Is Online Sports Betting Legal In The United States
All across the world, people use online bookmakers to wager on sporting events. These sites offer an easy and efficient method to place bets from the comfort of your own home or, in most cases these days, from your mobile phone. However, this massive marketplace – estimated to be worth up to $450 billion in America alone – has been lingering in the dark for millions of eager US bettors. That’s because many Americans are in fear of using online betting services, as they do not know if doing so is actually legal. As such, they are concerned about getting into trouble with the law if they pursue the activity. Because of this common confusion, our goal is to answer the $64,000 Question: Is online sports betting legal in the United States?
Nationwide, there are many regulations in place that address sports betting and the ability to use online services to place your wagers. However, most of these are very difficult to understand unless you’ve studied law at Harvard. Even worse, the laws paint an unclear picture as to what exactly it is that they actually prohibit. Some laws discuss betting over the phone, others vaguely describe online companies, and still others target payment processing services.
For the layman, then, it’s no surprise that it’s so difficult to know whether or not betting on sports for Americans is legal. But it doesn’t have to be. For example, just consider the fact that no US citizen or resident has ever been cited, arrested, or charged with using online bookmakers to place sports bets. As seasoned, experienced bettors and industry analysts (but not lawyers, so when in doubt, always check with bar-certified local experts), we have taken a literal approach. In doing so, we can say with reasonable certainty that almost all US anti-gambling laws apply only to bookmakers, those who accept wagers for commercial gain, and certain domestic payment processors. That is, the dramatic majority of sports betting laws focus on the operators of unlicensed or illegal sportsbooks, while individual bettors are – for the most part – never even mentioned in state and federal mandates. That said, it definitely behooves you to understand these laws, even if they do not apply to you as a private sports betting enthusiast.
The Wire Act Of 1961 And Its Effect On Legal Sports Betting In The USA
The Wire Act of 1961 and its effect on legal sports betting in the US cannot be overstated, albeit the law only has a few remaining consequences in modern times. The Wire Act (aka the Interstate Wire Act, Federal Wire Act, or Interstate Anti-Crime Act) was meant to prohibit certain methods of placing sports bets – namely any method that allowed easy transmission of wagers across state lines. The Wire Act mainly addressed the use of telephones in offering and accepting sports bets. (The government has provided the rationale that this was to curb the operations of organized crime, but a more complete historical perspective indicates that the Wire Act was actually designed to protect state monopolies of the lottery industry, as mobsters were running far more lucrative and popular numbers games along with their sportsbook services.)
The operative portion of the Wire Act says simply that anyone "engaged in the business of betting or wagering” who “knowingly uses a wire communication facility for the transmission in interstate or foreign commerce of bets or wagers…on any sporting event or contest” will be guilty of a federal crime, facing large fines and up to two years behind bars.
It is perhaps difficult for people in modern times to understand what constitutes the use of a wire-placed wager. Back in 1961, there was no Internet, so it obviously was not meant to ban this specific method of betting sports online in the US. Of course, that’s trivial, as the government (and common sense) both designate Internet technology as “wire-based” or equivalently so. In the same way the Second Amendment applies to muskets and modern guns alike, the Wire Act applies to telephone and Internet connections alike.
However, note that the law makes no mention of individuals placing these wagers, only individuals “in the business” of accepting them. Ergo, the Wire Act is only concerned with domestic sportsbooks that accept wagers across state lines or from those living in foreign countries. (Note: Though the Wire Act was historically interpreted to apply exclusively to sports wagering transmissions, the US Department of Justice in 2018 “clarified” that it applies to all forms of online gambling. This so-called reinterpretation is extremely controversial and is currently being challenged in court by several states, namely New Hampshire.
The UIGEA And How It Affects Legal Sports Betting In The US
The UIGEA, or Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act of 2006, was covertly attached to the SAFE Port Act as an unrelated rider and meant to stop financial institutions in the USA from processing payments related to online gambling sites. The law does not state that it is illegal to bet on sports online in the United States. In fact, the UIGEA makes no claims about sports betting whatsoever. It is a simple banking regulation, and nothing more.
That said, the UIGEA did at first make it difficult to deposit into and get payouts from online betting sites and poker rooms (with the ultimate effects hitting the domestic online poker industry hardest on “Black Friday” in 2011), but more reliable payment options are now available. The use of pre-paid international credit cards and wire transfers that have no connection to American banks are often used to make getting money into and out of your sportsbook account much easier. Further, the advent of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin (and other altcoins like Ethereum, Litecoin, Stellar, Ripple, Cardano, Bitcoin CASH, DASH, etc.) has more or less completely obviated the UIGEA, rendering it virtually moot.
