Online sports betting: is it legal and how does it work?

online sports betting
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As of 2020, online sports betting is legal in 14 states. It was barred across the US for several decades because of a federal law known as the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA).

But, in 2018, the Supreme Court struck down PASPA and opened the way for online sports betting.

In this article, we’ll look at where online sports betting is legal and how you can place a bet.

Online sports betting in brief

Placing online wagers on sporting events is now legal in 14 states across the US, and many more could soon follow suit.

Not every sportsbook is operating online in every state and the number of sports betting platforms is constantly increasing. So, you may have to do some research to find out what sportsbook options are available in your state. That said, once you find an online sportsbook, perusing odds and placing wagers is extremely fast and simple.

As of 2020, 14 states have legalised online sports betting: 

  • New Jersey
  • Delaware
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • New Hampshire
  • West Virginia
  • Iowa
  • Illinois 
  • Indiana
  • Tennessee

You must be within the bounds of these states in order to place a bet online, and most mobile sportsbooks apps require your location to verify you are located in a state that has legalized online sports betting. Note that Arkansas, Mississippi, and New York, three states that have legalized retail sports betting at physical locations, have not legalized online sports betting. 

Notably, this list could expand rapidly. Nine more states have considered legislation that would legalize sports betting in some form, and it’s possible that more states will follow suit after it becomes more clear how much revenue online sportsbooks bring in for state coffers.

How do you find an online sportsbook?

To make matters more confusing, there’s no one online sportsbook platform operating in every state that has legalized sports gambling. That’s in part because some state laws require that online betting is run by the state lottery. For example, the state lotteries in Oregon and Montana are responsible for building online sportsbooks. The platform in Oregon is already live, but Montana has not yet launched an online interface for placing bets.

Other states have a variety of third-party operators depending on when their legislation was passed and the licensing fees required to launch. FanDuel and DraftKings, which run two of the larger sportsbooks in the US, are available in New Jersey, West Virginia, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Iowa. DraftKings is also available in New Hampshire, while BetMGM is available in New Jersey and West Virginia.

How do you place a bet? 

If you are in a state where online sports betting is legal and a sportsbook has already launched, placing a bet is fairly straightforward. Most platforms have a variety of sports available for betting on, going far beyond major US sporting leagues to include European soccer leagues, golf, tennis, car racing, and more.

Depending on the platform, you can typically browse events available for betting and look at odds without first creating an account. Proposition bets, in which you are betting on match-related milestones other than the final score, are commonly available. It’s also typically easy to find live sporting events already in progress that you can place prop bets on.

If you do want to place a bet, simply create an account and deposit money into it to get started. From there, you can add individual wagers to your betslip and easily create parlays and round robins.

Note that most online sportsbooks also offer mobile apps. When using the mobile app, you’ll need to verify your location as being inside a state where that sportsbook operates. But, you will find all the same sports bets available and can easily add wagers to your betslip on the go.

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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.