It seems there’s a simple answer to the question “is sports betting legal?” That answer is no. On the whole, it’s not legal in the US. And online – are those top betting sites legal? No, they’re not legal either, strictly speaking.
But it’s not that simple: billions of dollars are spent collectively every year on sports betting in the US. We take a look at the grey areas in a loose legal framework and explain how you can enjoy the top sportsbooks and play within the rules.
Let’s have a look first of all at who makes the decision on what’s cool and what’s not.
Legal Sports Betting Is Out of Reach for Most Americans
The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) defines the law for all sports gambling in the United States. Only the states of Nevada and Delaware allow residents to legally wager on sports. If you live here or are visiting one of these places, it’s game on. There are only two other states where gambling isn’t outlawed altogether: Oregon and Montana.
Therefore, outside these four states, to place a bet on sports in a bricks-and-mortar betting establishment constitutes illegal gambling. This doesn’t only mean big bets for lots of money, either. It appears you can be a small time crook quite easily.
Even your office NCAA tournament pool isn’t technically legal. Trying to put together a better March Madness bracket than Jill from accounting may seem harmless, but this could also, officially, be scrutinized under federal law: the test is whether it constitutes an illegal game of “chance”, which doesn’t exempt privately organized pools. (A bet between friends, however, is likely to fall under state recreational gaming exemptions.)
The underlying message is that any type of illegal gambling could potentially be scrutinized by law enforcement.
How Sports Betting Moved Online
It’s clear to see why gamblers have welcomed online betting with open arms. For most US residents, there is simply no other option.
However, it’s important to understand that online sports betting sites are most commonly hosted outside of the United States because of PASPA. This means they’re run from places where there is free access to all the top sportsbooks, but if a user is based in the United States outside of Nevada, Delaware, Oregan and Montana, gambling is still illegal.
What Are the Laws Around Online Betting Websites?
The fact is, the law for online sports gambling sites is not clear: PASPA is from 1992.
Most of us didn’t have an internet connection in 1992 – if we were born yet – and even a few years later, the game would have ended by the time your dial-up connection finally got your computer online. If gambling were still this behind the times, we’d be placing bets by carrier pigeon.The world wide web was invented in 1989, so only a couple years in, what we saw online in 1992 is a far cry from the internet we see now.
Should the law still be valid for bricks and mortar gambling sites, it’s certainly not in keeping with digital times.
There is also the Wire Act – even older, from 1961 – that seeks to control payments made using a “wire communication facility.” This language alone is unable to represent the financial terms we use now: online payments, internet transactions, instant payments, bank transfers. Good luck trying to send a telegram to someone, let alone gamble with one.
Times have changed and the legal status for those who use betting websites is not up to speed. At the moment, the Wire Act states it exists to “suppress organized gambling activities” – big-name crooks. Be sure to only use legitimate online bookmakers and you’re unlikely to get caught up in anything you can be prosecuted for.
As we wait to see what comes of the rules on legal sports betting, gamblers place bets online without repercussion. Still, we recommend that only players over the age of 21 participate.
The Benefits of Sports Betting Online
The ban on gambling in most states is not the only reason why sports bettors have moved online. In fact, there are a lot of positive reasons to bet on sports online.
- Speed: The best betting websites are fast to load and quick to use. If you’re short on time or simply don’t like to hang around, you can search quickly for the best odds and place your bet in record time. Payouts are swift, too and, in some cases, you can cash in your winnings at the nearest ATM.
- Choice: You get better odds online: it’s as simple as that. The people who run online betting sites have few overheads. There are no front-of-house staff to employ, no heating costs or lighting fees. They don’t have to provide pens or paper, screens or free wifi. They can afford to offer a wider range of sports and games at better odds.
- Comfort: Sports betting online means you don’t have to leave the house to place a bet. What can be more convenient than that? Play from home quickly and easily, with others or on your own, during the day or in the middle of the night. Whatever time it is, you don’t even have to get dressed.
- Flexibility: If you don’t want to log on to a computer, you’ll find all the best sports gambling sites work well on mobile too. This means you can check the odds or place a bet anywhere you have wifi. Gone are the days when sports gambling was rooted to one venue and odds were poor. These days, there’s much more opportunity to enjoy it.
- Rewards: Because online betting is so attractive, site owners have tough competition. You’ll find bonus payouts and rewards on offer regularly, especially to new users – just be sure they’re not too good to be true. We recommend you check out a site thoroughly before you pay any money and look closely at the fine print.
Visiting a physical casino or racetrack offers a very different experience to playing online. The main attraction is the social factor – if gambling is more of an excuse to get out of the house than a serious hobby, your local bookie might be a favorite hangout. But if it’s tips you’re looking for and chatting about the odds, online forums are just as useful for this purpose.
A Fantasy World
For some gamblers, it has nothing at all to do with being sociable or even real sports events. These online players are into betting on fantasy sports. And guess what? This is totally legal.
Players take a sport they’re familiar with and pick who they think are the strongest team members. They arrange them into their ideal team and pitch this team against other fantasy bettors, who have formed their own team arrangements. Whichever athletes are most successful in real life earn money for the person who used them in their fantasy team.
It turns out, this is really big business. Billions of dollars are bet on fantasy sports every year and games are available on a daily basis. The muddied waters of online sports betting law become pretty clear: knock yourself out on fantasy.
Because the old laws exist to protect people from making a profit out of a game of chance and who might win or lose, they don’t exist in a world where the teams are made up. Fantasy sports is seen more as a game that requires skill and knowledge to win, rather than only luck, so it slips through the legal net.
Why More People Are Choosing to Bet Online
The state of New Jersey is trying to change the laws that prohibit online sports betting. Why? It’s evident that people take a great deal of enjoyment from gambling on sports and profit is not the only focus – although it’s an attractive one.
For some, it’s not about sports at all. Almost every state in America runs a lottery corporation and casinos can be found nationwide – all of these games are legal. Online and offline, people enjoy the thrill of the competition. Whether it’s a fantasy team or a real team, or a spin of the roulette wheel, the gamble is compelling.
Online, there can often be an even greater sense of competition. Superfans can track their team’s progress and gain a deep understanding of the sport they love, scrutinizing the odds for each game. As a group, fans, colleagues, or family and friends can track progress and join forces or pitch themselves against one another. It can be light-hearted or serious.
Why is Gambling Illegal?
Nobody seems quite sure why the rules around gambling have yet to be dragged into the modern age. Until then, online is the most versatile way of accessing the charge of adrenalin that comes with sports betting.
If you’re ready to dive in, but are confused by all the terminology, here’s our guide to online betting sites and jargon-buster to help get you started.