In the United States, gambling is primarily a matter of state law. However, federal law has gotten into the act, reinforcing the various state laws in cases that involve interstate or foreign elements. Whether federal legislation is an adequate defense in these cases remains an open question.
Several laws play a role in online gambling, namely the Wire Act, the UIGEA and the Travel Act. These statutes are largely based on the same general concept: prohibiting the illegal use of interstate commerce for gambling. Nevertheless, each state has its own unique rules. A few states have gone so far as to ban the activity altogether.
The most significant federal law relating to online gambling is the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA), which was first enacted in 2006. This law prohibits the transmission of information over the internet, specifically informing consumers of an online casino’s legal status. While there is no definitive definition of illegal online gambling, the UIGEA makes a clear statement that the activity is illegal, and that individuals who engage in it are subject to criminal penalties. It is also illegal to accept financial instruments from persons who have placed an illegal bet online.
For more on the law and the technology behind it, you can find a wealth of information in CRS Report RS21984 and CRS Report RS22749. Both of these reports offer a detailed description of the technical and statutory aspects of the laws governing online gambling, and they can be downloaded from the GAO website.
On the consumer side, you’ll find a variety of options available. Some sites specialize in one form of gambling, such as sports betting, while others offer a wide variety. Many offer apps to enhance the experience of playing on the go. Generally, all you need to get started is a computer and a good internet connection. But the real fun comes when you get to play on your smartphone. Most gambling sites now have mobile versions of their websites.
To play at an online casino, you need to register, choose a game, and deposit funds. Many of these sites offer several methods for making deposits, including credit cards and debit cards. Others require you to download a software client and log in before you can start playing. Depending on the site, this may take several minutes to complete.
As with all new technologies, the laws regarding online gambling have received a fair amount of scrutiny. Federal courts have given the thumbs up to some of the more colorful forms of online gambling, while rejecting a handful of other less flashy offerings. Nonetheless, some states have taken to banning all forms of online gambling, while other jurisdictions have taken a more hands-off approach.
There is also an important distinction between illegal gambling and legal gambling. Illegal gambling is prohibited by the UIGEA and the Wire Act, but the latter is limited to the most obvious forms of wagering. Online casinos are more complex than their land-based counterparts, but there are plenty of options to choose from. You can even find online poker games that are quite similar to the traditional version.