Online casinos try to bring the thrill and potential money-making of traditional betting games like poker to your computer. Questions of legality come into play when winning and losing real money becomes part of the equation.
The laws regulating online casinos are a bit of a moving target and there is no crystal clear answer to the question “is online gambling legal?”
In the U.S., for many years, the federal Wire Act of 1961’s prohibition against betting or wagering using wire communications was interpreted to include any gambling over the Internet. And as late as 2007, the guidance was very clear: “You can go to Vegas. You can go to Atlantic City. You can go to a racetrack. You can go to those places and gamble legally. But don’t do it online. It’s against the law”
However, that changed in 2011 when the U.S. Department of Justice reinterpreted the Wire Act of 1961 to prohibit online gambling only in regards to sporting events or contests, opening the way for non-sport gambling (such as lotteries and online poker and slots) to proceed on the Internet. This new interpretation lifted the federal restriction on online gambling leaving states to decide individually how to restrict or regulate online gambling. Since then, only a few states have actually legalized online gambling.
Before whipping out your credit card and placing a bet, make sure to check your local state laws to see if online gambling is legal. You can find a list of U.S. State Attorney Generals at naag.org.
Also be sure to search for customer reviews on an online casino before you sign up and give any kind of access to your bank account or credit card.
If you have a problem with gambling, you can reach out to Gamblers Anonymous for help: http://www.gamblersanonymous.org/
References/For more information:
In the U.S.
BBB Scam Tracker: https://www.bbb.org/scamtracker/us
2007 FBI article on Online Gambling: https://archives.fbi.gov/archives/news/stories/2007/june/gambling_060607
Department of Justice opinion on online gambling/lotteries (2011): https://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/olc/opinions/2011/09/31/state-lotteries-opinion.pdf
National Law Review article on “DOJ's Reversal on the Wire Act - What It Means for Internet Gaming”: http://www.natlawreview.com/article/doj-s-reversal-wire-act-what-it-means-internet-gaming
Last Reviewed: October 14, 2016