With several types of online gambling available in Pennsylvania, picking a site can seem overwhelming. If you’re feeling unsure about where to go, you’ve come to the right place.
The best online gambling sites all encourage responsible gambling. You can easily find a place where there is real gambling taking place at the best online gambling casino as well as at gambling websites. Visit the above three websites and see what amount of money they require before you put a strategy to work. Gambling.site lists the best online casinos, poker rooms and sports betting sites based on their reputation with online gamblers. In order for any gambling site to be listed here they must have a legal gambling license and be operating their games on a trusted software platform. There are simply too many gambling websites to choose from so we. This is one of the reasons licensed online gambling sites have done financially worse than expected. Only existing brick & mortar casino owners within those states can apply for licenses, although they can apply together with an existing online gambling site in a software-licensing agreement, like Caesar’s Interactive and 888.com have done. You can scroll to the top of this page to see our top-rated U.S.A online gambling sites. Is online gambling legal in the USA? Yes, it is entirely legal to visit, register, deposit, and play at a casino site in the USA at any of the registered & audited offshore gambling sites that we recommend.
Below, you will find reviews for the best online casino and online sportsbook in Pennsylvania. We have carefully studied each site to determine what the strong suits are and, conversely, what things they need to improve.
We also discuss some of the challenges Pennsylvania’s online gambling market is facing.
With things changing almost daily, it can be challenging to keep up with online gambling news in the Keystone State. Hopefully, by reading through our information below, you can determine which sites best fit your online betting needs. Most importantly, you must be comfortable with the site and aren’t worried about anything beyond winning.
Best PA online gambling sites for 2021
Several online casinos are active in Pennsylvania. Here’s a rundown of what bonuses are available on the best sites right now: Unibet Casino. Unibet online casino in PA is one of the top options in the state, with $10 free just for signing up and a 100% match of your deposit up to $500. For the free money, use promo code UBCASINO10.
Our best casino bonuses and offers
Online casinos offer bonuses to their patrons to promote loyalty for the site. This practice is especially true for new players; every online casino has an offer for those who register for the site.
Several online casinos are active in Pennsylvania. Here’s a rundown of what bonuses are available on the best sites right now:
Unibet online casino in PA is one of the top options in the state, with $10 free just for signing up and a 100% match of your deposit up to $500.
For the free money, use promo code UBCASINO10. For the deposit bonus, use promo code UBCASINO500.
The trusted brand from Europe is hoping to make a big splash in PA with the biggest library of games in the state.
Read ourUnibet PA online casino review
SugarHouse Casino offers new players a 100% deposit match on their first deposit. In other words, the site will match the player’s initial deposit dollar-for-dollar.
This bonus is good for up to $250. Best of all, PlaySugarHouse only requires a 1x playthrough on its bonus, so the money is quite easy to release. SugarHouse is the best PA casino when it comes to bonus offers.
All a new player needs to do is use promo code 250MATCH when he or she makes a deposit. This deposit bonus is likely the best available in Pennsylvania right now.
Read our Sugarhouse PA Casino review
At first glance, Hollywood online casino’s bonus seems rather meager in comparison to the other two casinos. After all, $25 is not much compared to hundreds of dollars. However, this $25 does not require a deposit. It’s absolutely free.
All new players must do is register on the site. There’s no need to enter any promo code or other activity. As a result, the registrant will find $25 waiting for them.
Best of all, there’s only a 1x playthrough requirement. So, wager through the $25 once, and it’s ready for withdrawals.
Read our Hollywood Casino review
PA online casinos partnership tracker
The table below shows the Pennsylvania casinos that have applied for licenses. You can see their expected technology partners, and whether they have an additional online sports betting license.
