Where Are Casinos Legal?

The states where casinos are legal in the US vary depending on the type of casino in question. For land-based casinos, there are 44 states where players can access the service, but this number drastically drops to seven states when talking about online casinos.

the author

Alex Windsor

date post

Nov 27, 2023


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On the other hand, other forms of online gambling, like legal online sports betting, are already available in 35+ states, leading many players to wonder why online casino games are difficult to access in most states.

In this article, I will provide a breakdown of legal states where you can access casino services, states showing a potential to legalize this service, and other legal alternatives to play online casino games in the US.

Here is an overview:

🇺🇸 States💵Real Money Online Casinos🏢Social Casinos🎰Sweepstakes Casinos🏛️Land-Based Casino Venues
Georgia❌No✅Yes✅Yes✅Yes (Riverboat Casinos)
New Hampshire❌No✅Yes✅Yes❌No
New Jersey✅Yes✅Yes✅Yes✅Yes
New Mexico❌No✅Yes✅Yes✅Yes
New York❌No✅YesYes✅Yes
North Carolina❌No✅Yes✅Yes✅Yes
North Dakota❌No✅Yes✅Yes✅Yes
Rhode Island✅Yes✅Yes✅Yes✅Yes
South Carolina❌No✅Yes✅Yes✅Yes (Riverboat Casinos)
South Dakota❌No✅Yes✅Yes✅Yes
West Virginia✅Yes✅Yes✅Yes✅Yes

The US Gambling Industry Explained

Gambling in the US dates back to the 17th century, with early settlers adopting lotteries to raise funds for public projects like roads, bridges, secondary schools, and universities. However, despite the positive impact of these lotteries, a push against gambling activities in the country reached a high point in the middle of the 19th century, and gambling activities like lotteries were banned by the start of the 20th century.

Despite the bad publicity of gambling activities in the country, it has always been an excellent way to generate revenue in times of crisis, making it legal for brief periods after certain events, such as the Great Depression and the Stock Market Crash of 1929.

Around this time, gambling in Nevada also became legal, with the launch of El Rancho Vegas in 1941 marking the first modern casino in the state. However, these were dark times for the Nevada gambling industry, as organized crime families were the major investors and controllers during this era.

Despite some unsavory tactics employed by the crime families to protect their interests, the Nevada gambling industry did see a massive boom in business, surpassing illegal gambling hotspots to become a major gambling destination, leading to safer and tighter government regulation in the 1960s.

With the success of the Nevada gambling market serving as a catalyst, many other states began to legalize gambling, and some notable events after this success include:

  • Legalization of gambling in New Jersey in 1977
  • Launch of Classic Casino in 1979 by the Seminole Tribe, marking the first tribal casino in the country
  • Louisiana and Illinois legalized riverboat casinos in 1990
  • Legalization of gambling in Michigan in 1996
  • The passing of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA)
  • Availability of legal gambling services in 44 states around the country as of 2023
  • Online sports betting in more than 35 states and online casino gaming in seven states

At the federal level, there is a degree of regulation on gambling services, like with the UIGEA, which places a restriction on financial services that involve online gaming platforms. However, in the US today, states are mainly responsible for legalizing gambling activities within their borders and offering licenses to operators who intend to run online gambling services.

States with Legal Casino Venues

The US is home to many of the best land-based casino venues, with estimates of over 1,000 venues spread across the country. According to Statista, in 2022, Tribal Casinos accounted for 523 of the total venues in the country.

There are 44 states with legal casino venues in the US, including states where casino services are available through riverboat casinos.

Georgia and South Carolina each have one casino boat that players can board within the state’s borders. However, the boats must sail into international waters where casino gambling is legal before players can enjoy the games.

Another state with unique casino venues is Kentucky, where players have access to Historical Horse Racing (HHR) machines and gray machines. While gray machines are now banned in the state, the legality of HHR machines is still a hot topic, and many individuals still consider them to be a form of sports betting.

HHR machines allow you to pick three random horses and then spin the reel for a chance to win the game. However, the issue with these games is that outcomes are based on historical results of actual races, and the reels may be just for show.

