How Does Gambling Legislation Differ Across the US?

by Staff

In recent years, gambling has been a frequent talking point in the United States of America. While it is a federal law that gambling is allowed, many individual states have come up with their own laws on different types of gambling. The reasons for this may differ. Factors such as tradition, leading political parties, and history may play a vital role in these decisions.

There are a multitude of different ways to gamble – getting those definitions right is a good place to start.

The Different Types of Gambling

  • Charitable Gambling: charitable gambling is held by licensed charities, and their purpose is to incentivize giving. The goal is to donate the majority of the winnings to a charitable cause.
  • Pari-mutuel Gambling: In this type of gaming, there is a shared prize pool that then gets shared between participants, usually, there will be the top 3 winners.
  • Lotteries: lotteries should be familiar enough to most of us; they encourage people to guess a random series of numbers, and if they are successful, they can enjoy a prize. The largest lottery win ever recorded was $2.04 billion during a Powerball drawing. This happened on November 7th, 2022.
  • Tribal Gambling: tribal gambling mostly consists of casinos, bingo halls, and slots halls. As they are usually held in Native American reservations, states cannot make them illegal.
  • Racetrack Betting: this requires betting on a horse that you think is the most likely to win a race, or on an underdog that is not seen as a favorite to win, but if it wins, the payout will be that much higher.
  • Online Gambling: this type of gambling includes any gambling that is done on the internet. It can be many different things, for example, slots, online casinos, bingo, and sports betting.
  • Sports Betting: as the name suggests, sports betting involves any type of betting on a professional match. This can be football, soccer, basketball, MMA fights, volleyball, baseball, and so on. Sports betting makes for a little more entertainment.

As mentioned above, gambling laws differ by state. Some may not allow any form of gaming, while others may allow just a few chosen ones. Let us explore what states allow what types of gambling.

How Legislation Differs Between States

  • The Total Shutouts: Hawaii and Utah

Let’s start with the flat-out no’s, shall we? If you’re headed to Hawaii or Utah, you’d better prepare for a gambling drought. These two put a big anti-gambling padlock on the whole idea – no ifs, ands, or buts about it.

  • The Picky Players: Alabama and Alaska

Now, Alabama and Alaska aren’t completely anti-gambling Grinches, but they do keep things on a tight leash. In ‘Bama, you can get your fix via charitable games, tribal casinos, and the racetrack…but heaven forbid you try hitting up a lottery or online casino. As for Alaska? Well, let’s just say your options are slimmer than a Pixie Stix.

  • The ‘Surprise, It’s Legal!’ States: Tennessee, Arkansas, California, and Colorado

Speaking of surprises, who’d have thought Tennessee would be the first to fully embrace legal sports and sweepstakes betting? But hey, at least you’ve got that and those trusty lotteries to keep you entertained in the Volunteer State. (Just don’t go looking for any online casino action.) Colorado, on the other hand, is a bit of a mixed bag – most gambling’s fair game, but scroll up those online casino apps and you’re in for a world of disappointment. Saying Arkansas in the same breath as Tennessee and Colorado won’t come as a surprise – so expect the same treatment of gambling in Arkansas as the others. But California? The same as those three? Yes – California follows the Tennessee, Arkansas, and Colorado lines, too.

  • The Gambler’s Paradise (With a Catch): Nevada, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York

Oh, Nevada. The shining beacon with their neon-drenched strip! Craps, blackjack, roulette, you name it – it’s all permitted in this desert oasis. They do, however, outlaw lotteries and racetrack betting! (Hey, nobody’s perfect.) Still, for the true gambler looking to make it rain, Vegas is pretty much as good as it gets stateside.

Not to be outdone, Florida and Ohio are throwing their own hats into the ring as gambling destinations. Florida in particular is a big fan of bingo, so add that one to your bucket list if you just love big, air-conditioned halls and big marker pens. Oh, and remember – nobody criticizes Florida’s racetracks and tribal casinos.

What About Your State?

Gambling laws differ across the United States. While some states take a very restrictive stance, others allow players to participate in most of the types of gambling. It is a question of whether more states will alter their laws in favor of gaming. 

From the relatively open waters of New York, Pennsylvania, and the iconic Atlantic City, to the head-scratching gambling rules of Florida, New Jersey, and Ohio, America’s a patchwork of weird and wonderful gaming laws. (Shout out to American Samoa for keeping things ultra-conservative with just charitable gambling allowed.)

About the Author/s

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The New Jersey Digest is a new jersey magazine that has chronicled daily life in the Garden State for over 10 years.

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