|Casino||Online partners||Online Casino launch projection|
|Hollywood (Penn National)||N/A||Launched July 2019|
|Parx||GAN||Launched July 2019|
|Rivers Philadelphia||Rush Street Interactive / Kambi||Launched July 2019 (PlaySugarHouse)|
|PokerStars Casino||888 / PokerStars||Launched Nov. 2019|
|Unibet||Kindred||Launched Nov. 2019|
|FanDuel Casino||IGT / GAN||Launched Jan. 2020|
|Presque Isle Downs||BetAmerica||Launched Jan. 2020|
|Rivers Philadelphia||Rush Street Interactive / Kambi||Launched Jan. 2020 (BetRivers)|
|Harrah's||Scientific Games / 888 (Caesars)||Launched April 2020|
|Wind Creek Casino||Pala Interactive||Launched July 2020|
|Live! Casino||GAN||Launched Aug. 2020|
|Barstool Casino||Penn National||2020|
|Hollywood (Penn National)||BetMGM||Launched Dec. 2020|
|Golden Nugget NJ||NYX||Application pending|
Best sportsbook bonuses and offers
Here’s a look at our welcome bonuses offers:
SugarHouse Sportsbook was the first online sportsbook to open its doors in Pennsylvania. So, fittingly, the book has a great dollar-for-dollar welcome bonus.
New players at SugarHouse will receive a 100% match on their first deposit. All they have to do is enter promo code 250MATCH when entering their banking details.
Best of all, this match is good for deposits of up to $250. There’s only a 1x playthrough requirement, so it’s quite simple to release. Few bonuses are as good as this one in Pennsylvania right now.
Read our Sugarhouse Sportsbook review
BetRivers’ online sportsbook does have a bonus that rivals SugarHouse’s deposit match. In fact, it’s the same.
Thanks to its shared corporate ownership, BetRivers and SugarHouse are sister sites. So, the two books are going to function as mirrors in many cases, including bonus offers.
Naturally, that means that BetRivers players can also receive a 100% match on their first deposits. This match extends up to $250.
New players must use the promo code 250MATCH to activate the bonus when they make that first investment. The 1x playthrough requirement is about as minimal as those restrictions get, so it should be no problem to recover a significant portion of free money from BetRivers.
Read our BetRivers Sportsbook review
To casual fans, FanDuel might seem like a strange addition to the sports betting landscape. However, the daily fantasy sports giant has become quite a force in online sports betting in the past few years.
So, Pennsylvanians can get a taste of what all the fuss is. New accounts at FanDuel online sportsbook will receive a risk-free bet of up to $500.
New FanDuel players don’t need a promo code to activate this deal. They simply must join FanDuel here and make their first wager.
There is a 1x playthrough requirement on the bonus, which means players must make another bet of equal size to release the funds.
Essentially, players are receiving two bets for the price of one. Still, that’s a great deal for most, mainly if one of them happens to win.
As an added bonus, there is also a FanDuel Casino integrated within the PA FanDuel sports betting app.
Read our Fanduel PA Sportsbook review
Full list of sportsbooks and partnerships
|Casino||Retail sportsbook launch||Online sportsbook||Online sportsbook launch|
|Rivers Casino Philadelphia||Dec. 15, 2018||PlaySugarHouse||Launched May 2019|
|Rivers Casino Pittsburgh||Dec. 15, 2018||BetRivers||Launched June 2019|
|Parx Casino Sportsbook||Jan. 10, 2019||Parx||Launched June 2019|
|Valley Forge Casino||March 13, 2019||FanDuel||Launched July 2019|
|Hollywood Casino at Penn National||Nov. 17, 2018||Barstool||Launched Sept. 2020|
|Harrah's Philadelphia||Jan. 24, 2019||Caesars||Launched March 2020|
|Presque Isle Downs Casino||July 26, 2019||BetAmerica||Launched Dec. 2019|
|Mount Airy||Sept. 12, 2019||Fox Bet||Launched Sept. 2019|
|Mohegan Sun Pocono||Sept. 24, 2019||Unibet||Launched Nov. 2019|
|The Meadows||Oct. 7, 2019||DraftKings||Launched Nov. 2019|
|Oaks Race & Sportsbook (Now Closed)||March 14, 2019 (permanently closed in July, 2020)||N/A||N/A|
|South Philadelphia Turf Club||Jan. 17, 2019||N/A||N/A|
|The Downs at Lehigh Valley||Jan. 2020 (Unibet Sportbook)||N/A||N/A|
|Wind Creek Casino||Nov. 18, 2020||Betfred||Launched Dec. 2020|
|Live! Casino Philadelphia (2021)||2021 (FanDuel Sportsbook)||N/A||N/A|
|Hollywood Casino Morgantown (2021)||2021 (BetMGM Sportsbook)||BetMGM||Launched Dec. 2020|
Many of these online sports betting offerings will eventually be tied to a PA online casino site. For example, Harrah’s will likely roll everything into its single Caesars Online Casino product. PlaySugarHouse offers a shared account between casino and sports betting as well.
