Online gambling in the US has long existed in a sort of legal limbo thanks to unclear and contradictory gaming laws. Federal law makes it explicitly clear that it is illegal to operate an unlicensed online casino or poker site that accepts customers from the United States. What isn’t as clear is the legality of visiting such sites as a player.
However, two US states have legislation in place that allows licensed operators to host real money casino games for people located inside state lines. New Jersey and Delaware are home to a limited number of licensed casino sites that are completely legal. Additionally, the state of Nevada issues licenses to a limited number of online poker sites.
States with Legal Online Casinos
In September of 2011, the Department of Justice released a memo (PDF) that clarified its stance on the Wire Act in regards to online gambling. The memo explained that the Justice Department’s opinion is that if individual states choose to allow online gambling within their borders, it is NOT a violation of the Wire Act.
This memo gave states the go-ahead to set up their own legal frameworks for online gambling, lotteries and poker. Most states have been slow to respond, but three states have actually passed legislation to get the ball rolling.
New Jersey legalized online casinos in 2013 after Governor Chris Christie signed a bill into law allowing the state’s land-based casinos to operate real money gambling sites. These websites are open to anyone 21 or older inside New Jersey.
All New Jersey casinos operate in combination with experienced software providers, and this has proven to be a smart move. Compared to what we’ve seen in other states, New Jersey’s casino sites are polished, well-run and successful. Although gaming revenues fell short of expectations in their first year, revenue numbers have been steadily growing since. Last year, New Jersey online casinos brought in roughly $245 million in revenue.
Today, there are numerous licensed casino sites in New Jersey run by the major Atlantic City properties. Land-based casinos have the option to operate multiple betting sites, so some of these sites are actually managed by the same casino even if they run under different brand names. For instance, the Golden Nugget in Atlantic City manages GoldenNuggetCasino.com, Betfaircasino.com and PlaySugarHouse.com.
Additionally, each casino is free to partner with different software providers for each online gaming brand. That means two casino sites run by a single Atlantic City casino may actually provide players with a completely unique experience at each.
To continue our example, GoldenNuggetCasino.com is powered by NYX Gaming software while PlaySugarHouse.com is powered by Rush Street Interactive software even though both sites operate under a single online gaming license issued to Golden Nugget Atlantic City.
In all cases, these sites are legitimate, licensed and safe places for New Jersey residents to play.
Nevada was the first state to pass online gaming legislation and host a legal US-based online poker site. The legislation made real money internet poker a reality, but it did not legalize traditional gambling. To date, online gaming in Nevada is restricted to player vs. player poker.
In April of 2013, Ultimate Poker opened for business and began dealing real money poker hands to people within Nevada. WSOP.com came online four months later as the second-ever legal poker site in the US.
WSOP quickly took the lead in player traffic thanks to superior software and more effective payment processing. In fact, WSOP did so well that it helped push Ultimate Poker out of business. Ultimate Poker eventually closed shop in November of 2014.
A third poker site entered the market in early 2014 under the name RealGaming.com. This poker site operates under the online division of South Point Casino in Nevada and is fully licensed to offer real money games to Nevadans. Real Gaming has so far earned mixed reviews due to iffy software accessible only via browsers (there’s no download option).
At this point, WSOP.com is the clear best choice for serious poker players. WSOP has the best software, best bonuses, most players and most experience among the two options in Nevada. That’s the site I would recommend first.
Delaware passed the “Delaware Gaming Competitiveness Act of 2012” (full text) to legalize both online casinos and poker sites. The law allows the state’s three existing land-based operators to host real money games. All gaming sites located in Delaware answer to the state’s lottery commission.
Three real money poker and casino sites are now operational in Delaware:
A small gambling population and technical issues have so far proved challenging for Delaware’s fledgling internet gaming industry, but lawmakers say they remain hopeful nonetheless. Operators and state officials have said they don’t expect the industry to become a gold mine overnight. Instead, they are more concerned with being ready for the future of online gaming and prefer to have something in place now rather than wait for other states to get a head start.
Pennsylvania passed comprehensive gambling legislation in 2017 opening the door for online sports betting, casino gaming, poker and lottery. Governor Wolf signed the bill into law on October 30th of 2017 to make Pennsylvania the fourth state to legalize online gaming behind Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware.
Currently, Pennsylvania casinos are still coming to terms with the new law and the state has begun accepting online gaming license applications from land-based casinos. Uncertainty in how the final regulations will look has dissuaded casinos from submitting applications, but that is likely to change in coming months.
The 2017 gaming legislation also gave the Pennsylvania Lottery authorization to begin offering a variety of lottery-style games online to state residents. PA iLottery launched for business in June of 2018 with a collection of instant win games.
