Gambling in the US - Find out which states allow slot machines and casinos

If you’re interested in legal gambling in the United States, you may be disappointed to discover that it’s actually illegal in some states of the country. While gambling is legal under US federal law, there are numerous restrictions on the practice depending on the state.

What most people don’t realise is that most states are actually free to regulate or completely prohibit the practice. In fact, only four US states have actually legalised gambling. Meanwhile, Hawaii and Utah are the only two states that have completely outlawed all forms of gambling.

Currently, Nevada and Louisiana are the only two US states in which casino-style gambling is allowed nationwide, however, state and local governments both impose zoning and licensing restrictions. The majority of all other states restrict casino-style gambling to smaller areas such as Atlantic City.

But let’s take a closer look at the states that have completely legalised gambling.

Delaware

Gambling in Delaware dates back to the 1700s when the first-ever race track was opened in 1760, almost 27 years before Delaware became the first official US state. While there was no official betting, unofficial betting was highly popular.

Like many other US states, betting at horse racing tracks was legalised in Delaware in an attempt to revive the state’s economy during the Great Depression and the first licenses were awarded in 1935.

Two years later, Delaware Park opened, becoming the first racetrack casino in the state. By the late 1980s, the Delaware Gaming Control Board had formed in order to oversee all forms of gambling. The organisation’s name was later changed to the Division of Business and Professional Regulation. Sports betting and casino table games were legalised in 2009 and, soon after, Delaware became the first US state to legalise online gambling.

The state made history after passing legislation that same year, allowing betting websites to offer slots and games such as roulette, poker and blackjack. A year later, Delaware’s three casinos opened web portals for free online gambling. The no-money games were followed by real cash online gambling in 2014, making Delaware the first US state to offer online casino games. While the free games were available to players all around the world, the real-money games were only offered to Delaware residents.

As of today, Delaware residents can enjoy online casino gambling, live poker, sports betting, bingo, lottery betting and casino games at the state’s three major complexes Dover Downs, Harrington Raceway and Delaware Park.

Pennsylvania

Gambling has been legal in the US state of Pennsylvania since 2004 when the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB), which oversees all casinos in the state, passed the Pennsylvania Race Horse Development and Gaming Act.

The bill legalised horse racing and slot machines, though they were only allowed at fourteen different locations from the beginning of 2006. In addition, the bill authorised licenses for five casinos, two resort casinos and seven horse track racing locations, also known as racinos. In 2010, the state expanded their licensing to include poker.

In October 2017, the state approved a bill allowing casino gambling at truck stops and airports. It also allowed for online slots, online poker, online table games, fantasy sports and much more. The bill was eventually signed into law by Democratic Governor Tom Wolf on October 30, 2017.

Passing the bill made Pennsylvania the fourth US state to legalise online gambling after Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware. Nine out of the thirteen casinos in the state applied for online gambling licenses in July 2018, the four that failed to apply by the deadline can still apply in the future, but will have to pay a larger fee.

In May 2018, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, which outlawed sports betting nationwide, was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. It’s expected that Pennsylvania casinos will begin to offer sports betting later this year.

Following Nevada, Pennsylvania became the second state to allow gaming at airports. However, as of today, no airports have announced plans to offer the practice.

Nevada

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to discover that most forms of gambling is legal in the state of Nevada. Let’s be honest, when you think of Nevada, Las Vegas is probably the first thing that comes to mind but did you know that it actually has a long history?

Gambling was only legalised in 1931 in an attempt to revive the country’s economy during the Great Depression. Back then, Nevada’s mines were in decline and the state was known as nothing more than a dusty railroad stop. On March 19, 1931, Governor Fred Balzar’s signature changed all of that as it allowed Nevada to become the popular gambling destination it is today.

Nevada is known for being the big one; the state that offers multiple gambling opportunities. Real-life casinos flourish in the state and Nevada actually offers more slots and table games than all other US states combined. You can find slots at restaurants, gas stations and sometimes even in laundromats.

While Nevada is known for its reputation as the gambling state, it actually wasn’t the first US state to legalise online gambling, that honour actually goes to Delaware. Online poker only became legal in the state on February 25, 2013, when Nevada lawmakers signed the AB 114 into law, allowing the issuance of online poker operator licenses.

Other online games, such as mobile slots, are still illegal in Nevada. However, it’s thought that the state will soon legalise the practice following the success of the online gaming casino market in New Jersey.