The lone exception is if you are an iPhone user. Changes to the Apple app store guidelines make these shared apps difficult, so you might see a sports betting app before you get a real-money online casino app in the lineup. And there is a chance they will remain separate.
What’s legal and illegal for online sports betting?
Few newly legalized activities come without rules and exceptions to their legality. Pennsylvania’s online sports betting is no different.
The good news is that Pennsylvania residents and visitors can wager on any professional, collegiate or international sporting events. The only requirements are:
- Be at least 21 years or older
- Be physically within Pennsylvania state lines
- Wager on an approved, regulated Pennsylvania site
However, the betting must occur on sporting events.
So, non-sports events, such as the Academy Awards or political elections, are not permitted for betting.
Finally, people who are intrinsically involved with a particular sport cannot wager upon it. So, players, officials, coaches, and other sports personnel cannot place bets on their own sports.
Concerning online casinos, most people can play without any restriction. Adults who are at least 21 years old are more than welcome to take part.
However, there is absolutely no online casino play allowed across state lines. The sites use geolocation software to monitor every player’s physical location. You must enable this function on your mobile device or you won’t be allowed to play.
The other exception is people who have placed themselves on the self-exclusion list. There is a separate self-exclusion list in Pennsylvania specifically for online play. Unfortunately, gambling addiction is a real problem, and online casinos are careful not to exacerbate the issue for people who are in recovery.
PA casino apps
With Pennsylvania moving into the online casino space, there are a few points about using these programs that bear mention.
First and foremost, it’s important to know that each casino app will figure out what device you’re using automatically. So, whether you use a laptop or a mobile device, the app will size the casino to fit your screen.
For the most part, every online casino has a browser version that will always work on desktops and some phones.
With that said, many casinos have a dedicated app specific to mobile use. If you are a mobile user, you may find the app to provide a smoother experience.
The mobile apps may also have greater functionality than the browser version. However, the game selection on the app can be smaller because some games don’t translate to mobile.
Finally, no matter which platform you use, you will have to go through some steps for the app to work.
Apple users should be aware all PA casinos or sportsbooks have a native iOS app.
Android users can play on all of the casinos in Pennsylvania but they will need to download the app from the casino website. The Google Play store does not support the distribution of gambling apps.
What online casino games are available in PA casinos?
Online casinos feature many of the same games that one might find in a land-based casino. Here are some of the types of games you may find at your favorite site.
Because of the laws requiring Pennsylvania-specific servers for any game providers to PA online casinos, the selection may not be what you are used to if you’ve ever played on a New Jersey online casino, for example.
The bread and butter for land-based casinos, slots, are the main focus for most online casinos too. An online slot is technically not a machine, but it functions identically otherwise.
A slot game will usually feature several rotating reels with various symbols drawn on them. The reels stop, and the player wins (or doesn’t) based upon the patterns the reels come to rest.
Many slots also feature bonus games or features that provide extra chances for players to win. Bonuses tend to be mini-games and have a higher chance of success than the slot game at large.
Each online casino in Pennsylvania offers a selection of games. That variety depends mostly on the deals each casino has with the game publishers.
So, the following is a list of the most popular slot developers and their games that are playable at the best PA online casinos:
NetEnt: At this time, all games on SugarHouse Casino are produced by NetEnt Games. NetEnt became an industry leader in the world of online slots by providing players with realistic games that replicated those in a Vegas casino. The list of games below includes the top games you will find at Pennsylvania online casinos.
- Blood Suckers II
- Dead or Alive
- Divine Fortune
- Drive: Multiplier Mayhem
- Gonzo’s Quest
Konami: Konami is a household name in the online casino industry. As of the time of writing, this slot developer is only available at select casinos and with only a handful of Konami slot games. Here is a list of games available at select PA casinos:
- African Diamond
- Ancient Dragon
- China Shores
- Full Moon Diamond
- Solstice Celebration
IGT: IGT is a massive global brand with more than 1,000 styles of slot machines in brick-and-mortar casinos and hundreds available online. But there is a limited number of IGT slots in Pennsylvania. This list includes the top games you’ll be able to find online.