Overturned: PASPA - The Professional And Amateur Sports Protection Act
PASPA, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, was – by far – the law that had the largest and farthest-reaching effects on the legal sports wagering industry in America. Essentially, for the 25 years that PASPA was the law of the land, sports betting was not legal in the United States (except for in Nevada, Delaware, Oregon, and Montana, though these three latter states offered only the most limited possible versions of the pastime and were not able to offer Vegas-style single-game sports betting of the kind to which we are all now accustomed).
Briefly, PASPA was a failed attempt by New Jersey senator and former NBA player Bill Bradley to establish Atlantic City as Las Vegas’ East Coast counterpart. Because AC needed sprucing up and was in dire financial straits from the start, Bradley crafted PASPA with a key caveat: Any state that had 10 straight years of legalized casino gaming under its belt at the time of the law’s passage could legalize and open sports wagering venues within one year, thus exempting them from all of PASPA’s restrictions (as was the case with NV). The only non-Nevada state that met this criterion? You betcha: New Jersey!
Ironically, of course, internal political quibbling prevented NJ from offering single-game sports betting within that one-year window, and on January 1, 1994, NJ was barred from offering sports wagering outright, joining the rest of the US states. They fought this ruling practically ever since, and from 2012 to 2018, the state successfully got their case through the circuit courts and all the way to the Supreme Court. On May 14, 2018, PASPA was finally overturned by the SCOTUS in a 6-3 ruling (Murphy v. NCAA).
With PASPA now a thing of the past, all US states are currently free to establish their own sports wagering rules and regulations. But that doesn’t mean that sports betting is legal in the United States through and through. Yes, a few states have legalized the pastime and authorized such gaming to take place in certain venues or online via state-based vendors, but the vast majority of states have yet to pursue the initiative in any concrete way. Most industry insiders expect 35-45 states to have legal sports wagering installed within the next 3-5 years, albeit there is already a movement at the federal level to take back sole oversight of the industry. Hopefully, the states will not give such authority back to the same entity that foisted PASPA upon the nation, but political lessons are often tremendously difficult to learn the first time around. Only time will tell whether or not the US Congress gets involved again.
State Sports Betting Laws
State sports betting laws vary greatly. For example, some states limit potential sportsbook locations to just a handful of venues (Delaware, Rhode Island, West Virginia), while others have them practically everywhere (Nevada, Mississippi). Some states tax their sportsbooks’ revenues at low rates (Nevada, 6.75%), while others have much higher taxation rates, like Pennsylvania’s world-leading 36%. In some states, you only have to be 18 to bet on sports locally (Rhode Island), while in others, you have to be 21.
With states having the final say on all aspects of their own sports betting industries, their laws will never be totally identical or interchangeable with one another. As stated above, while the federal government hopes to establish a set of blanket one-size-fits-all standards, the state-by-state approach is far more appropriate, as it allows the industry to cater to the local populaces and dominant cultures in those areas.
So, Is Online Sports Betting Legal In The United States?
It is our reasoned and researched opinion that it is legal to use the most trusted, best sites to place bets on sports, and that you will not get in trouble for doing so. As stated above, no person has ever been charged with a crime relating to using an online service to bet on sports. The laws and regulations set in place are unclear at best for the most part. Even when laws do apply strictly to online sports betting, these are used to go after the operators of the sites themselves and not the individual members of said sites.
Online sports betting is legal in the United States, and it is fully regulated in a few states so far (i.e. Nevada, New Jersey, West Virginia). This aspect is naturally taking longer to roll out than most states’ brick-and-mortar sports betting ventures. This is because it is increasingly commonplace among most states to tie their online sports wagering services to the existing sportsbooks that serve the casinos where they’ve so far opened sports betting lounges to the public. As such, the lounges come first, and then the online betting comes after the former is established and running smoothly. This makes sound logistical sense, as once online sports betting is available through local venues, wagering traffic and summary system load should spike exponentially.
However, in states that do not yet have legal online betting up and running (or even in states that are totally lacking any legal sports wagering of any kind), you can still enjoy the best sites to place bets on sports by using an offshore, overseas sportsbook. In other words, it is legal to bet online with foreign books that accept customers from your state, albeit we advise that you use only the most trusted, best sites to place such bets. As stated above, no person has ever been charged with a crime pertaining to using an online service to wager on sports. The laws and regulations set in place are clearly written to criminalize unauthorized, unlicensed domestic bookmakers, not individual bettors.