In a sign of good things to come, the Pennsylvania online lottery managed to attract 45,000 new customers and generate $21.6 million worth of sales in its first month of operation despite launching with just a handful of instant win games. As the PA iLottery matures and adds additional games, the sky is the limit as far as revenues go.
Legal Status of Gambling Games in the United States
Gambling law is complicated and poorly written, so there is some debate about where it all stands. I’m going to try to explain this in the most straightforward manner possible, but please understand that much of it comes down to how various law enforcement agencies interpret existing law. Interpretations can change with little or no warning.
Also, note that I am not a lawyer. The following information is based on what I know from my own experience and my own research, but it shouldn’t be considered legal advice or anything of the sort. And last but not least, everything below applies specifically to online gambling.
There are no federal laws on the books that criminalize the act of gambling, playing poker or betting on sports online. No person has ever been prosecuted by the US government for the mere act of placing a bet. However, some individual states have criminalized the act of placing bets online.
But even in states where it is criminal to place bets of any sort online, the law is rarely enforced. According to VegasClick.com, only two people have ever gotten in trouble for breaking state laws regarding gambling. One of them was a big time sports bettor who had to pay a $500 fine and the other was a police officer who was charged under a general Oklahoma law that bans ALL gambling.
For normal, everyday players like you and me, there is little legal risk in placing bets online. Things can always change of course, but it’s not a risk that many people worry about.
But remember, we still don’t think it’s a good idea to wager online. Not only is the law unclear and subject to change, but gambling site operators definitely break the law to take your bets. Those operators are almost always located offshore and in jurisdictions far away from the United States.
That causes problems for you, the gambler, when things go wrong. For example, if a gambling site suddenly closes shop and keeps your money, you are pretty much out of luck. There’s not much you can do recover your money from a rogue gambling operator located in a foreign country.
Non-payments and slow-payments are all too common in the illicit online gambling industry. That plus the murky legal situation leads us here at BettingUSA.com to recommend all players avoid these sites for now. We feel that the possible rewards do not justify the many risks.
The good news is that some states are starting to reconsider their position on online gambling. Various bills have been introduced to state legislatures, with some of those bills actually making it through the entire process.
Popular Casino Games
Chance and casino games, also known as gambling games, are largely defined as games in which the outcome is determined primarily by chance (or luck). There may be elements of skill in these games, but luck is the overriding factor in determining who wins and who loses.
Despite our inability to win consistently at gambling games, we are drawn to them nonetheless. There’s a certain allure to testing your luck at the roulette table and hoping to walk away with a big win. The odds are set so that it’s quite possible to have a big night at the casino. Anything can happen in a night of gambling.
Some gambling games are clearly based on luck. For example, craps and roulette are bound by specific payout rules and there is nothing you can do to change the outcome. Games like blackjack allow the player to make decisions that have an impact on the game, but blackjack is still regarded as a gambling game because luck plays a large role in the outcome.
The following games are considered by most to be games of chance:
Baccarat is steeped in pomp and tradition, but it is a simple game at heart. When you play baccarat, you have the choice to bet on the banker, the dealer or a tie. After you place your bet, the dealer deals cards to the “dealer” and “banker” and then tallies those card totals up according to the rules of baccarat.
Point totals are a little confusing to calculate, but that’s not something the player has to worry about. You do not actually compete against the dealer or banker; you simply bet on which of those positions will win (or tie).
Blackjack is a casino classic. The goal in blackjack is to get a total as close to 21 as possible without going over. If you manage to get closer to 21 than the dealer, you win your bet. If you hit a perfect 21 (using an Ace and a face card), you get a 3:2 payout on your original bet.
Blackjack does require some skill because the decisions you make do have an impact. It is up to you to decide if you should take another card or sit tight with what you already have. But even with perfect play, the casino has a small edge over the long run.
Caribbean Stud is the casino version of 5 Card Draw poker. The main difference here is that you play against the house and not against other players. A typical game of Caribbean Stud is played by giving the dealer and each player 5 cards. The dealer reveals one card and then you decide if you wish to place an additional bet to stay in or fold.
You win in Caribbean Stud if your final 5-card hand is stronger than the dealer’s 5-card hand. The exact payout varies based on the strength of your hand. If you end up with a straight, for example, you’ll get a payout of 4:1 on your original bet.
Casino War is one of the simplest games in all of gambling. In this game, the dealer gives you one card and he takes one card for himself. If your card is higher than the dealer’s card, you win. If the dealer’s card is higher, you lose. If it’s a tie, you must choose to either surrender and give up your bet or place another bet and double the stakes.
The house advantage in Casino War comes from how ties are resolved. You are required to put up a second bet if you choose to go to war, but you only get paid 1:1 on your original bet if you win the war.