New Jersey

New Jersey has a long history with gambling, and it dates all the way back to the 1960s, when the first-ever state lottery was approved. The first casinos in New Jersey began appearing in the late 1970s, making the state the second in the US to legalise the practice. In 1978, the Resorts International Casino became the first ever casino to open in New Jersey at Atlantic City, and it’s still open today!

During the 1960s, many of New Jersey’s resorts were failing to attract visitors leading them to shut down or convert into housing. However, once gambling was legalised many of the resorts reinvented themselves as casinos, including the Resorts International Casino which had previously been known as the Chalfonte-Haddon Hotel.

What’s even more surprising is that New Jersey actually became more popular than Nevada for gambling during the 1970s and 80s, partially due to a high-crime rate in Nevada. Donald Trump, who constructed several casinos in Atlantic City, also helped by bringing popular boxers such as Mike Tyson to the city in order to attract customers. By the end of the 1980s, Atlantic City had become a popular tourist destination.

Most forms of gambling are legal in New Jersey. In January 2011, a bill allowing New Jersey residents over the age of 21 to practice online gambling was passed. However, because the state only allows casino gambling in Atlantic City, the bill specified that the computer servers hosting the service would have to be located inside licensed casinos in the city.

Then, in February 2013, a revised bill legalising online casino gambling was signed into law, requiring that players must be at least 21 and must be playing from a computer in the state.

Meanwhile, an agreement between former Republican Governor Chris Christie and Democratic state legislators led to a proposed constitutional amendment in the state in 2016. The New Jersey Casino Expansion Amendment would have expanded casino gambling outside of Atlantic City, but it was shot down in November of the same year.

Hawaii

As mentioned above, Hawaii and Utah are the only two US states that forbid any form of gambling; and there are several reasons why.

Hawaii may be a great place for a holiday, but many Americans and travellers arrive disappointed that gambling is illegal. Lotteries, horse racing, bingo, sports betting and online gambling are all illegal in the US state.

Hawaii’s anti-gambling law bans all casinos, gambling events and any type of game involving chance within its borders. It’s also illegal to even own a slot machine in the state and violating the law could lead to imprisonment.

In 2017, Hawaii launched a crackdown on illegal gambling which saw the Honolulu Police Department conduct raids and arrest 35 people on gambling-related charges.

Hawaiians value family above everything else and believe gambling, whether online or at real-life casinos, would take away from that. However, gambling enthusiasts have argued that the state could use the money from casinos and that the gambling industry would bring about more jobs.

Meanwhile, Hawaiian lawmakers repeatedly pitch gambling bills every year. In January 2017, former Hawaiian Senator Will Espero introduced the Internet Gambling Bill SB 677 which would have legalised online lottery, casino games and poker. The bill was approved by the House, but died in the Senate after they refused to act further on it.

Utah

Utah is the second state to outlaw all forms of gambling. Utah’s law goes so far as to state that even if online gambling was legalised on a federal level, it would still be illegal in the state.

Despite this, bingo halls are somewhat accepted but organisers use a strange scheme in which they charge for food and provide the bingo for ‘free’.

The reason Utah has such strict laws regarding gambling is partially due to the Mormon faith in which gambling, alcohol and even caffeine is forbidden.

The only form of gambling that occurred in the state was between 1925 and 1927, when pari-mutuel wagering, a system in which all forms of betting of a particular type are put together in a pool, was legalised and then quickly repealed.

Since then, Utah voters have repeatedly rejected any bill to legalise gambling.

Gambling in the Other States

The other 44 US states allow some forms of gambling, but restrict them to particular areas. All 44, including Hawaii and Utah, have ruled online gambling as illegal. Today, most US states allow tribal gambling, meaning casinos, bingo halls or other gambling operations held on Native Indian reservations or tribal land.

For example, three Native American tribes operate six casinos in New York. Michigan also allows tribal gambling and established numerous casinos after passing the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in 1988.

Meanwhile, Illinois passed the Riverboat Gambling Act of 1990, making it legal to open a casino as long as it was on a riverboat. Other states that allow for riverboat casinos includes Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi and Missouri though they mostly only operate on the Missouri,Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. According to statistics, ten riverboat casinos exist today and, spread among them, there are over 9,000 slot options and around 500 tables games!

While online gambling is illegal in most US states, new legislations and the recent success of online gambling in New Jersey has seen many states begin considering a change of their laws. It’s thought that California, Illinois, Massachusetts and New York may be the next few states to legalise online gambling.