- The Big Easy
- Crown of Egypt
- King of Atlantis
- Pixies of the Forest
Other game developers entering the Pennsylvania market include Incredible Technologies, Everi Gaming, GAN, H5G, and Slot Symphony.
Video poker games are often lumped together with slots. The main difference is that players retain a certain measure of control over the way the game proceeds.
Video poker creates a virtual simulation of a typical five-card draw poker hand. The player receives five cards, can choose to hold as many as they like and then redraws.
The goal is to make a five-card hand that qualifies as a winner. Exactly which rank of hand is required to win varies from game to game.
Players who prefer a more tactile experience tend to stick to table games. These are games that use a virtual simulation of activities that involve playing cards, dice, balls, or prize wheels.
The most common table game is blackjack. This card game is a competition between the player and the dealer to see whose combination of cards can get closest to 21 in value.
The catch is that the player must act before the dealer and rely on incomplete information to do so. As a result, the casino retains a slight mathematical edge.
However, players can mitigate this edge by using basic strategy. Basic strategy is a widely published set of behaviors designed to play blackjack optimally.
The second-most common table game is roulette.
This French version of the game is found in almost any casino with table games. In fact, PlaySugarHouse elected to launch three variants of roulette in its PA online casino before publishing any versions of blackjack.
Basically, roulette involves a randomly released ball falling into a spinning wheel with numbered slots. Players wager based upon which numbers they believe the ball will fall into.
When playing roulette, you will choose between European and American roulette. European roulette features only a single zero on the wheel and boasts better odds for the players. American roulette, on the other hand, features a 0 and a 00, worsening the odds for players.
There are a variety of choices and combinations of numbers that players can choose to bet. Roulette is a staple for casinos due to its pace of play and chance at incredible winnings. A correct bet on a single number will pay 35:1.
Craps seems to be a bit less likely to appear in PA online casinos. The game itself, which plays with dice rolls, a large tub-like pit, and myriad ways to wager, is likely a challenge for programmers to realize in a virtual setting.
Nonetheless, craps is a dice-based game, which involves players attempting to roll certain numbers on a pair of dice. Players wager based upon the likelihood of various combinations appearing on the dice.
The probability of those combinations often determines the prescribed payout for various wagers on the board. The casinos generate their profit margin by ensuring that the payout odds are worse than the event odds.
For example, a particular number may only have one chance in three of occurring, but a successful wager will only payout 2:1.
Other table games
Several table games are available from time to time at online casinos. These games are less common and, frankly, have a bigger house edge to them.
Nevertheless, they can be a fun option for someone looking for a change of pace. Some other table games include:
- Casino Hold ’em
- Caribbean Stud
- EZ Baccarat
- Let It Ride
- Pai Gow Poker
- Three-card poker
- Ultimate Texas Hold ’em
Live dealer games at PA casinos
People often speak about the “next big thing.” For online gambling in the US, live dealer games are that thing.
This style of online casino game has been nothing short of a revolution. It has propelled casinos in New Jersey to great heights. Live dealer games will come to a Pennsylvania online casinos as soon as the operators can get it off the ground.
Essentially, live dealer games are games dealt in real-time and broadcast live across the site. Real dealers run the games in an interactive studio located in or near the actual land-based casino itself. In fact, there are a few games conducted on the casino floor itself.
Players can place their bets, interact with the dealers, or even interact with one another. Some versions of live dealer games have even expanded to allow players to have multiple views of the game in action.
So far, the following games are available in a live dealer setting in New Jersey. Hopefully, they will appear in Pennsylvania soon:
- Casino Hold ’em
- Three-card poker
- Ultimate Texas Hold ’em
Stay on top of things with your favorite online site. Live dealer games are not something to miss.
More about PA’s legal online gambling industry
Online poker, online casino table games, and slots became legal in Pennsylvania as a part of a comprehensive gambling expansionpackagepassed by state legislators in October 2017.
The PGCB is providing regulatory oversight for the local online gambling industry. Casinos could get all three types of interactive gaming licenses at once for a $10 million licensing fee. The cost was $4 million each individually for slots, table games, and peer-to-peer games like poker.
There is no limit on the number of skins, or alternatively branded online gambling operations, that can operate under each licensee. However, regulations designed by the board stipulate branding for the skins must clearly identify the licensee. Plus, players can only create one account per licensee, not per skin.
