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Is Online Sports Betting Legal in the USA?

The Legality of Sports Gambling Around the World

legal betting sites

So, is it Legal or not? The short answer, yes. No American has ever had a computer seized by the federal government or been carted away in handcuffs for violating a federal law. Although individual states have variations of prohibitions against online gambling you have to put Google to work overtime to find prosecutions. One fellow was fined $500 in North Dakota back in 2003 for a violation of the state’s general anti-gambling law and not any cited anti-online statute. His reported $100,000 in online sports betting profits smartly covered the fine. In 2012 an Oklahoma online bettor was specifically prosecuted and received a deferred sentence of no jail time if he satisfies the terms of his probation.

The Governments Attempt to Stop Online Gambling

Does that mean the United States government regards online gambling as a wholesome activity? Far from it. The authorities just pick other targets than the individual Internet bettor looking for a little action on a weekend football game. In 2006 Congress pulled out its big legal guns and passed the ominous sounding Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA). Still grappling with exactly what the Internet was all about the legislators based their bill on the Federal Wire Act of 1961 that forbade electronic transmission of information for sports betting across telecommunications lines. At that time the law was aimed mainly at horse tracks.

The Internet is only tangentially related to telephone lines and the horse racing industry isn’t what is was so the UIGEA has always been open to wide interpretation. The upshot of the law was that it became illegal for websites to take sports bets over the Internet and more importantly banks were prohibited from handling online gambling transactions. Nowhere was it stated that placing sports bets online violated federal law. Players, however, could no longer make deposits and take withdrawals from an online casino into an American bank and gambling without a bankroll does tend to short-circuit the betting experience.

Did the UIGEA Work?

It did not take online sportsbooks long to begin workarounds for their stranded United States customers. Bodog, one of the biggest online casino operators, moved its American business to a separate domain name called Bovada.lv. Other large – and safe – online sportsbooks that will take bets from American players include Wager WEb, TopBet, BetOnline, 5Dimes and GT Bets. Money can be deposited by credit card (usually), Western Union or money transfer. Almost every online gambling site offers payouts via money transfer or a check written on funds in a foreign bank and delivered by courier.

So for now betting online is legal in the United States. Or a more appropriate way of stating it is that it is not illegal to bet on sports online in the United States. The future is never known but the winds seem to be blowing laissez-faire enforcement towards the camp of legitimacy. So far Delaware, New Jersey, Nevada and the District of Columbia have legalized online betting in some form or other. Other states, including populous ones like California and Pennsylvania, are hashing out pro-online gambling laws and there are rustlings at the federal level to legalize and regulate online casinos.

One wedge towards outright legalization of online sports betting is the prevalence of online fantasy sports. An estimated 40 million Americans are risking money legally on games in fantasy sports competition and doing so with such heavyweight corporations as Disney, Comcast, Yahoo and CBS. The wild popularity of fantasy sports has led to daily draft sites where players can create a team, place a wager, collect money all in one day. Any way you parse it that sounds like online sports betting. It is not a stretch to imagine the continuing explosion of fantasy sports participation opening the doors to comprehensive federal laws that permit online sports betting of all forms.

Billions Bet Offshore From the US

While the legality of betting on sports online is a grey area, there is no history of individual bettors being targeted for this activity under Federal laws. In fact, the only prosecutions to date have been of people involved in the payment processing infrastructure.

There are reputable sites like BetOnline and Bovada who have been serving US customers for more than 10 years. These sites are able to accept deposits and pay out winnings, and welcome new bettors with a great range of bonuses and promotional offers. The legal ‘grey area’ of online sports betting in the US does not stop millions of Americans from enjoying wagering on games every year.

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