Will Online Sports Gambling Ever Be Regulated Nationwide?
Absolutely, yes! Online sports gambling is already regulated in states like Nevada and New Jersey, and most of the other states that have instituted sports wagering since PASPA’s overturn are openly working on offering Internet-based sports wagering platforms to their residents. If a state legalizes sports betting, it makes no financial sense to avoid legalizing the pastime over the Internet. Remember, the states are chasing tax revenue here, and the more players they can entice to participate, the better. Sure, there are a few states that may never offer sports wagering (like Utah, Hawaii, Georgia, and so on), but even their aversion isn’t written in stone, and all it might take to get them to change their tune on legal sports betting in the United States is a look at their neighbors’ bloated coffers after they legalize the practice.
As far as how long it will take until nationwide regulated sports betting is available over the Internet, it won’t happen all that quickly. These things, after all, take time. State legislatures aren’t exactly bastions of efficiency. Chances are that regulated wagering will eventually come to every state that offers some form of legal sports betting, but it will likely be the last of the three major forms of online gambling being discussed these days (casino gaming and poker being the other two). Even as New Jersey and Nevada are launching legal gambling sites, bookmaking elements – despite PASPA’s overturn – still face regulatory challenges in each of the states going forward with plans to offer Internet-based sports betting.
Is NFL Betting Legal?
The short answer is yes, NFL betting is legal in all 50 states. The long answer is far more detailed, but the basics can be summed up rather quickly. Local laws on the matter are almost non-existent outside of a few states because federal law used to have supremacy and so superseded any legislation a state could put forward. During the time that PASPA existed, states simply relied on that sports betting ban instead of legislating their own corresponding bans. Therefore, there was no need for state laws. However, remember: Federal law only deals with the operation of sportsbooks and not the act of placing a bet.
So, is NFL betting legal online? Yes, it is! What’s more, several states where land-based sports betting is already legal (like Delaware and Mississippi, among others) are actively trying to get online NFL betting live by the start of the next season. However, for the majority of Americans, the best online football betting sites are outside of US jurisdiction and are fully licensed and tightly regulated by their home countries’ gaming authorities.
These offshore NFL betting sites have always provided legal sports betting in the United States, and they continue to carry that torch. As long as you choose a sportsbook that is reliable and reputable like those listed here, you can bet on every aspect of the NFL. Football fans nationwide can bet at any or all of these sites with confidence, knowing that they won’t be running afoul of federal or state laws by betting on the NFL.
What Other Sports Are Legal To Bet On At US Online Sportsbooks?
One of the greatest things about wagering at offshore sportsbooks over the Internet is not necessarily the sheer convenience of it all (though this is a big point in its favor). Instead, it’s the fact that – being based overseas – these sportsbooks actually follow, study, and post lines on tons of sports that US books don’t bother with. On average, you’ll get more than a dozen extra popular sports to wager on just by using an offshore book compared with an in-state book, and you can wager on a huge selection of sports, leagues, and more.
Just a few of the supported sports that these top offshore books offer include the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, NCAAF, NCAAM, NASCAR, golf, tennis, MMA/UFC, boxing, rugby, cricket, soccer, international basketball, international ice hockey, track and field events, the Olympics, futsal, volleyball, weight lifting, bowling, billiards, darts, and more. If it’s a sport and people watch it, you can bet on it at offshore sportsbooks. With thousands of wagers to place each day, the fun never stops!
Legal Sports Betting Age
The legal sports betting age in the United States is not consistent. In some cases, it’s even nonexistent! That’s because the legal age to bet at casinos is traditionally decided by states and not the federal government, and PASPA prevented the need for states to establish specific sports wagering age limits. As such, most states have decided that the sports betting age should be 21, though some have kept that limit to 18 (and others, like Alabama, have decided that 19 should be the minimum, for whatever weird reason). But as far as which states implement which age, that’s entirely up to the local government.
When applying the betting age to online sports betting sites, there are a couple of factors to consider. The first is that the sportsbook is based offshore. They are not under federal or state jurisdiction. Therefore, they have their own age limits, which are almost universally 18 years old. That said, if your state does have a specific sports betting age on the books, you should err on the side of caution and go with that.
Regardless, please be aware that you should never under any circumstances sign up at a legal offshore sports betting site under the age of 18. Doing that constitutes a serious breach of the site’s TOS, and this will result in your account being disabled and permanently banned, and all your funds on the site will be forfeited. (Note also that you can join as many sports betting sites as you want, but you can only join each site once. Duplicate accounts will result in the same ban as underage gaming.)
