Are sportsbooks legal and what states can you bet in?

are sportsbooks legal
(Image credit: DraftKings)

Over the past few years, physical and online sportsbooks that accept sports wagers have been popping up across the US. Until recently, betting on sports was illegal across most of the US. But, the legal landscape around sports betting and sportsbooks is changing extremely quickly thanks to a 2018 ruling by the Supreme Court.

If you’re wondering whether sportsbooks are legal and where you can go to place a bet, this guide will cover everything you need to know.

Sportsbooks: the situation in brief

Thanks to the Supreme Court ruling in 2018 that overturned PASPA, sports betting is now legal at the federal level in the US. The main consideration now is whether individual state laws allow for sportsbooks to operate.

Seventeen states have already legalized online or retail sportsbooks to begin taking bets. In addition, the number of states allowing sports betting could soon increase, since an additional nine states are considering legalizing this form of gambling to some extent. As sportsbooks gain steam and states see how much revenue this form of gambling brings in, an even greater number of states may consider relaxing their laws to allow for sports betting.

From 1993 to 2018, sports betting was illegal in nearly all of the United States thanks to the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (commonly called PASPA). But, in 2018, the state of New Jersey won a Supreme Court case that struck down PASPA. In the process, the Supreme Court opened the floodgates for sports betting across the US.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that every state instantly allowed sports betting. Many states had their own laws about gambling already on the books, which took effect once the federal ban disappeared. On top of that, the infrastructure for sports betting, and particularly online sports betting, simply didn’t exist because it had been illegal for 25 years.

Today, sportsbooks are legal in a total of 17 states. That includes:

  • New Jersey
  • Delaware
  • Pennsylvania
  • New York
  • Rhode Island
  • New Hampshire
  • West Virginia
  • Iowa
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Tennessee
  • Arkansas
  • Mississippi
  • Nevada
  • Montana
  • Oregon
  • Colorado

This list could increase rapidly since nine additional states—Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Florida, Wisconsin, and Maryland—have considered legalizing sports betting in some form. However, they haven’t yet approved any new laws.

How can you place a bet?

Even though 17 states have legalized sports betting, it isn’t always easy to place a bet right now. In some states that have made sportsbooks legal, including Colorado, there is as yet no platform to place bets through. In addition, different states have taken varying approaches to allowing one or more sportsbook operators.

A number of states have placed relatively few restrictions on sportsbook operations. Sports bets may be online or at physical retail locations. The only limitation presented is the cost that sportsbook operators face in state licensing fees. As a result, these states have seen major sportsbooks like DraftKings, BetMGM, and FanDuel establish online platforms for residents.

In other states, including Arkansas and Mississippi, sportsbooks can only be operated at retail locations, such as existing casinos. That means there are relatively few sportsbooks in these states.

In addition, states like Oregon and New York are planning to give their state lottery commissions a monopoly over sports betting. The Oregon lottery already has an online sportsbook up and running, but the New York lottery is still putting together a sportsbook platform. Keep in mind, these state-run monopolies mean that there will only be one set of odds for any sporting event within Oregon or New York.

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Gambling responsibly

You probably don't need us to tell you that any form of gambling comes with serious risks and should never be undertaken as a silver bullet to solve your financial troubles. It's worth remembering the phrase...the house always wins!

If you suffer from a gambing problem or suspect somebody you know does, then we strongly suggest that you give the National Problem Gambling Hotline a call on 1-800-522-4700 to discuss it with a professional. It’s so important to make gambling safer for yourself and loved ones.

Michael Graw

Michael Graw is a freelance journalist and photographer based in Bellingham, Washington. His interests span a wide range from business technology to finance to creative media, with a focus on new technology and emerging trends. Michael's work has been published in TechRadar, Tom's Guide, Business Insider, Fast Company, Salon, and Harvard Business Review.