Potential PA online casinos
According to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB), there are 10 stand-alone and racetrack casinos and two smaller resort casinos operating inside the state. Plus, a 13th casino, Live! Philadelphia, is coming to the South Philadelphia Sports Complex area, home of Philadelphia’s professional sports teams.
All of these PA casino operations could have applied for online gambling operator licenses in the state beginning April 16, 2018. The properties had until July 16 to turn in applications for a $10 million comprehensive interactive gaming license. With this license, casinos can offer online poker, online slots, and online table games.
There were nine casinos which applied:
- Harrah’s Philadelphia
- Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course
- Mount Airy Casino Resort
- Parx Casino
- Rivers Casino Pittsburgh
- Wind Creek (formerly Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem)
- Rivers Philadelphia (formerly SugarHouse Casino)
- Valley Forge Resort Casino
- Live! Philadelphia Casino (under development)
After applying, Rivers Casino Pittsburg eventually rescinded its application, electing to punt on online gambling. Stadium Casino, now called Live! Philadelphia, did something similar, opting to forgo an online poker license.
Meanwhile, both Presque Isle Downs and Mohegan Sun Pocono applied for a la carte licenses. Presque Isle opted to skip poker. Mohegan surprisingly signed up for all three at a cost of $2 million more than its competitors. However, like Rivers and Live!, it too abandoned its online poker plans.
That left 12 unclaimed interactive licenses. PGCB opened up a process for qualified gambling entities (QGE) from outside of Pennsylvania to claim them.
Only two groups applied. MGM Resorts has preliminary approval for all three categories of license. Golden Nugget Atlantic City can offer table games and slots, but no online poker.
These two major US gaming players will be among the last to launch online casino and sports betting products in PA. They will also be the only sites without a PA land-based casino partner.
Potential PA online poker sites
The first online poker site to go live in the state was PokerStars PA when it fully launched on Nov. 6, 2019. The global poker brand is offered in conjunction with its land-based counterpart Mount Airy Casino Resort.
Today, 10 of 12 Pennsylvania casinos have poker rooms. Lady Luck Casino Nemacolin and Valley Forge Casino Resort are the only casinos in the state that do not have poker rooms.
More than 220 live poker tables are operating across the state with the 10 rooms pulling in an average of $4 million in revenue every month.
Plans for Live! in the South Philadelphia Sports Complex area include opening a poker room when the facility opens its doors in early 2021.
In addition to Mount Airy, six more PA casinos plan to offer an online poker counterpart. Those that will launch an online poker room in Pennsylvania (MGM is applying as an out-of-state entity) include:
- Harrah’s Philadelphia
- Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course
- Parx Casino
- Wind Creek Casino
- Rivers Casino Philadelphia
- Valley Forge Resort Casino
- MGM Resorts (QGE – no land-based partner)
PA online gambling site safety
PGCB will regulate all online gaming sites in the state. This is the same branch of the state government that regulates all land-based PA casinos.
Other important points regarding PA online gambling security
The regulations designed by PGCB will include several security measures specifically designed to:
- Ensure player balances are held in a separate account from operating funds
- Force sites to implement a rigorous player verification process
- Prevents minors from gaining access
- Deal with problem gamblers
- Force sites to implement geolocation software making sure all players are within the state
- All deposits and withdrawals are processed securely
Skip the Headaches and Play at a Legitimate Site
You’re looking for a legitimate U.S. gambling site, but can’t decide which site to trust with your hard-earned money?
Good news! We’ve been in the online gambling industry for over a decade (several decades, really, if you add all of our experience together), and we’ve spent countless hours to bring you a list of the most legitimate sites.
Here’s what all of these sites have in common:
- 10+ years in the business with strong reputations.
- Attractive promotions for first-time customers.
- Quick money withdrawals (relative to the U.S. market).
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Why Bovada Is #1 in the U.S.
#1: Fastest Check Cashouts
Bovada gets 10 times as much traffic as its second best US competitor and still delivers check payouts faster than any of them. Bovada processes check withdrawals in 7 days; many of its competitors take weeks, some more than a month to do the same. (There are other fast options, like the #3-ranked BetOnline, which delivers checks in 14 days.)
