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Legal Sports Betting: What You Need To Know

4 minute read

Devon Taylor

By Devon Taylor

In 2018, the United States Supreme Court ruled that single-game sports betting was no longer banned. This opened the door for individual states to make their own laws and regulations regarding wagering on sporting events. To date, roughly 30 states have opened the door for legalized sports books. These might be in-person, via a website, or using a smartphone app.

The exact legality of sports betting depends entire where you live. There are still some places where sports betting is technically illegal, so you won’t find any official or regulated companies to take your wager. There are also a few important exceptions to mention. If you’re looking a bit of extra action the next time you sit down to watch a game, here’s everything you need to know about legal sports betting in America.

The 2018 Supreme Court Ruling

As mentioned, the U.S. Supreme Court issues a landmark decision in the 2018 case Murphy vs. National Collegiate Athletic Association. In this ruling, the Court declared a previous law (the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act) unconstitutional. This act had prevented individual states from legalizing sports betting.

This ruling allowed the other states to catch up to Nevada, where in-person sports betting had remained legal. Some quickly legalized some (but not all) forms of sports gambling, while others opened right up, creating a sea of legalized betting apps. If you’ve watched any game on TV in the past year or two, you’ve surely been bombarded with ads for the newest ways to wager on sports.

The Fantasy Sports Exception

Despite the federal ban on sports gambling (Nevada excluded), the previous laws always made exceptions for “games of skill.” For whatever reason, fantasy sports has always been considered a game of skill, rather than merely a luck-based contest. The thought was that a skilled fantasy manager would be able to perform well over an entire season, despite the day-to-day variance of luck. Millions of Americans from almost every state play fantasy sports every year, with football and baseball being the most popular.

What daily fantasy sports became a thing, these laws were put to the test. If regular fantasy sports were a game of skill, then companies like DraftKings and FanDuel argued that daily fantasy games were also skill. This logic worked, for the most part. With sports wagering now legalized in an even broader way by the Supreme Court, fantasy sports remain a legal way to play.

States With Legal Online Sports Betting

The following states have legalized online sports betting:

Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

Some of these states previously only allowed in-person betting at local casinos. For example, you could have placed bets at Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut since 2001. Some states also allowed exceptions for casinos on tribal land. However, now all 22 of these states offer licenses and regulation to companies who offer online wagering via the internet.

States Where Online Betting is Still Illegal

Not every state was eager to jump on the sports betting revenue train. Delaware, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Dakota, Washington, and Wisconsin all still have state-wide bans on online sports gambling. However, these ten states still allow sports gambling to made in-person, at registered casinos or official sportsbook locations.

Some of these states may open up to online wagers in the future. North Carolina, for example, already has a piece of legislation in the works that could see online betting legalized by the end of 2023. In other states, though, there is less optimism. The Delaware sports betting business is linked directly to the state lottery, which forbids online wagering. So it’s unlikely to change.

Where is Sports Betting Still Illegal?

A number of states still declare any kind of sports wagering illegal (with the usual exemption of fantasy sports). If you live in Alabama, Alaska, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and Vermont.

In these 16 states, sports wagering of any kind — in-person or online — is still illegal. However, ongoing legislative efforts in some of those states may see changes made in the near future.

States That Will Legalize Sports Betting in The Future

The states of Maine and Massachusetts both have pending legislation that would see sports gambling legalized in the near future. Nebraska also has laws in the works that would legalize in-person sports betting (but not online wagering).

California also has some ballot proposals that would open up the state for more legalized sports gambling, but don’t expect any of those changes — if they pass — to come into effect until at least mid-2023.

The Tennessee Exception

We haven’t mentioned Tennessee yet, since it’s a unique case. Online sports wagering is totally legal in the Volunteer State. However, in-person sports betting is still outlawed. Since the state doesn’t have any casinos, there isn’t even as option for in-person betting.

If you’re thinking “why doesn’t someone just open a casino in Tennessee?,” then you’re not alone. However, there are other state laws that make it more expensive for operators to accept wagers, which in turn would create worse odds for retail gamblers. Tennessee will likely stick to online only for the foreseeable future.

Devon Taylor

Managing Editor

Devon is an experienced writer and a father of three young children. He's simultaneously trying to build college funds and plan for an eventual retirement. He's been in online publishing since 2013 and has a degree from the University of Guelph. In his free time, he loves fanatically following the Blue Jays and Toronto FC, camping with his family, and playing video games.


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