The Case That Made Gambling Legal in the USA

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A Brief History

On May 14, 2018, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled that betting on athletic events was legal activity in the United States, striking down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) in a decision known as Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association.  This landmark legal decision allowing sports betting massively changed the gambling landscape. With the explosion of casinos across the country as well as the pervasive nature of state lotteries and church related Bingo and “Las Vegas Nights,” it is apparent attitudes and laws about gambling for Americans have changed in favor of more permissive rules allowing increased access to gambling.
(Note: Our readers are reminded that local and/or state laws may be more restrictive and careful review of local and state laws must be undertaken before any assumptions about the legality of gambling, including online gambling is made. We are providing historical context and NOT legal advice.)

Digging Deeper

Online gambling, the modern, high technology solution to providing access to gamblers to their chosen recreational activity allows people to play their games and make their bets without having to physically travel to a casino, racetrack, or other gambling venue. As such, it seems only fair that people with limited travel accounts and limited time to take off from work should be able to enjoy the same gambling opportunities as people with more money and leisure time. Likewise, people of limited physical mobility should also have access to their chosen form of recreation.
In 1994, Antigua and Barbuda passed the Free Trade & Processing Act, bringing online gambling into the realm of controlled and regulated legitimate activity.  The Kahnawake Gaming Commission was established in 1996, based in the Mohawk Territory of Kahnawake (a Native American reserve within Quebec, Canada) further organizing and regulating online gaming. Online gambling sites grew at an incredible pace, from only 15 sites in 1996 to over 200 a year later!
By the beginning of the 21st Century, some nations had begun to limit public legal access to online gambling, including the United States. In spite of a Federal Court decision that ruled the Federal Wire Act does not specifically outlaw online gambling, the Justice Department expresses the opinion that the FWA does somehow limit online gambling. Various court cases continued to be brought against gambling companies, though not individual gamblers, throughout the 2000’s, with varied results. It would seem the Federal case is not so clear cut, and that the upshot is that States should have most of the regulatory control over what their citizens can and cannot do regarding online gambling. Gambling is legal in the United States, with the decision about gambling and gambling regulations left to the various States. Even the Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 does not prohibit online gambling in the US, though it does limit the transactions of online gambling service providers, which does not appear to be the individual gambler’s problem.
Again, we reiterate, check with your state laws before making any decisions about online gambling. States that permit online gambling offer a wide variety of gambling opportunities, including sports betting. Americans are NOT prohibited from engaging in online gambling with foreign based companies within certain standards.
Additionally, there is another legislative initiative in the works that seeks to limit the rights of American online gamblers, the Restoration of America’s Wire Act, a law that is sponsored by anti-gambling Senators and Congressmen that has not gained much traction since its proposal in 2014 by Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S. Carolina) and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California), an unlikely pair!
So, to simply explain the subject posed in the title of this article, YES, online gambling IS legal for Americans. If you have any doubts about a particular type of gambling or a particular site, just do a little research before participating.
Question for students (and subscribers): What is your favorite form of gambling?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Lang, Arne K.  Sports Betting and Bookmaking: An American History.  Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2016.

The featured image in this article, a photograph by Baishampayan Ghose of an odds boards at a race and sports book in Las Vegas, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.  This image was originally posted to Flickr by G0SUB at It was reviewed on  by FlickreviewR and was confirmed to be licensed under the terms of the cc-by-sa-2.0.


About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.