iGaming and Gambling in the USA - What's the Picture?
Like every nation, the USA has always done things a little differently to the rest of the world (football and soccer – need we say more?!), but when it comes to iGaming and gambling as a whole, there are quite a few distinct differences. So how do we explain America, and where should we start? What is the future for iGaming and gambling in the US of A?
Historically, gambling has had a chequered past in the US. There are multiple laws and legal restrictions that vary from state to state. The American Gaming Association (AGA) is an industry trade association whose guiding principles are to champion the industry, enabling growth and continued success alongside upholding the reputation of those involved. Almost two million people in the US are employed in the sector, with profits reaching hundreds of billions of dollars. But how did it all start?
In a nutshell, as the American colonies grew, so did sports like horse racing, games of chance, and lotteries. Places like Virginia built their wealth on horse racing and lotteries. Other states followed suit, leading to the British Crown placing restrictions, causing unease between the nations. However, some forms of gambling continued, like cock-fighting. It didn’t go down well with the religious sector, which began to impose total bans, ultimately pushing gambling out of some areas. At the same time, other regions saw their gambling fortunes increase as a result.
The criminal underworld seized the opportunity to take advantage, further antagonising the pious Reformers. During Prohibition, the evangelicals only succeeded in pushing the pursuit underground, much like alcohol consumption.
The Great Depression of the 1930s led to bingo and some horse racing resuming, mainly to raise funds for charities and churches that were suffering greatly. Nevada led the way on legalisation and passed Assembly Bill 98, the trigger that gave birth to the global epicentre of gambling, namely Las Vegas.
In 1968, New Hampshire broke the mould with a new state lottery. More states followed, with 48 of 50 states now offering a state lottery. All states, except for Hawaii and Utah, offer some form of gambling.
The AGA classified eight distinct gambling types are:
US Federal Law makes gambling legal, but restrictions, regulations, and laws vary significantly between states and districts. The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 outlawed sports betting in most states. The United States Supreme Court declared the entire law unconstitutional (Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association) in May 2012. Since then, many states have contemplated sports betting to increase tax funds and employment.
Don’t be confused; the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) doesn’t refer to the beautiful country in the subcontinent. It does, of course, refer to the law that relates to traditional American Indian cultures.
Tribal casinos are developments on Indian reservations headed up by Indian tribes. The reservations have tribal sovereignty, and states have limited control over their set-up and management. Tribal casinos still have regulations to abide by, but they differ from non-Indian laws.
The IGRA classifies three distinct types of gambling;
Tribal games have a long history in Indian culture, with dice, shell games, archery and horse races being popular. The 326 Indian Reservations have high rates of unemployment and poverty. Many bingo halls were built in the 1970s and 1980s to employ the younger community and help with funding.
The National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGA) is a United States federal agency overseeing gambling regulations for tribal casinos. Tribal casinos can be hugely profitable – worth over $26.5 billion a year, though they offer a bone of contention regarding laws in relation to the state. As a result, the Indian Gaming Work Group (IGWG) was created to identify and address issues arising.
Today, around 40% of the 562 recognised tribes operate some form of gaming or gambling. The Indian Gaming Tradeshow & Convention is currently in its 37th year, with regular and mid-year conventions to support and promote the booming industry.
The laws on online gambling are far muddier. The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA) did not expressly ban online gambling. It did, however, outlaw financial transactions involving online gambling providers. While many shut down their sites immediately, others continued to operate by finding ways around the malleable law.
Online gaming is more of an umbrella term in the US, as it can cover online sports betting, online poker, and online bingo, so it’s always best to check out each state's specific laws independently. Only six of the fifty states currently allow iGaming as we know it. This number fluctuates, with more states expected to be added to the growing list of approved places soon. Until that number increases, Americans in the other states will have to be content with whatever gambling is legally permitted.
Apart from Hawaii and Utah, which both have outright bans on all forms of gambling, every state has some provision (check out the grid at the bottom of this article for an easy reference guide). So if you want to get your fill of good-old casino-style gambling state-wide, you’ll have to take yourself off to Nevada and Louisiana, as these are currently the only two states that do so. Other states allow certain smaller areas within a state to provide casinos, like Deadwood in South Dakota and Atlantic City in New Jersey. Some states only offer riverboat casinos, large barge-like boats that accommodate a casino within their decks.
The hot topic across many states now is the push to re-introduce sports betting as an option, with several states doing so. Although there was an initial increase, things took a dip during Covid. In 2021, sports betting GGR rose 366.2%. Despite iGaming being legal in just a handful of states in its purest sense, it has already more than matched that value in revenue. iGaming grossed a staggering $1.48 billion in Q1, a 22.7% increase from last year.
Commercial gaming has already set a record for Q1 this year, with $16.6 billion across all verticals. March, in particular, was a big boost with a 15.5% increase year-on-year. President of AGA and CEO Bill Miller said, "After two full years of successive growth post-COVID, the US gaming industry has never been stronger."
Land-based gambling also showed record growth, with a Q1 revenue of $12.3 billion – an increase of 7%. The biggest draw in bricks-and-mortar casinos were slots and table games, which each boosted the overall success.
Since new sports markets opened in Kansas, Massachusetts and Ohio, and mobile betting began in Maryland, Americans bet a new high of $31.1 billion on sports in Q1. Ohio reached the top spot with $387.3 million in revenue, just behind New York.
