if they’re offshore like in the Caribbean. While online gambling isn’t criminalized, financial institutions are prohibited from processing transactions for sites that aren’t properly licensed.
Delaware was the first state to legalize online gambling in 2012, which isn’t a surprise. Their gambling market opened in November of 2013 and contributes a significant amount to the small state through taxation. They were also the first to legalize sports betting when PASPA was struck down.
As for their casino games, there are three main venues where both races and casinos (or racinos) are found. These are Delaware Park, the Dover Downs, and the Harrington Raceway. Each has a site where you can find poker, blackjack, slots, and roulette. All Delaware gambling is regulated by the Delaware Lottery.
In Michigan, online gambling was legalized in December of 2019 by their Governor. The state’s first retail sportsbook launched in March of 2020 but it took until January of 2021 for online components to get set up. This includes online casino games. There are twelve tribal casinos and three commercial ones dotted around the state, all of which need to apply for licensing to conduct business in the state. Eight of them have online presences that you can use.
As it stands right now, New Jersey is the largest regulated online gambling market in the USA. It has over a dozen licensed online casino sites and poker rooms, more than any of the other states here, and pulls in approximately $220 million year-over-year. What else would you expect from the state that gave us Atlantic City?
With a permit for Internet gaming, casinos in the state can host several casino sites full of games. While states like Michigan limit the number of online casinos a retail casino can establish, New Jersey has no such limit, which is why the state now has more casinos than any other.
The big casinos in Pennsylvania have been allowed to host online casinos since July of 2019, like the Pittsburgh’s River Casino launching Hollywood Casino Online the moment that it became legal. Online poker took a short while longer to arrive, being offered in November of 2019. When PokerStars set up in Pennsylvania, they had more sign-ups in one night than they’d ever had in New Jersey.
After the fall of PASPA, sports betting and fantasy sports venues like Fanduel and DraftKings became prominent in the state, laying the groundwork for the expansion into online casino games.
While online sports betting was ushered in in 2018 after the withdrawal of PASPA, it took until July of 2020 for online casinos to establish themselves. Even then, poker-specific sites are still scarce. Online casinos became legal under the West Virginia Lottery Interactive Wagering Act, allowing the state’s five retail casinos to participate online through apps. West Virginia is virtually guaranteed to maintain a gambling-friendly outlook going forward. Their Governor is the owner of one of the five retail casinos in the state. All gambling in the state is managed by the West Virginian Lottery. Legalizing online casinos was expedited to save the state’s casinos during the economic problems during the 2020’s pandemic.