An equally important aspect of Bovada’s operations is its customer service. If there ever was an indication of how much a company respects its customers, it’s the level of customer service the company provides. I haven’t found any US-friendly site doing this aspect of the business better (although 5Dimes is a worthy runner-up).
Finally, all parts of Bovada’s business (sportsbook, casino, poker, racebook) are popular. Bovada is best-known for sports betting and casino games, however, even its online poker room has around four times as many players online as the second biggest US poker site. You can access all of their games with one player account.
… But You Should Know This
Bovada is recreational-friendly, perhaps more-so than any other US site. You’ll find few golden opportunities in their sportsbook (read more about their use of dual lines), they have a relatively high overall house edge (especially after recently increasing house edge in video poker games) and their online poker room only has “anonymous” tables.
Although not everyone agrees with me, the recreational-friendly part is an advantage for skilled poker players. Since Bovada appeals to recreational gamblers, you’ll be like a shark among regular fish.
Bovada charges a 4.9% fee for credit card deposits (a lot considering how most sites charge nothing). The impact of the deposit fee is slightly compensated by their welcome bonuses, which are better than average.
All online gamblers look for entertaining games, attractive promotions and aesthetically pleasing software. To have a safe experience, however, you want a site to:
- Serve its customers with safety and respect,
- Operate with a reasonable house edge, and
- Handle money transactions promptly.
Yes, the third point is included in the first point but it’s also such an essential part of the customer experience that it must be mentioned separately. Many online gambling websites operate without an adequate level of service so these points are worth considering. It’s rare to find a combination of all three points.
Bovada fulfills all of the above criteria better than other sites but 5Dimes does well, too. In fact, I’m confident in ranking those two as the best USA gambling websites specifically because they deliver so well in the areas related to safety and trustworthiness. A site without proper customer service and safety measures is not one you should deposit money to, regardless of its promotions and whatnot.
What Are Some Alternative Options?
For Sports Bettors
5Dimes.eu is the best betting site in the US for the following reasons: they’re professional-friendly and offer reduced juice betting lines (in other words, less house edge). Before betting on any game, I recommend taking a look at the odds 5Dimes is offering. They’ve been a reliable sportsbook for over 10+ years — you’ll find few complaints about 5Dimes online, and the ones you find have been resolved quickly.
For poker and casino games, I would go with Bovada. But for sports bettors, it makes the most sense to have an account at 5Dimes.
Another Solid Option
BetOnline.ag is my third suggestion. It’s not significantly better than the others in any area but they’re simply a solid option. Prompt cashout processing, decent poker traffic, good sports betting options and entertaining casino games. Additionally, I’ve had good experiences with their customer service.
For sports bettors, BetOnline is worth signing-up at simply to be able to compare betting lines among a few sites. For poker players, BetOnline may offer some good games every now and then (keep in mind: you can bet on sports and play casino and poker games with the same account, so plenty of gamblers will stumble on the poker games eventually). For casino gamblers, BetOnline has a basic but reliable offering.
BetOnline charges a 6% fee for credit card deposits.
Is It Legal to Play?
The definition of ”gambling” and the laws surrounding vary depending on which state you live in.
In Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey, some forms of online gambling have been legalized and regulated (only state-licensed sites are allowed to operate legally). In other states, it’s likely (although not widely agreed upon) that playing – and certainly operating – online gambling games for real money is illegal.
On a federal level, sports betting is the only form of prohibited gambling via the Wire Act of 1961. For several years, the Department of Justice (DOJ) maintained that the Wire Act applies to all forms of online gambling, but in December 2011, they corrected that stance by stating that the Wire Act only applies to sports betting – a result of a 13-page memorandum from the Office of Legal Counsel to the Criminal Division of the DOJ (source).
State laws, however, often indirectly prohibit gambling. Or to put it another way: it would be difficult to claim any forms of online gambling legal with absolute certainty in most states (lotteries and such aside). Most state laws indirectly prohibit gambling simply by making all forms of gambling unlawful that have not been made lawful.
Purely based on history, it’s unlikely you’ll get into legal trouble; then again, if something is illegal, you can get into trouble, and someone probably will. Gambling online may be illegal where you live. Contact a local gaming lawyer to get a better idea of your local laws.
Industry-changing events have taken place in the online gambling world – mainly concerning online poker – such as the UIGEA and Party Poker’s exit from the US market, or PokerStars’ exit from the US market in 2011.