Types of Land-Based Casino Venues

When trying to pick a legal casino venue to visit, there are several options available, including the following:

  1. Tribal Casinos: These are casinos run by Native American Tribes on their reservations, with limited interference from states.
  2. Commercial Casinos: These are casinos whose operations are regulated by the state, with private ownership by an individual or company.
  3. Casino Resorts: These venues offer casino services, accommodation, spas, and other unique facilities.
  4. Cruise Ship Casinos: These are resorts on water that offer casino services in addition to their cruise services.
  5. Card Rooms: These refer to small establishments that cater to small groups of individuals who want to play poker or other card games.

The allure of land-based casino venues lies in the unique experience they offer customers who visit, and some of the reasons why some individuals always want to visit casino venues include the following:

  • Option to process instant withdrawals
  • An excellent social gaming experience that isn’t available in online casinos
  • Accessible in more US states than the online casino alternative
  • Access to live dealer sessions and personalized casino services for an immersive experience

States Where Online Casinos Are Legal

There are seven states with legal online casino services in the US today, and these include:

  • Connecticut: Legal since 2021
  • Delaware: Legal since 2012
  • Michigan: Legal since 2019 but began operations in 2023
  • New Jersey: Legal since 2013 as part of a 10-year legislation expected to expire in 2023
  • Rhode Island: Legal since 2023, but the law will take effect in March 2024
  • Pennsylvania: Legal since 2019
  • West Virginia: Legal since 2019

Rhode Island is the latest state to legalize online casinos in the US, but residents of the state will still have to wait till March 2024 to start playing their favorite casino games online. The Rhode Island Division of Lottery will be responsible for regulating the iGaming service in the state. At the same time, Bally’s will remain the sole operator of the online casinos and land-based casinos in the state as part of the no-bid contract in effect till 2043.

Other states that had the potential to legalize online casinos in 2023 include Kentucky, Indiana, Iowa, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, and New York. However, many of the bills are now dead in water due to a lack of support. Nonetheless, there is still hope for online casinos to become available in Illinois and Maryland in 2024.

How Do Online Casinos Become Legal in the US?

For an online casino to become legal in the US, the first step is for the operator to go through and understand the federal laws around gambling in the US. These laws include the Federal Wire Act, Illegal Gambling Business Act, and Unlawful Internet Gambling and Enforcement Act of 2006.

Once the operator gets a firm understanding of these laws, they must apply for an operating license in the state where they want to operate. The entire application process will be explained on the official website of the regulatory body in charge in the state, like the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement.

The process generally requires applicants to follow specific rules and regulations set by the governing body, in addition to meeting other requirements. For example, it’s common for state regulators to perform a series of investigation and monitoring missions to ensure the applicant and affiliates are in good standing.

Applicants who pass the assessment level also have to meet the following requirements for online casino gambling services:

  • Applicant must be an affiliate operating on behalf of a land-based casino in the state
  • Operating equipment for the online casino must be located within the land-based casino location in the state
  • All gambling services must be restricted to individuals within the state or another state with a reciprocal agreement

Online casinos that meet all the requirements are granted a renewable license to operate and added to a list of Internet Gaming Authorized sites for the state.

Other Ways to Gamble Online

Legal online casinos are the standard option when it comes to online gambling in the US; however, their availability in only seven US states leaves a lot to be desired. For anyone residing in other US states where online gambling remains illegal, you still have the option to legally participate in online gambling through social casinos and sweepstakes casinos.

A social casino is a unique type that allows you to play casino games for free using virtual currency or gold coins. The gold coins will enable you to play various casino games, but it doesn’t allow you to redeem real prizes.

On the other hand, sweepstakes casinos come with the whole package. These casinos allow you to play with two virtual currencies, gold and sweeps coins, and redeem winnings from your sweeps coins as real cash prizes.

The use of virtual currencies, a no-purchase-necessary model, and the presence of alternate methods of entry (AMOE) all make these casinos legal.

For the best experience, we recommend the sweepstakes options where you can redeem real prizes, and you can read through our reviews for more information.

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the author

Alex Windsor


the author

Proud owner and guru when it comes to all things sweepstakes. Alex has had an illustrious iGaming career spanning 10 + years, and it is only getting started! He offers a unique perspective, as Alex has extensive experience as a player, affiliate, and business owner. He will let you see behind the curtain and show you exactly how sweepstakes casinos operate and, if you are lucky, reveal some insider tips that will have you drowning in sweeps coins!

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