Legal sports betting became a reality in the United States following a years-long legal battle pitting the state of New Jersey against a federal law called the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA) and a consortium of leagues that sought to maintain the status quo.
The case began with a law passed in New Jersey seeking to legalize sports betting. The major pro sports leagues and the NCAA sued to stop the law from taking effect on grounds that it was a clear violation of PASPA.
Multiple lower courts agreed with the leagues, but lawyers representing New Jersey contended PASPA itself was an unconstitutional law. The case ended up going all the way to the Supreme Court and a ruling was finally sent down in May 2018. In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court declared PASPA unconstitutional, freeing every state in the US to legalize and regulate sports betting as it sees fit.
We’ll cover the case in more detail in a bit, but the main thing to know up front is that the end of PASPA did not automatically legalize sports betting in all fifty states. For sports betting to be legalized in any given state, lawmakers in that state must draw up legislation and pass it into law.
Legal Online Sportsbooks
In-Person vs. Online Sports Betting in the USA
In-person and online sports betting have been legalized in a handful of states so far and legislation has been introduced in more than two dozen states on top of that. The state-by-state rollout of sports betting is expected to take a few years, but most analysts believe eventually more states than not will choose legalization.
Some states have opted to authorize in-person betting only while others have gone full steam ahead with legal sportsbooks, betting websites and mobile apps. With every state free to choose its own path forward on the sports betting issue, there are understandably quite a few questions regarding what’s legal and where.
It just so happens that one of one of our primary goals is to help our readers make sense of it all, so let’s begin with a quick look at which states have legalized sports betting to date and continue the discussion below.
States with Legal Sports Betting
- Arkansas: Retail sportsbooks and limited online sports betting
- Colorado: Retail sportsbooks and online sports betting
- Delaware: Retail sportsbooks at casinos
- Illinois: Retail sportsbooks and online sports betting
- Indiana: Retail sportsbooks and online sports betting
- Iowa: Retail sportsbooks and online sports betting
- Michigan: Retail sportsbooks and online sports betting
- Mississippi: Retail sportsbooks at casinos
- Montana: In-person sports betting at kiosks
- Nevada: Retail sportsbooks and online sports betting (in-person registration required)
- New Hampshire: Retail sportsbooks and online sports betting (DraftKings has a monopoly)
- New Jersey: Retail sportsbooks and online sports betting
- New Mexico: Retail sportsbooks at tribal casinos
- New York: Retail sportsbooks and online sports betting
- North Carolina: Retail sportsbooks at tribal casinos
- Oregon: Online sports betting (DraftKings has a monopoly)
- Pennsylvania: Retail sportsbooks and online sports betting
- Rhode Island: Retail sportsbooks and online sports betting
- Tennessee: Online sports betting
- Virginia: Retail sportsbooks and online sports betting
- Washington: Retail sportsbooks at casinos
- Washington DC: Retail sportsbooks and online sports betting
- West Virginia: Retail sportsbooks and online sports betting
- Wyoming: Online sports betting
Mobile US Sports Betting Apps
Mobile sports betting is an attractive proposition for fans, operators and lawmakers alike for a variety of reasons including convenience, reduced operating costs, more betting activity and increased tax revenues to the state. Whereas physical sportsbooks are costly and can only handle so many customers at a time, mobile betting sites are always open, require no employees to record wagers and provide more convenience to customers.
All wagering activity is required by federal law to take place within state lines. This means you must be physically located in a state with legal online betting in order to place wagers through apps licensed in that state. Note that you do not need to be a legal resident to place wagers through apps licensed there; you only need to be physically present at the time the wager is placed.
Licensed betting sites in New Jersey and elsewhere take the issue of location seriously and make sure of geolocation technology to ensure their apps are only accessible within their respective states.
If you sign up for a mobile betting account and see a pop-up asking permission to access to your location, fear not. That’s just your betting app attempting to verify you’re within state lines so it can legally provide you with sports betting services.
States With Legal Online Sports Betting
- Colorado: Colorado voters approved sports betting via statewide referendum in 2019. Under the law, land-based casinos may operate one online/mobile sportsbook each as well as a retail sportsbook to take wagers in person.
- Indiana: Indiana authorized in-person and online sports betting in 2019. The first retail sportsbooks went live at local casinos on September 1st that year and will soon be followed by the launch of the state’s first mobile sportsbooks.
- Iowa: Iowa is home to online betting sites, mobile sportsbooks and retail sportsbooks at authorized casinos. State law formerly required customers to visit a retail sportsbook in person to sign up for an account, but that provision expired on January 1st, 2021. Today, Iowans may sign up to bet online from anywhere within state lines.