Those crimes were committed by online poker operators, though, not players. Still, the mere fact that online poker companies were targeted was enough to cast a shadow over the legality of US online poker, and furthermore, players grew more and more worried about one of these sites getting shut down along with the money on their player accounts.
In fact, there is a legitimate reason to worry about dishonest US gambling sites taking your money. Some sites have indeed taken off with the money – a recent example is Lock Poker, which currently may owe its customers over $15 million. I created LegitGamblingSites.com mainly to give more exposure to the sites with strong track records of honest business practices.
The lawmakers, in that regard, have a point about not allowing unlicensed sites to provide online gambling games to US citizens. While that may not be the reason, it’s likely one of them. (If I had to guess, I’d say they’re more concerned about losing out on tax dollars and protecting the interests of brick & mortar casino owners such as Sheldon Adelson, although through the RAWA – Restore America’s Wire Act legislation – he tries to do that by himself.)
How to Move Money Around
Ever since the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA) became a law, US citizens have had a more difficult time finding a suitable deposit method.
There are only a few left, actually.
The most common deposit method for US citizens is still credit card deposits, out of which VISA is the most widely accepted brand, followed by Mastercard, with American Express being a distant third. Cards must be eligible for both international and online transfers.
The alternative method is to use a money transfer service such as Western Union. Western Union is mostly a deposit-only method. (Bovada is an exception since they only allow you to withdraw money via a check.)
Why to use a money transfer service instead of a credit card?
- A card deposit fails to go through. This happens every now and then, and the only way to know if your card will be accepted is to try. According to various forum reports, Vanilla VISA is declined at most sites while Netspend VISA has been successful.
Surprisingly, players have had problems with card deposits even at state-licensed sites due to banks like Bank of America outright declining all gambling transactions. Things will likely get better with the new MCC codes for VISA, Mastercard, American Express and Distant which will help casinos to identify gambling transactions more accurately. It’s unclear how much of a help this will be since banks still have the right to decline transfers marked with the new MCC codes, and due to not wanting to violate the UIGEA (according to which they’re prohibited from knowingly processing unlawful gambling transactions), banks may decide it isn’t worth it and keep cancelling transactions even if they were for state-licensed sites.
This is expected to change once bigger states – perhaps even the biggest of them all, California – join internet gambling, since declining the transactions will then affect such a large percentage of any bank’s customer base.
- You want a faster cashout. While money transfer services cost more (many sites, like Bovada, allow one free check cashout a month), the money is usually delivered to be picked up at a local Western Union location in five days or less.
- You don’t want a check cashout. You need to go to a cashier to cash a check. Most people would rather avoid doing this, especially since banks aren’t allowed to knowingly process online gambling related transactions (unless in Delaware, Nevada or New Jersey, but people have had problems in those states as well).
In general, you’ll have higher transaction costs with money transfer services than with a combination of credit cards and checks. BetOnline and Bovada are the only major USA sites charging for credit card deposits and most allow one free check cashout per month – some, like True Poker, allow a free check withdrawal every seven days.
How to use a credit card/check combination?
- Enter your credit card details online after which you have the money on your player account instantly.
- When done playing, order a check cashout, which will take from a week to over a month depending on which site you’re dealing with.
- Go to your local bank to cash the check.
How to use a money transfer service (like Western Union)?
- Go to their website or a live Western Union location and send money to the gambling site. (You’ll need to contact the gambling site first to get their transfer details.)
- When done playing, initiate the withdrawal from your player account.
- Go to a live location to collect the money.
As mentioned, Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey have legalized and regulated some forms of real-money online gambling. Delaware started with online poker but has since expanded into casino games as well; Nevada offers online poker games only; New Jersey offers online poker and casino games.
As you can see, not a single one of these states offer online sports betting. In New Jersey – clearly the biggest market of the three – there’s a clause according to which sports betting may be considered to be added in the future.
You must be physically located within a state’s boundaries to play at the licensed sites. If you’re currently located in California but live in Nevada, you’re unable to play until you return to Nevada; if you’re currently located in Nevada but live in California, you can play as long as you stay within Nevada’s state boundaries.
Licensed sites have to make sure nobody outside of the state can participate in the games. Geolocation – identifying exactly where a person is located – has been difficult, and there are still people who are unable to play even though they’re located within those states. This is one of the reasons licensed online gambling sites have done financially worse than expected.
