The Legality of Casinos and Gambling in the U.S.

Are Casinos Legal

Gambling is not really a new industry, and it’s been a part of the country for centuries. However, not every state or city offers this type of entertainment. Today, there are so many choices if you are in the U.S. and looking to spend time playing one of casino games.

Legality of Gambling

When it comes to the legality of gambling and casino games, the situation can get a bit complicated. According to federal law, gambling in the country is restricted. However, there are forty-eight states that allow at least some form of gambling. Each of the states has its own set of laws and its own take on the gambling industry. The only two states that made every type of gambling illegal are Hawaii and Utah.

History of Gambling

In the seventeenth century, gambling was an important part of the community. People were especially fond of horse racing, and it lasted for half a century. In the middle of the eighteenth century, the Baptist and Methodist church declared gambling sinful.

According to reports, there were thirteen colonies that had some form of lottery. Naturally, the lottery was considered to be entertainment and not gambling. Furthermore, the lottery played an important role in the growth of the original thirteen colonies. The revenue from the lottery was among the main funding sources in the colonial days.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, there were several attempts to restrict gambling. New Orleans was at the moment one of the gambling centers, and moralist focused their attention on creating laws that would put an end to the gambling industry in the country.

It wasn’t long until gambling had to go underground, and it found a safe haven in places like New Orleans, especially on riverboats. On these boats, the captain was the only law, and gambling remained onboard until riverboats were slowly replaced by trains.

In the middle of the nineteenth century, the gold rush created an opportunity for gambling, but it was quickly gone, and games went underground once more. Eventually, horse racing became a hobby reserved for the rich only. At the same time, Chicago slowly became a Petri dish for gambling operations. People started betting on everything involving dice, cards, and even cockfights.

Naturally, in the twentieth century, illegal gambling operations were closed one by one. Moralistic reformers started passing various laws that closed almost every race track by the end of 1917. However, similar to alcohol after Prohibition, gambling started to return over the years. Horse racing returned around the twenties, followed by on-track betting. The races became a popular source of income for the states. In the thirties, twenty-one state opened race tracks.

In 1931, Nevada legalized most forms of gambling as a way to fight the Great Depression. While the laws were strict in some states, many decided to allow some form of gambling in the following fifty years.

Today, there are only two states that made gambling legal statewide. These two states are Louisiana and Nevada.

Casinos Today


When we look at the situation in the U.S., there are forty-three states that legalized casinos in some form. It is worth mentioning the change that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act made in 1988. Thanks to this act, federal law established jurisdiction that governs Indian gaming. This act created a basis for opening casinos operated by any of the recognized tribes in the country. This means that there are states today that don’t allow commercial casinos but still offer casino games through tribal or Indian casinos.

Furthermore, just because the state legalized casinos, that doesn’t mean that players can pick any of the games that casinos usually offer, such as slots and table games. For example, in Florida, tribal casinos are legal, but it still might be difficult to find where to play roulette since the game is illegal in the state. Each state will also decide what kind of games are allowed in the casinos. Naturally, there are sometimes loopholes that allow players to enjoy these games despite the law. In Florida, there are casino cruise tours where players will spend several hours sailing and where they could play roulette and other games without worrying about breaking the law.

Twenty-three states offer commercial casinos. Private companies operate these casinos that are on non-Native American land. There are almost five hundred commercial casinos in the country, and they produce over thirty billion dollars in gross revenue.

Native American Casinos

The entire history of native American commercial gambling began in 1979 when Seminole started playing bingo. Before this happened, native Americans had no experience with commercial gambling, especially large-scale. They were familiar with sports betting, and soon, they became more involved in casino gambling.

American Casinos

During the following six years, almost one-third of all recognized tribes became involved in gambling. Today, many tribal casinos operate with the goal of providing employment and revenue for the tribe members and their government. When it comes to legality, tribal gaming is regulated on federal, state, and tribal level.

Currently, there are thirty states that offer tribal casinos, and they created many jobs for native Americans and everyone else. The whole casino business proved to be a good idea for both tribes and the surrounding regions. Furthermore, there are a number of casinos that share their revenue with the state or contribute to charities or not-profitable organizations.

Online Gambling

When it comes to online versions of the games, the situation is similar to land-based casinos. However, most states have a set of laws that are a bit older and don’t even cover online gambling. Currently, there are only five states that made online gambling officially legal, and they are Delaware, Iowa, Nevada, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

While other states might have a different view on online gambling, there is one thing that is certain for the entire country. The player must not place any wager on the website that is located in the United States. On the other hand, if the website is located anywhere outside of the country, the chances of anything bad happening are close to none. There hasn’t been a single case of a prosecution for playing online games on an off-shore website. This way, the players can have full access to the best online slot machines for cash, without wondering about the legality of games.

Furthermore, the “off-shore” rule applies only to casinos since there are many gambling revenues that offer their services online. For example, sports betting is legal in some states, and the player can always opt to place their bet online.


Generally, gambling is restricted in the U.S., so depending on the state you are in, you may or may not find a casino nearby. However, with commercial and tribal land-based casinos, as well as online versions, there are plenty of choices and options to play some of the most popular casino games.

Unless you visit Utah and Hawaii, there is a high chance that you won’t have to travel to Las Vegas to enjoy playing casino games. According to recent predictions, by 2025, almost half of the country will legalize online gambling and casinos. Until then, the players can enjoy visiting one of land-based casinos or off-shore sites. Of course, if it happens that you visit one of the states that don’t offer a casino, you can always travel to a neighboring state for a few rounds. In 2019, almost half a dozen states fully legalized sports betting. As we can see,  the states are slowly making progress to full legalization of gambling.