While we state that it is perfectly fine and safe to place sports bets online in the United States, we are not lawyers and suggest that anyone with concerns contact a legal professional. We are simply avid bettors who follow this industry and have the knowledge most do not. Using the information at hand and a little common sense, we offer our opinions and conclusions on this matter.
Best Sports Betting Sites Legal For US. Residents
If you’re satisfied with the information we’ve provided so far, you’ll love what comes next. This section is dedicated to covering the online books where it is both legal and safe to make real-money sports bets over the Internet. These websites have been in operation for decades, and they’ve long since earned solid reputations for offering value-filled lines, excellent customer care, and – perhaps most importantly of all – prompt, guaranteed payouts. And frankly, all of this is not something they're willing to compromise in order to increase their bottom lines. These sites each trade on their goodwill first and foremost. Our staff has active accounts at these bookmakers and routinely risk their own money when making picks. You should have full peace of mind in doing the same.
Bovada Sportsbook - America’s Favorite Legal Sports Betting Site
One of the best places that US players can go for legal online sports betting is Bovada Sportsbook. This betting site truly epitomizes exactly what a sportsbook should be. They have betting odds that cover all of the most popular sports in the US and overseas, and they always produce a plethora of different betting lines for sports like the NFL, MLB, NBA + more.
Bovada allows bettors from every state (except NV, DE, NJ, and MD) to open an account. Residents from those states which are supported by Bovada will be able to participate in legal online sports betting at the top-rated spot around, and Bovada’s mobile sportsbook is the best in the business. All your wagers are just a tap away! Even better, new members that sign up at Bovada today can take advantage of the company’s $250 Sports Welcome Bonus, which carries the most generous rollover terms (X5) in the entire industry. There’s no promo code for this, either, as it’s so popular that Bovada decided to just offer it as a default!
BetOnline Sportsbook - More Crypto Options And Bonuses That Anywhere Else
BetOnline has some great features for bettors to check out. Along with being a legal sports betting outlet for American players from all 50 states, account holders and prospective bettors can access the site from just about anywhere. Through the use of mobile betting, BetOnline has expanded its operation into the realm of mobile devices, as well. And though there is no official iPhone or Android BetOnline app for American customers, the site has gone the extra mile to craft a first-rate mobile browser interface for streamlined odds selection and one-tap wagering.
Complete access to BetOnline can be had through its mobile betting portal, including the site’s mobile sportsbook, mobile poker room, online casino, and international pari-mutuel racebook. Whether you want to place an NFL wager or post up a prop on the NBA, BetOnline can accommodate even the busiest sports bettors around. New members are eligible to receive a generous 50% Welcome Bonus worth up to $1000 (promo code BET1000), and cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are also accepted. With a dozen different ways to fund your account (all with low minimums and high maximums), BetOnline is perfect for sports bettors of all skill levels and financial means!
5Dimes Sportsbook - More Alternate Lines Than You Can Shake A Winning Ticket At
5Dimes is a special sportsbook. Some of the top sports bettors in the world use this site, and many other gambling aficionados do the same. Unlike the other first-rate books listed, 5Dimes doesn’t have a refined user interface or any of the bells and whistles you might expect. What it does have, however, is the widest selection of alternate lines anywhere on the Internet. If you’re an experienced bettor, you know how valuable the option to “buy points” can be when assembling a winning bet or parlay. 5Dimes posts dozens of different lines (with different payouts) for every single event on the docket, and you can choose the best value for you.
5Dimes also offers the exclusive Reduced Juice bonus by default. Unlike most other sportsbooks, this bonus does not carry any rollover requirements – instead, you just get great value for your money on every wager you place. Whereas other sites will charge a spread bet or totals wager at -110 to -115, you’ll get -105 odds at 5Dimes. That might not sound like a lot, but if you wager even semi-frequently, Reduced Juice adds up to big bucks in a hurry!
Legal Online Wagering FAQs
The offshore online sportsbooks we mention offer betting lines on not just American sports like the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, and collegiate sports, but they also have lines on international soccer leagues, cricket, rugby, golf, MMA, boxing, and a ton of other globally popular sports. The variety of wagers and wager types available is simply incredible, often providing you with even more action than the best casinos in Vegas. Most of the top sportsbooks available online will have several thousand wagers posted per day (which increases even more when you include live betting).