We’ll unlikely see Utah and Hawaii join the ranks of big-time gambling states, especially Utah, but here’s where the rest are.
Alabama allows social casinos, and many bingo halls have recently been raided and shut down. There are attempts as we speak to open tribal Casinos. There are proposals to allow a state-wide lottery in Alaska, but the Senate shut down a recent bid to open a tribal casino. Arizona approves online fantasy and sports betting but not online casinos. And Arkansas legalised sports betting last year and had a record month of casino revenue and profits.
In California, you can enjoy tribal and land-based casinos and get a job at Cache Creek Casino Resort, one of ‘America’s Greatest Workplaces for Women in 2023’. Colorado allows social casinos and horse racing and has a state lottery. A massive Full-House Resort will hopefully open soon, and a recent bill passed that controversially allows credit for gamblers.
Delaware has decided to capitalise on the industry, with the Senate allowing cheaper licence fees for casinos that make capital investments. While in Florida, The Seminole Tribe is seeking expansion for the exclusive right to operate sports betting. Georgia initially stopped plans to legalise sports betting, but amendments continue. There is hope for sports betting fans in the state yet.
The Idaho State Lottery announced a massive $55.5 million in total dividends for the fiscal year, and tribal casinos are very successful in the state, despite a recent spate of cyber attacks. Online sweepstakes, as are their luxury land-based casino resorts, are favoured in Illinois. Indiana has a plethora of brick-and-mortar casinos, plus a race track, but only sweepstakes online. Iowa bucks the trend by allowing legal sports betting, but only social or sweepstakes are permitted online.
Kansas has recently seen growth in lottery ticket sales and sports betting in its first three months of action. It has several state-owned and tribal casinos. Kentucky, of course, is known for the world-renowned Kentucky Derby, which in its 149th year, set a record of $559.5 million in revenue. Soon, the Kentucky sports betting market is due to launch. Louisiana has plenty of land casinos, but online casinos are banned. Online sports betting, however, is allowed.
Maine is currently launching sports betting with a virtual self-exclusion programme, and Maryland had a record time of it in Q1 with the best profits yet in sports wagering and casinos. Massachusetts has recently seen growth in casino profit, and sports betting has been hugely successful in its first two months. Michigan online casinos and sports betting operators first had a rise in March, then a dip in April, down 9.6%.
Minnesota has seen a recent push to legalise sports betting, with many Minnesotans going to nearby Iowa to gamble instead because of better odds. Some Minnesotan Indians are trying to get a bill for exclusive sports betting rights passed. Mississippi has plenty of land-based options but has yet to be online options. Recently, Missouri’s hopes of legalised sports betting were dashed when legislation failed to get approved, and Montana residents opposed a resort expansion. Still, lottery and sportsbooks have had great months of late.
Nebraska will soon launch its first sportsbook with its third licenced racetrack set to open soon. Nevada, the home of casino and legendary Las Vegas, may soon be opening its (unbelievably) first-ever state lottery. New Hampshire is in the process of legalising online gaming, and New Jersey, home of Atlantic City, was one of the few states that saw a loss in Q1. New Mexico is home to several popular tribal casinos and race track casinos.
New York is one of the few states to allow all forms of gambling. At the same time, many in North Carolina wait with bated breath for the legalisation of sports betting. It was sad news, however, for those in North Dakota when the proposal to legalise sports betting failed in the Senate vote, but plenty of land casinos are still available.
Ohio recently allowed sports betting, making record profits ever since. Still, Oklahoma is in a similar boat to Ohia with their Senate voting against the sports betting proposal. Sports betting is legal in Oregon, home to many tribal casinos. Pennsylvania has recently been cracking down on improving its provision, of which plenty exists.
Rhode Island may soon have online casino gaming, whereas South Carolina seeks to legalise sports betting with a bill that includes eSports and crypto funding. South Dakota recently rejected a mobile sportsbook bill, but sports fans can place bets at tribal casinos and enjoy the big Deadwood casinos. This year, Tennessee launched a daily state lottery and is the first state to tax on total sports betting handle, not revenue.
The future of sports betting in Texas needs to be clarified, with strong opposition to the proposal and only one federal casino available. Vermont has few options, but online sports betting may soon be allowed. Washington State has many tribal casinos, but no online options are permitted. West Virginia hopes to pass a Bill that provides betting on eSports and all the other readily available options soon.
Wisconsin has tribal casinos, one of which – Milwaukee's Potawatomi Casino – recently opened a temporary sportsbook with the mayor placing the first bet. Finally, Wyoming hasn’t faired as well as anticipated with the recent introduction of sports betting licences. Despite this, more licences will be approved.
And that concludes our whistle-stop tour of the USA. Don’t forget to check out our quick reference guide at the bottom of this page to learn more about each state. Only time will tell what the future holds for gambling and iGaming in America. We wait in anticipation and watch eagerly from the sidelines.
Thinking of getting into iGaming? WeAreGame specialises in emerging markets. Nigeria, Brazil, and India are just a few of our iGaming areas of expertise. If you want to know more about starting your own iGaming business or expanding your current brand with our platforms solutions, get in touch: email@example.com
C – Charitable
P – Parimutual
L – Lottery
c – Commercial
T – Tribal
R – Racetrack
O – Online
S – Sports Betting
Y – Yes
N – No