US Online Casinos
The legal situation for online casinos is complicated in the US. There is also a wide misunderstanding of the Federal laws on this subject. Many players incorrectly believe that it is not legal to deposit and play at online casinos. In fact there are no Federal laws preventing this, with the legislation aimed at the banks, which are banned from transacting with gambling site operators.
This article clarifies the legal environment for US online casinos & poker rooms. First of all below the laws in question are described, these include the Wire Act and the UIGEA. Next the current setup of offshore casinos is outlined – including their relationship with casino software providers. Finally, you will find some hints and tips for making sure you play at a legitimate offshore casino.
US Online Casino Regulatory History
In 2006, legislation known as the ‘Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act’ (or UIGEA) was passed. The fact that this was snuck through as an amendment to an unrelated security bill still angers gamblers to this day. There was a lot of misreporting of this act in the press and on the TV. This led the general public to believe that they would be engaging in an illegal activity simply by gambling for real money online – whether this is via a casino, poker room or sports book.
In fact, the UIGEA does not mention individual players at all or criminalize the activity of gambling. What it does is make it illegal for US banks to financially transact with gambling sites. This explains many of the difficulties with depositing and withdrawing at US casinos.
The effect of this bill was to cause the legitimate big-brand online casinos for US players to leave the market. This included the major casino software manufacturers, which stopped any casinos using their software from remaining in the US. The void was quickly filled by offshore operations. Many of these are completely legitimate, though there are still some rogues around.
In 2011, the decades old Wire Act was clarified. This had previously been interpreted as making the transmission of any gambling-related information across international borders illegal. The new judgment narrowed the scope to only include sports betting information. This enabled the individual States to begin the process of licensing and regulating their own online casinos. In 2013 and 2014 the first of these went live.
The Current US Online Casinos Scene
Casinos which welcome US players are now based offshore, in small countries (mainly the Caribbean) where gambling is completely legal. These operators are licensed by the authorities of such places as Netherlands Antilles, Antigua, Panama or the Khanawake tribal lands in Canada.
With the major software providers having exited the market, games for offshore casinos are provided by the likes of Realtime Gaming and BetSoft. These game providers do include a good range of games, though they are small in number compared to the portfolios or the industry giants like MicroGaming or PlayTech.
The banking restrictions from the US are patchy. Sometimes your credit card deposits will go straight though with no issues – other times the banks will block these transactions. To survive, the offshore casinos have needed to become adept at payment processing. There are now several alternative options available including pre-paid Visa cards, money transfer services and wires. For more information on the current
Legitimate US Online Casinos
The lack of real oversight and regulation for the offshore casino industry makes it more important than ever to ensure that you are playing with the reputable and legitimate operator. Many of the brands operating from Caribbean Islands have been serving the US for a long time, and are well trusted operations. Others are new and untried, meaning that they have yet to have time to establish a track record of timely payments and decent customer service.
Before you play, it is worthwhile checking for scandals and payment issues. There are several other things you can look for which can usually be checked right from the casino operators website. These include licensing, game fairness verification and player-friendly bonus terms.
A license from an offshore authority does not necessarily mean a casino is completely legitimate. If you find a casino which does not have a license, then you are taking a big risk by playing there. I like to see the gaming license displayed on a casinos website, along with a link to verify this from the website of the licensing authority.
Game fairness gets tested by 3rd party auditing companies. You should look for a verification link or badge from Technical Systems Testing or iGaming Labs in the footer of your casinos website. Again, a link to their website is preferred.
Finally, you should spend a few minutes checking the terms and conditions of any bonus or promotional offers. You should look out for unfair play-through requirements (more than 40 times is too high) or games which void the offer. Legitimate casinos are usually very open about their bonus terms and conditions.