Is It Legal to Play Online Casino Games in the US?

Of course, it is legal to play online casino games in the US. The real question is whether or not it’s legal to risk money and try to win money when doing so. This page examines the question closely, providing expert analysis and multiple sources. If you’re wondering, “Is it legal to play online casino games in the US?”, then you’ve found the right page.

Delaware, Nevada, and New Jersey

The United States includes 50 different states, but only three of them have legalized and regulated online casinos. These three states are Delaware, Nevada, and New Jersey. If you live in one of those states and stick with the online casinos that are regulated in those states, you have nothing to fear. Those sites are operating within the law, and you’re complying with the law while you’re playing—assuming you’re legally old enough to play (21). Of course, some restrictions apply. You have to physically located in the state to play at that state’s casinos legally, for example. If you’re in Oklahoma, you’re not allowed to register an account at one of the Delaware online casinos.

Other States and Their Laws

Many other states have laws which make gambling on the Internet illegal, but these laws are often vague at best. Almost none of these laws are enforced, either. In the cases where these laws are enforced, it’s almost always in the case of sports betting activities rather than casino games. Poker is also sometimes an issue, but casino game players are the least likely target of law enforcement.

There are multiple reasons for this. One of these is that law enforcement in general prefers to focus on the business providing the service rather than focusing on the customers of that business. The police are more likely to arrest the prostitute than the john, for example. They’re more concerned with drug dealers than drug users. And in terms of which sinners are creating the biggest burden on society, casino gamblers are way down the list.v

Federal Laws Related to Online Casino Games

No specific federal laws forbid playing online casino games for real money. The most applicable laws related to the subject are the Federal Wire Act and UIGEA (The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act). The Federal Wire Act is specific to sports betting, though—it doesn’t apply to casino games. And UIGEA focuses on the companies handling illegal gambling financial transactions. In other words, you can run afoul of UIGEA if you’re a bank running credit card charges for online casinos. But it’s hard to get in trouble for that law if you’re just a player.

The Federal Wire Act is a 1961 law that targeted organized crime. If you’re thinking that there was no Internet in 1961, well, you’re right. What the law did was make it illegal to place sports bets over phone lines and across state lines. Since the Internet uses a version of phone lines, albeit an advanced version, the law applies. At one time, the Department of Justice contended that the Wire Act applied to online casino games, but they’ve since recanted.

UIGEA, on the other hand, is a 2006 law that specifically applies to financial transactions. This law doesn’t make it illegal to play casino games online. It only makes it illegal to transfer funds to and from sites engaged in illegal online gambling. Since no federal law makes online casino games illegal, UIGEA would seem to only apply in states where online casino games for money are illegal because of the state laws.

Assessing Risk Factors and Making Decisions

Michael Bluejay of suggests that a better question to ask about online gambling and Internet casino games is how risky the activity is. Since he’s not a lawyer, I’m not a lawyer, and most of my readers aren’t lawyers, I’d suggest that he has a point. Some activities related to online gambling are clearly riskier than others. According to his analysis, the riskiest activities legally include:

  • Taking sports bets.
  • Processing funds for offshore gambling sites.
  • Advertising online gambling in the major media.

Providing any kind of help to someone who’s placing a sports bet on the Internet is also risky, but not as risky as the activities above. It’s also somewhat risky to take advertising for such activities on a website that doesn’t get the kinds of enormous traffic that Google sees. Bluejay puts it on a par with actually running an online casino.

But the least risky activity on the list is clearly placing bets on casino games. Since, to my knowledge, no one has ever been arrested for playing a casino game for money, it’s hard to imagine that enforcement activity is realistically going to affect the average player. Even though the only sensible advice I can offer is to obey the laws in your jurisdiction, it would be silly to suggest that you run any kind of realistic risk of being arrested for playing an Internet slot machine.

When making decisions about this sort of thing, it can help to think about the risks and rewards in these situations. Even if you were to face legal action for playing an online casino game, what would that amount to? In most states, the worst case scenario involves a misdemeanor charge. Misdemeanors rarely result in jail time. In fact, most traffic offenses (like running a stoplight) are misdemeanors. Only you can decide what the rewards are that you’re getting from playing casino games online and whether or not they’re worth that risk.

The Bottom Line about Laws Related to Online Casino Games

Online casino games are not illegal in and of themselves. It’s the wagering of real money on those games that affects their legality. If you’re concerned with following the law in every particular, you’re better off avoiding online casino games for money unless you’re physically located in Delaware, Nevada, or New Jersey. Risk takers, on the other hand, might be better served by analyzing the risks involved and acting accordingly.

Updated: 11.26.2016
Author: Steve Mitchell