Only existing brick & mortar casino owners within those states can apply for licenses, although they can apply together with an existing online gambling site in a software-licensing agreement, like Caesar’s Interactive and 888.com have done. If a poker site kept operating in the US after the UIGEA of 2006, it will be subjected to a ”bad actor” clause in Nevada and be prohibited from operating in the state for now.
Each state has had a rocky start, although New Jersey is doing OK. In March 2014, they did $11.87 million in revenue, which grew into $13.16 million in March 2015. A growth rate of 14.57% year-over-year is better than nothing, but still a far cry from the $1 billion within the first 7 months of operating Governor Christie expected (New Jersey gambling sites were launched in November 2013). In other words, his expectations were a little over $140 million a month on average, or about ten times the current revenue.
According to PokerScout.com, Nevada’s online poker revenue is going downhill. Year-over-year decrease in revenue of around 44% (from February 2014 to February 2015) is, no matter how you look at it, a disappointing result. Problems with card deposits and geolocation – both of which exist in other states as well – and player liquidity have undoubtedly contributed to the significant decrease. Players have to deal with fewer problems when playing at offshore sites, and as long as that continues, it will be difficult for state-licensed sites to gain major traction.
In Delaware, the state keeps all yearly revenue up to $3.75 million. Since total revenue for 2014 was around $2.1 million, gambling operators have made nothing. The main reason for such a low amount of revenue is Delaware’s population of 0.94 million (in comparison, New Jersey has a population of 8.9 million). Liquidity is important for online poker since you need lots of players to run games at various stakes, in several forms and throughout the day. Delaware is trying to improve its poker liquidity by combining player pools with Nevada but so far there hasn’t been a significant improvement to its online gaming revenue.
If all of the three states were to combine their player pools, it would create a poker economy of around 12 million people, which could add significant liquidity to the games and thus bring in more revenue to each of the states.
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Gambling sites accepting US customers from outside of the three states are all ”offshore” sites, meaning they operate from outside of the US and have no license to operate within the US. They have obtained a license in some other jurisdictions – such as Antiqua & Barbuda or Panama – but many of those jurisdictions have less-than-stellar reputations.
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The disadvantage of gambling at offshore sites is the lack of safety. For an outsider, it’s impossible to know how strict testing measures these sites go through to prove their legitimacy, and hypothetically, if one of them were to disappear from the internet tomorrow along with your money, what could you do about it?
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Lock Poker, as already mentioned, is an ongoing example. They’ve now lost their license in Curacao (weirdly, they were able to keep the license easily over a year after refusing to process customer cashouts) and there’s nothing anyone can do to make sure Lock Poker’s customers have their money returned. All we can do is spread the word to the people who are considering signing-up and depositing money to their site.
The best thing you can do is consider the reputation of the site rather than the jurisdiction since all jurisdictions have had dishonest sites. The longer a site has been fully operational, and the fewer complaints it has generated, the better. Essentially, Bovada has been in the online gambling business since 2000 when Bodog.com was founded (the US-friendly operations of Bodog were re-branded as Bovada in 2011), and as mentioned, they’ve achieved an excellent reputation with a high level of customer service.
But there are advantages to playing at an offshore site, too, and you can legitimately argue that the advantages override the disadvantages. Offshore sites place fewer restrictions on customers, need less personal information and have to compete with lots of other sites (within US states, competition is limited) which forces them to be at their best in order to succeed. There are no geolocation issues either.
Safety and legality aside – although obviously, both are big considerations – offshore sites are the better option in almost every area. Since only three states have legalized some forms of real-money online gambling in the US, they’re the only places for internet gambling for around 96.4% of US population.
US online gambling is in a transitional phase: after a long wait of legalization, three states have done it, mostly with lackluster success. Suggesting geolocation and deposit issues are resolved, revenue streams may grow. With online poker, though, most likely at least one of the bigger states has to legalize it and combine player pools with the others to create a meaningful poker economy.
A federal legalization would create much-needed competition and player pools, which in turn creates a bigger incentive for operators to participate and, in many ways, a better environment for gamblers. If internet gambling was to be legalized nationwide, every operator and their grandmother would want a license. As of now, it’s more beneficial for most operators to stay outside of the US.