Craps is the big attention-grabber at the casino, usually marked by a crowd of people shouting bets at the dealer and cheering each other on. In craps, the players take turns throwing dice down the table. Everyone at the table places wagers on how those dice will land.
The most basic bet in craps is the pass line bet. If you place this bet, you are hoping that the first roll (the come out roll) ends up on 7 or 11. If that happens, you win right then and there. If the come out roll lands on 2, 3 or 12, you lose. If the dice land on any other number, that number establishes the point.
Once the point is established, the shooter continues throwing the dice. Your bet will win if the shooter rolls the point number again before a 7 shows up. If a 7 shows up before the point shows up again, you lose the bet. It sounds a little complicated at first but if you play through it a few times, you’ll get the hang of it.
Keno consists of a board with the numbers 1 through 80. You then pick any of those numbers as your own. In most games, you can make anywhere from 1 to 15 selections. After you make your selections, the computer picks 20 numbers at random. You win money if your selections are picked by the computer.
What makes Keno attractive is that you can achieve very high payouts if all of your selections are chosen. In some cases, payouts go as high as 10,000:1 on your original bet. The odds of all your numbers being picked are very low, but there are also payouts when just a few of your selections are hit.
Let It Ride
You begin each round of this poker-style game by placing three bets on the table in front of you. The dealer will then give you three cards face-up, followed by two cards face-down in the middle of the table. At this point, you can decide if you wish to keep going (also known as “letting it ride”) or take back one of your bets.
Next, the dealer reveals one of the face-down cards. Again, you can choose to either let it ride or take back one of your bets. If you decide to let it ride, the dealer will reveal the final face-down card. Your three cards plus the two cards in the middle of the table are combined to make a traditional five-card poker hand. If your hand is strong enough, you get a payout.
Pai Gow Poker
In Pai Gow Poker, you receive 7 cards and must arrange those cards into two different poker hands. One of those poker hands must consist of 5 cards and the other hand must consist of 2 cards. The dealer is also given 7 cards that are broken up into two different hands.
The goal in Pai Gow Poker is to beat both of the dealer’s hands with both of your own. You win money if both of your hands are stronger than both of the dealers’ hands. If you only beat one of the dealer’s hands, the round is considered a draw. If both of your hands are beaten by the dealer, you lose. Ties are quite common in this game and your money can last for quite a long time.
Poker is different than every other game on this page for one reason: poker is played against other players and not against the house. For that reason, most poker players do not consider poker a game of chance. However, the law in most jurisdictions considers poker a gambling game and that is the reason why skill gaming sites cannot legally offer real money poker.
In any case, poker is played around the world in many different formats. Texas Holdem, 5 card draw, Omaha and 7 Card Stud are just a few of the most popular variants. If you really want to win money at a casino, poker is your best bet. But beware; there are some very skilled players out there.
Roulette is another classic gambling game. This is the game in which a ball is dropped into a large spinning wheel. You place your bets, the ball is dropped in and everyone watches as the ball slowly comes to a rest in one of the 37 marked slots on the wheel.
Your objective in roulette is to correctly predict where the ball will land. You can place wagers on specific slots or entire ranges of slots. For example, you may choose to bet on the ball landing in the slot marked “20” or you can bet on the ball landing in the numbers 1-12. You can also place multiple bets to increase your chances of hitting a winning payout.
Slot machines are a staple in all casinos. Slots come in all different variations, but the general idea is to spin the reels and hope for a favorable outcome. There is no strategy involved in slots; all you do is put your money in and give the reels a spin.
Payouts are awarded when the symbols on the spinning reels come to rest in specific patterns. Some patterns are fairly common and result in small payouts. Other patterns are extremely rare and result in massive jackpots. This game based entirely on luck.
Three Card Poker
A round of Three Card Poker begins with you placing an ante wager. You and the dealer each receive three cards. After you look at your cards, you can decide if you wish to continue or forfeit. If you want to continue, you’ll need to place a second bet equal in size to your first ante wager.
Then, all the cards are revealed. If your hand beats the dealer’s hand, you receive a payout. You also get special payouts if your final three card hand consists of a straight, 3-of-a-kind or a flush.
Video Poker machines look like slot machine from a distance, but video poker is quite a bit different. In most video poker variants, you are dealt five cards. You can then “hold” any of those cards that you wish to keep. Then, hit the “deal” button to get rid of the cards that you didn’t choose to hold. You will be dealt new cards in place of the ones that you discarded.
The objective in video poker is to get the strongest 5-card poker hand possible. So if you start a round of video poker with 2 Aces and 3 other random cards, you’ll probably want to hold onto the Aces and discard the other 3 cards. Hopefully, you’ll get another Ace or even another pair to improve your hand.