US Online Casinos
The US gaming market is confusing. You have sites that accept US players and sites that don’t. Then you have states with laws that make gambling illegal, but don’t specifically mention online gambling. And then we have states where it’s illegal, but the punishments are absurd. A felony? A $10,000 fine and up to 5 years in prison? For playing a hand of blackjack?
That’s Washington State for you.
Players don’t know what to do, and needless to say, some are scared. They don’t want to go to prison for playing a hand of blackjack, nor do they want to accidentally sign-up to a rogue US accepting casino. They want to know where they stand. They want some clarity.
And that’s what we aim to do with this page. Below you’ll find an overview of the gambling market in the USA, an explanation of the UIGEA and some tips on finding a US accepting casino.
Note: We’re not lawyers. What you’re reading is our best interpretation of the law(s). We recommend that you still contact a lawyer before deciding to play games online from the US.
An Explanation of the UIGEA
The UIGEA is a piece of legislation passed in 2006. It caused quite a stir. Several casinos and poker sites stopped accepting real money American players, and others closed business entirely. It was the first of many bombshells to hit the online gaming community.
The UIGEA confuses a lot of people. The train of thought is that the UIGEA makes online gambling illegal. But it doesn’t.
The UIGEA is a piece of legislation that “prohibits gambling businesses from knowingly accepting payments in connection with the participation of another person in a bet or wager that involves the use of the Internet and that is unlawful under any federal or state law.”
What that means is that operators are not supposed to take payments from US players. Banks are not supposed to process these transactions, either. It has nothing to do with the legality of gambling online.
This provision was tacked on to the Safe Port Act (literally) at the last minute, which is a piece of legislation designed to improve the security of US ports. Unfortunately, hardly anyone read the addition, so the law was passed with no opposition.
Afterwards we saw a lot of sites leave the US, including 888 and the Party brand. It also became much harder for US players to make deposits, receive winnings and so forth. Operators were having a hard time finding financial institutes that could process the transactions. They had to deal with closures, delays, deposits being declined and so on.
To show you the UIGEA in action (and to solidify the fact that it doesn’t make online gaming illegal), one only has to look as far as April of 2011. It was during this month that the poker community experienced “Black Friday.” The Dept. of Justice charged sites like PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Ultimate Bet with money laundering, bank fraud and a list of other charges.
These guys did a number of (illegal) things to make transactions happen, including bribing banks, investing in them or creating shell (fake) companies to make it look like the transactions coming in weren’t gambling related (so the banks would complete them).
That violated the UIGEA, not the fact that they accepted US players. As a result they had their domains seized, and poker player’s accounts were frozen. In fact, there is still hundreds of thousands of dollars that have yet to be paid back to players.
How to Find an Online Casino That Accepts American Customers
Assuming that it’s legal for you to gamble online (or you’re willing to take the risk), finding an online casino that accepts American customers can be a challenge.
The best way to find a legal casino is to refer to a maintained and current web portal, such as you can find on google.
One challenge that many US residents will face is casinos that are selectively accepting players. In other words, more and more casinos are choosing what states to accept players from. It used to be that they would leave it up to the customer to determine whether or not it was legal for them to play. However, between perhaps being confused about the laws, the domain seizures (Black Friday) and states starting to legalize online gaming, my guess is that these casinos don’t want to risk the chances of legal action or the inability to (eventually) participate in a legal US market.
There are risks, too. If you play online from the US you’ll face your share of sketchy sites. They’re not good for a number of reasons, including lack of experience, funds, morals and ethics. It can be difficult to avoid these, just because there are so few US casinos left for players to sign-up to. But as soon as you notice the signs (non-payment, lack of support, promos not paid out, etc) you need to cut your losses and walk away.
Online Casino FAQs for US Players
We get a lot of questions about online casinos in the US. We thought it’d be helpful to post those questions and our answers here. We’ll add to the list whenever we receive new questions. We alos have a more general FAQ here.
Is online gambling illegal?
That depends on the state you live in. If you live in a state like Washington, then yeah, it’s definitely illegal.
The confusion comes from states that are wish-washy about their stance on gambling, or that don’t specifically mention online gaming. This is where the black and white turns to grey.
The best thing to do is search Google for your state’s laws. If you can’t make heads or tails of it then we recommend talking to a legal authority that can.
Can I get in trouble if I’m caught?
If online gambling is illegal in your state or area, then absolutely. It’s a felony in Washington state, which can lead to prison time and fines.
However, that’s assuming you’re caught and prosecuted. And to the best of our knowledge that’s never happened to anyone.
What other options do I have for gambling?
If you don’t want to risk gaming online, your options include:
- Moving (to another state or country)
- Home games (if legal in your area)
- Brick and mortar casinos
Will online casinos ever be legal?
It’s a work in progress. At the moment states like Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware have already passed legislation that makes online gambling legal, so long as it’s within the state.
We’re not sure about online casinos being legal on a federal level. I wouldn’t be surprised if it happens, though, following the majority of states passing laws on intrastate gaming.
What is intrastate gambling?
Intrastate gambling is gambling on a state-wide basis. In other words, when Nevada passed their intrastate gambling law it meant that when their poker rooms finally launch, only players within the state could play on it. They’d have to prove they were residents of the state, too.
Unfortunately, intrastate poker will have a hard time taking off in some states due to the number of residents they have (only a fraction will be poker or casino players). The flip side is that states can work with other states to boost player pools, and intrastate poker can always lead to legal online gaming on a federal level.