- Michigan: Michigan approved legislation at the end of 2019 to legalize online casinos, poker sites, mobile sports betting, and retail sportsbooks at casinos. The state’s first in-person sportsbooks opened in March 2020 and online betting began in January 2021.
- Nevada: Online betting is available in Nevada through apps operated by each of the state’s land-based sportsbooks. Some in Nevada are pushing to authorize online registrations, but currently, all customers must visit a sportsbook in-person first to register for an online gaming account.
- New Hampshire: In 2019, New Hampshire authorized the construction of up to 10 retail sportsbooks and the launch of up to five mobile sportsbooks. The state lottery has awarded a contract to DraftKings for online sports betting, but the state still has quite a bit of work to go before the first retail or mobile sportsbooks go live.
- New Jersey: As the state whose sports betting laws initiated the court case that would eventually overturn PASPA, New Jersey was able to move quickly on sports betting following the Supreme Court decision. New Jersey’s mobile betting industry is competitive, well-regulated and highly profitable.
- Oregon: Oregon was able to authorize sports betting without passing new legislation thanks to a law that was already on the books prior to PASPA. After the Supreme Court overturned PASPA, the OR Lottery was able to quickly launch a mobile betting app. Retail sportsbooks are also in the process of launching. The Chinook Winds casino launched the state’s first in-person sportsbook in August 2019.
- Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania was ready to act when the Supreme Court issued its opinion in 2018 thanks to legislation approved the year before to legalize online gambling and sports betting. Pennsylvania’s first land-based sportsbooks are now open for business and the first betting apps are expected to launch shortly.
- Tennessee: In 2019, Tennessee became the first state to pass a law legalizing online sports betting only. This makes TN the only state with mobile sportsbooks but not retail sportsbooks. The Tennessee Education Lottery is now tasked with forming regulations and approving online sports betting providers. Current estimates put the start of TN sports betting sometime in early 2020.
- Virginia: Lawmakers in Virginia legalized sports betting in mid-2020 via legislation that authorizes statewide online sports betting plus retail sportsbooks at casinos and certain sports venues. Mobile betting began in January 2021.
- Washington DC: Washington DC legalized in-person and online sports betting within city limits in late 2018. A mobile betting app available within city limits will be coming online shortly while four of the city’s stadiums will be allowed to operate in-person sportsbooks. Additionally, bars and restaurants will be able to apply for sports betting licenses.
- West Virginia: The first sportsbook in West Virginia opened in August 2018 and the first mobile app went live that December. The first betting site, BetLucky, closed just a few months later but has been replaced since then by new mobile sportsbooks. West Virginia gambling laws permit each of the state’s five casinos to operate up to three individual betting sites.
Sports Betting Sites And App Reviews
Our team is committed to delivering honest and informative reviews of legal online sportsbooks and mobile betting apps for 2021.
Choosing which online sportsbooks and mobile sports betting apps to use is an important choice, we make it easier by compiling and comparing online bookmakers using a combination of social metrics and a data-driven approach.
Important: USGambling.com lists licensed and regulated betting sites only. While it’s ultimately the responsibility of our readers to determine the legality of wagering in their jurisdiction, we only list legal betting sites because we believe that is the right thing to do.
Sportsbook App Reviews
Criteria We Use in Our Sports Betting Reviews
- Odds: One important comparison point we make in all reviews is the generosity of the odds offered on average. Does one sportsbook offer -105 on certain markets instead of the standard -110? If so, we note it for your convenience. The same also goes for sportsbooks that tend to offer better payouts on underdogs and that ask you to risk less on favorites.
- Promotions: Every betting site offers promotions to all customers, but not all promotions are equal. We compare promotions by the value provided to customers. This includes a careful review of all terms and conditions to ensure what you’re promised is what you actually get.
- Banking: How easy is it to deposit funds and how quickly are winnings paid out? These are the types of questions we ask when reviewing banking options at every betting site. We also note any charges assessed to customers for making deposits or requesting withdrawals.
- Accessibility: Our reviews discuss where every betting site is available on a state-by-state and country basis.
- Licensing: Our commitment to only recommending licensed and legal betting sites includes verifying the status of every operator’s license. On every review page, you will see a full list of valid licenses held by that betting site.
- Compliance: BettingReviews.com makes it a point to note any compliance issues each betting site has had in the past. Has a particular betting site ever been fined or reprimanded for failing to meet its licensing requirements? If so, we note that and explain what happened.
