Is Online Gambling Legal In The USA?
The American online gambling industry is, by any measurement, thriving. With so much attention turned toward the industry, lawmakers, gamblers, and simple observers have all been faced with one main question - is online gambling legal? This question is tough to answer due to the multi-faceted nature of the industry. With so many small hooks and details, it is incredibly difficult to come to any standard answer. Lawyers, law makers, the press and players all have their own opinions, but we are here not to make opinions - we are here to present the facts and give you real insight as to the actual legality of online gambling in the United States.
This page is dedicated to informing you about all of the facts and figures surrounding gambling legally online in the United States. The short answer is that there are legal ways to do so. The long answer is why, and what are the reasons and laws in place that make it such a complex issue. And it's not as if the laws and bans in place are permanent right now either. In fact, the fight on both sides of this issue, in which there are legitimate arguments for both, continues on even in Washington today. What rules are set now, could look quite different in a year or two. Or perhaps even sooner. Right now though, all we can give you is the most up-to-date information we have.
The legality of online gambling is a topic that is somewhat diverged due to the multi-faceted nature of the industry. With three major forms of gambling - online sports betting, poker and casinos - there are different laws governing each. Sports betting is the form of gambling that has received the most negative attention, and this stems from the age old battle against organized crime. Online poker has taken a similar degree of heat, though significantly less than sports betting, due to its widespread popularity. That leaves legal online casinos in something of a grey area, as no law has directly targeted casinos, nor will you ever hear about them specifically by the press.
In terms of federal law, there are two major points of contention. There is the Wire Act of 1961 and the more recent Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006, or the UIGEA. The courts have upheld the Wire Act in its relation to online gambling, and the UIGEA is a special case in terms of what has been made legal or illegal. Both laws have had some effect on the online gambling industry, though the extent of the damage is truly difficult to monitor.
The Wire Act may have been written prior to the true invention and commercialization of the Internet, but courts have deemed that it does apply to online sportsbooks as well due to the definition of a "wire communication facility." The text of the law says that these facilities are "any and all instrumentalities, personnel, and services (among other things, the receipt, forwarding, or delivery of communications) used or useful in the transmission of writings, signs, pictures, and sounds of all kinds by aid of wire, cable, or other like connection between the points of origin and reception of such transmission." Due to the nature of the law, the Internet has been said to follow the "aid of wire, cable or other like connection," excerpt of the text. This has effectively solidified the illegal status of operating sportsbooks that are based in the United States on the Internet.
The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act has caused some turmoil in the online gambling industry. The UIGEA was passed as part of the SAFE Port Act, a bill that had to do with securing the ports of the nation. The bill could not be stopped, so the UIGEA was passed into law. The biggest problem here in is that it did not actually illegalize online gambling. Rather it made processing payments related to online gambling illegal. This potential fall out of this bill caused many gambling companies to cease serving the United States market. Even some payment processors and e-wallets had ceased serving American gamblers. Using the UIGEA to bring money laundering charges against these gambling sites, the Department of Justice has brought several major gambling companies to their knees.
It has grown difficult to determine whether or not online gambling is legal due to these laws, but it is almost entirely safe to say that the player will not have to worry about being targeted by federal laws. These laws are in place to prevent a gambling business from operating, not to stop the player from gaming. Similar to the prohibition of alcohol, however, these businesses still operate and players are still able to participate in these games.
To further complicate the whole mess, the legal issue of online gambling has also come down to the individual states. The courts decided that each state could determine whether they would allow intrastate online gambling sites, effectively creating a structure for licensing to take place as it would a land based casino. More specifically, states would be allowed to establish online gambling sites that are fully licensed and regulated by the state's individual gaming control commission or board, and open these sites using geolocation services that would ensure that all players live within the borders of the state. This has not yet happened, but it is an option - an option that has not been taken advantage of.
On the state by state basis, there is some debate over whether or not existing state gambling laws spread out to cover online gambling. Since there are no gambling sites that are actually established and operating in the United States, it has become a very complicated question to answer. The states simply do not have the ability to govern a business that is established off shore, regardless of whether or not residents from said state are able to join. What the state can do, as in the case of Washington, Nevada and a few others, is impose criminal penalties against those who would join these sites.
In the end, it is a difficult question to answer. Is online gambling legal? On a federal level, online gambling is ostensibly legal for the player. Each state has the ability to criminalize online gambling, and a few already have - Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington and Wisconsin. On the other hand, Washington, D.C. has actually begun to launch their own gambling site, though some say that this will be short lived. In the end, it is entirely unlikely that you will ever be arrested for online gambling, but one thing is for certain - the industry is not regulated, and regulation is required for the games to be truly legal.