If the United States’ relationship with gambling were described in Facebook terms, it would be labelled as “complicated”. Americans love gambling, from poker to roulette; it’s just that their government isn’t so keen on on it.
The nation is synonymous with gambling, but this meme is thanks largely to the Vegas effect and ignores the fact that in the majority of US states gambling is outlawed. But as the history books will show, the US has a long association with prohibition, and its current attitude to online gambling is no different to that which saw booze made illicit in the 1930s.
America’s Attitude to Gambling
The history of gambling in America can be traced right back to the Native Americans, which is symbolic given that Native American reservations are among the few places where US citizens are allowed to gamble nowadays. The Native Americans might not have succeeded in reclaiming their land, but they’ve regained control of the gambling trade to a certain extent.
When the British and Europeans descended on America en masse during the 18th and 19th centuries, they brought with them the dice and card games that were popular in their homeland. As swift as gambling found a foothold, however, prohibitionists began campaigning to shut it down on moral grounds.
For decades, gambling endured quasi-legal status in the US, occupying a middle ground where it was tolerated if not entirely legalised. Then the online gambling boom took hold in the early naughties, with poker and roulette among the games to accrue converts in their droves, and the US government was forced to take action in the form of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) which came into effect in 2006.
Overnight, all forms of online gambling were outlawed, decimating the American-dominated online poker industry in the process, and stifling their ability to play roulette and other table games.
At a federal level, online gambling remains illegal in the US, but at state level, certain states have not only permitted it but actively encourage it. The most famous example is of course Nevada, but New Jersey has also embraced gambling, to the extent where Atlantic City is one of the world’s most famous casino hotspots, edged out only by the bright lights of Las Vegas.
US Gambling-Friendly States
Gambling has been legal in Nevada since the 1930s, but it wasn’t until the late 70s that New Jersey got in on the act. This was followed by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 that opened the door to Indian reservations, enabling them to claim a lucrative slice of the action and preventing midwesterners from having to catch the red-eye to Vegas to indulge their passion for roulette and slots.
Today, Nevada and New Jersey are the only states where gambling openly flourishes, but other states have been slowly catching on to the potential revenue streams this offers. As of 2012, it’s been legal to gamble online in the state of Delaware.
The US is not short of land-based casinos, and a handful of these now offer their members online gambling services. To play roulette and other games online at one of these casinos however you will need to submit ID proving that you are a registered citizen of that state, as is the case in New Jersey.
Requirements to Play Roulette in the US
Cities in many US states are populated with casinos where local residents are free to gamble. These are stocked with all the games you might find in any other bricks and mortar casino including roulette, blackjack, poker, slots and baccarat.
Gambling is legal in almost 50% of US states, and in these states players must be either 18 or 21 to play at a casino. Some US states permit lotteries and bingo but not casinos. Today you’ll find casinos offering roulette in many US states, but the majority are scattered along the east and west coasts, with only a handful to be found in the central belt.
US Gambling Regulation
Because the federal government has essentially washed its hands of gambling, it falls to individual states to regulate the trade. In states where gambling is allowed to prosper, local gaming commissions have been created to license casinos and regulate the online side of things too where applicable. Regardless of what the law states, the reality is that millions of US players regularly gamble online.
The government, despite its anti-gambling stance, isn’t particularly interested in cracking down on players who just want to play a spot of roulette or blackjack. Foreign casinos that actively target US customers could find themselves in hot water however, with US authorities liable to freeze their funds and generally make life hard for them.
It’s worth noting that even in states where gambling is not officially sanctioned, there is a booming black market to sate Americans’ lust for gambling, especially sports betting. Bars and private clubs will operate their own sportsbooks, while the mafia’s links to high-stakes poker and other forms of black market betting are well documented.
The US government doesn’t appear particularly bothered by small-scale off-the-books sports betting, but anything that’s conducted on an organised scale, especially if it involves large quantities of money, is liable to attract the attention of law enforcement.
US Roulette Players and Foreign Casinos
Officially, overseas casinos are prohibited from targeting US-based roulette players and other gamblers, and from a business perspective, it doesn’t make sense to overtly do so, as the US government is prone to wielding the banhammer at sites who engage in such behaviour.
That’s not to say that US players don’t play roulette and other games online at casinos outside of US jurisdiction – many do, using alternative payment methods that obfuscate their origins, preventing credit card issuers from freezing their account.
From roulette to e-sports and from blackjack to slots, Americans regularly gamble online, not just in their own states where such action is legal, but elsewhere on the web, circumventing the restrictions that have been put in place to thwart such behaviour.
The Future of Online Gambling in America
Just as the creeping legalisation of marijuana in America has been largely for tax reasons rather than medicinal ones, it seems likely that online gambling will eventually be licensed in most US states.
It will probably be a good few years until that threshold is crossed and until then American roulette players will continue to get their gambling fix however they can, by visiting Nevada and New Jersey, by hitting up the casinos to be found on Indian reservations and by gambling online at officially regulated sites as well as at overseas-based websites where they’re technically not supposed to play.
Whatever the future may hold, it would be fair to predict that America’s love affair with gambling is not going to diminish any time soon, despite the best efforts of the federal government.
Is gambling legal in the US?
Yes and no. It is in some states, not in others. More specifically, land-based casinos are licensed in many states and online gambling is also permitted in Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware.
How old do you have to be to gamble in the US?
18 or 21 depending on the state in question.
What are the laws regarding gambling in the US?
There’s some dispute between federal and local government, but as it stands online sports betting is illegal. Online casinos are legal in certain states provided you are a local resident.
Why is the law so confusing in America when it comes to gambling?
Because America is less of a unified country and more a collection of states, each with its own laws and views on gambling.