- Software: A key point we cover in every review is the overall qualify in software. Poorly-designed software is rarely an issue in regulated markets these days as even software providers are vetted by licensing authorities, but we do make sure to discuss the pros and cons of each site’s user experience.
- Support: Customer support goes a long way in showing how much a betting site truly values customers. Is 24/7 phone support offered? How quickly and accurately are questioned answered? We ask these questions and more when rating customer support.
- Consumer Feedback / Social Signals: While experienced industry types can dissect a betting site to pieces, the feedback of the general public is hard to beat when it comes to the raw and unvarnished truth. Our reviews incorporate what actual consumers have to say as well as the overall sentiment found on social media postings related to each betting site.
- Ease of Account Funding: We look at the deposit methods offered as well as the ease of using each method for every betting site. The easier it is to get started, the higher the rating in this area.
- Speed of Payouts: Timely payouts are more than just a matter of convenience; they also tell a story about how much each betting site actually values customers and may even reveal potential concerns regarding the financial health of the site.
Retail Sportsbooks in the US
Some states have opted to take a more measured approach to legalization by authorizing land-based sportsbooks but not online betting.
In some states, it’s a matter of wanting to take things slowly as lawmakers evaluate the social impacts of sports betting and ensuring local operators are capable of maintaining functional sportsbooks in the real world before authorizing online betting.
In other states, tribal gaming compacts and other legal issues simply made it easier to legalize land-based sportsbooks while lawmakers consider potential avenues for online betting.
Each of the following states has legalized in-person betting at certain authorized locations. Mobile betting remains a distinct possibility in the future, but for now these states are keeping it old-school.
- Arkansas: Sports betting was legalized in Arkansas through a referendum approved by voters during the 2018 midterm elections. The passage of the referendum automatically approved sports betting at two race tracks as well as allowing two casinos that may be constructed in the future to apply for sports betting. The Arkansas Racing Commission must now issue regulations before the first sportsbooks are allowed to go live.
- Delaware: Delaware has the noteworthy distinction of being the first state in the US other than Nevada to book a legal sports wager. Although it was New Jersey that led the fight to decriminalize sports betting in the US, Delaware was first to the punch due to having laws in place allowing the state’s three casinos to begin accepting sports wagers as soon as federal law changed.
- Mississippi: Mississippi passed a sports betting law in 2017 and the Gaming Commission approved regulations governing the activity in 2018. Today, Mississippi has a thriving sports betting market with nearly all of the state’s casinos operating a sportsbook.
- New Mexico: Sports betting came to New Mexico with no new legislation needed. A few months after the Supreme Court issued its fateful decision, the Pueblo of Santa Ana announced they would be commencing sports betting at the Santa Ana Star Casino as allowed by their gaming compact with the state. Buffalo Thunder near Santa Fe followed suit several months later. Sports betting is now offered at both casinos and state officials have made no indications they have any intention to challenge the activity.
- New York: New York sports betting is a work in progress. A referendum measure approved by voters in 2013 authorized the state’s four upstate commercial casinos to offer sports betting should the federal prohibition be rescinded. However, regulations are still needed before the first NY sportsbooks may go live. Tribal casinos in New York are likely to also get in on the action as gaming compacts they have with the state allow them to offer the same games as commercial casinos. Lawmakers are still considering expanded sports betting legislation that may include mobile betting.
- North Carolina: North Carolina legalized in-person sports betting in 2019 and the first retail sportsbooks opened in 2021 following successful tribal-state gaming compact negotiations. Lawmakers have discussed legalizing mobile betting, but progress on that front has been slow.
- Rhode Island: Rhode Island legalized sports betting through a budget bill approved in 2018 that included a measure authorizing the state’s two casinos to offer sports betting. Both sportsbooks opened in late 2018. Some state lawmakers have expressed interest in authorizing mobile sports betting as well and have introduced legislation to that effect.
How US Sports Betting Was Legalized
The Supreme Court of the United States ended the federal sports betting prohibition on May 14th, 2018. That decision did not actually legalize sports betting all by itself, but instead struck down a federal law that prohibited all states except Nevada from legalizing or regulating sports betting.
Getting to this point was a long road with many twists and turns and, if we were so inclined, it is a road we could trace all the way back to the very founding of the country. But today, we’ll stick to the cliff’s notes version and save the full history of sports betting for another day. Suffice it to say, gambling and sports betting have been controversial for about as long as the United States has been a country.