Gambling culture in the United States
The United States has had a tenuous relationship with gambling for a long time, ever since gamblers set up shop in mining towns back when the West was still wild. Old laws, initially intended to keep crime in check, were written in language broad enough that modern gambling technology i.e. online gambling is restricted by this legislation to this day.
But just because gambling is heavily regulated in America does not mean that gamblers do not have the chance to do what they love in completely legal ways. While the laws are changing at a glacial pace, they are changing and the online gambling industry is tentatively setting down roots in this notoriously complex legal environment.
In this article we will be looking at the options currently available to online gamblers in the US, how the laws are likely to continue changing and how those changes can impact players and the industry at large.
When will USA players be able to play online casinos in the UK?
The short, vague answer to this question is: not for a long time. This is only a guess from our end but barring any massive overhauls, unexpected U-turns or the sudden, complete deregulation of the industry, this is the most likely outcome.
To understand why it would take such a dramatic change, we need to look closer at the laws currently controlling gambling in the USA. The country is unusual in that, where others like Canada and Australia have developed policies specifically as a reaction to modern technology and its potential, the foundations of US gambling legislation are built on laws that were written in the 1960s. The first law that specifically relates to online gambling only showed up in 2006. The two laws that are the basis of gambling regulation in America were both written in 1961.
The first is the Wire Act and the important bit of that reads:
“Whoever being engaged in the business of betting or wagering knowingly uses a wire communication facility for the transmission in interstate or foreign commerce of bets or wagers or information assisting in the placing of bets or wagers on any sporting event or contest, or for the transmission of a wire communication which entitles the recipient to receive money or credit as a result of bets or wagers, or for information assisting in the placing of bets or wagers, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.”
This was meant to prevent racketeering by making it an offence to use ‘wire communication’ to facilitate bets or wagers. Indeed, it is the term wire communication that makes this rule so broad. It can easily be argued that the internet is a form of wire communication, making this law a major obstacle to online gambling by itself.
But the Wire Act is not by itself. A second 1961 law, the Interstate transportation of wagering paraphernalia, is another stumbling block for internet gambling.
This law punishes anyone who:
“knowingly carries or sends in interstate or foreign commerce any record, paraphernalia, ticket, certificate, bills, slip, token, paper, writing, or other device used, or to be used, or adapted, devised, or designed for use in (a) bookmaking; or (b) wagering pools with respect to a sporting event; or (c) in a numbers, policy, bolita, or similar game”
The maximum punishment is a fine and/or 5 years behind bars. Again, this law was intended to limit the movement of gambling-related items across state lines but its wording can, without too much effort, be interpreted to include the online transmission of virtual representations of these items.
In 2006, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Act came into force and further crippled the industry’s progress. This law targets operators by preventing them from processing transactions that would violate state or federal laws. As things stand, with the Wire Act and the ITWP in action at a federal level, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Act effectively throttles online casinos’ ability to pay out and receive money from players.
For sports betting, there has been some movement in the past few years but the most recent step taken has been in a decidedly backward direction. The 1992 federal law called the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act restricted all but a handful of states from allowing sports betting. As you can expect, this lead to a lot of underground, shady operations offering this opportunity.
In 2018, the Supreme Court struck down PASPA, allowing sports betting to be regulated at a state level. Back in 2011, the Supreme Court judged that it was only sports betting that was restricted by the Wire Act, and its 2018 ruling cleared the way for the activity to offered legally. In 2019, however, the Supreme Court backtracked on its 2011 decision, arguing that it is difficult to prove that sports betting transactions are not processed through states that do not allow sports betting and thus this gambling is still banned via the Wire Act.
Confusing? Yes. Frustrating for players? Also yes. This spider’s web of legal restrictions plus the fact that each state’s legislature on gambling is different creates a difficult situation for US gamblers. And why it is impossible to predict when or if American players will ever be able to play at UK casinos. It’s also why we are unlikely to see USA Casinos for UK Players any time soon.
Which are the reputable online casinos USA?
As states are allowed to regulate gambling themselves, there have been some opportunities for land-based casinos in the US to venture into the world of online gambling. This comes with some very important caveats though.
The states that do allow online gambling only allow land-based casinos within their respective jurisdictions to operate online versions of their brands, though there have been some positive noises about expanding these rights. In the absence of any licensing framework at the federal level, this works in players’ favour in that at least they know who the operator is and that they conduct business according to their state’s laws.
One interesting case is Mississippi. This state allows players to access online casinos as long as they are within the physical boundaries of a land-based or water-based casino. Players must be on site to gamble online.
How to use online casinos in the EU from the US?
Thanks to the tight regulation we discussed above, very very few online casinos offers their services to US-based players. In many cases, these brands are located in unregulated jurisdictions and hold licenses of inferior to EU-issued licenses, if they hold any at all.
These casinos also often fall into the infamous category of ‘rogue online casinos’ – brands that offer a poor player experience through deceptive terms and conditions, slow payments or even the outright refusal to pay out winnings. Players should stay well away from these casinos.
Is it legal to gamble online in California?
While we write this in 2019, players based in California cannot gamble online, in any capacity. However, California does allow other types of gambling. Players are free to visit card rooms and Indian-run casinos, and lotteries, charitable gaming and pari-mutuel wagering are regulated but allowed.
The legal gambling age in California is 18 however players must be 21 to play at casinos where alcohol is served to be compliant with the legal drinking age.