It is hard to imagine what Americans have gone through when it comes to online gambling in that country. For a country that is consumed with gambling of all forms, the ultra-conservative nature of the government when dealing with online gambling has been nothing short of shocking. Even with all the changes and the rollercoaster nature of the business, one thing remains clear: Americans love to gamble, and are willing to take great risks when locating places to play online. Let’s have a brief look at the history of gambling in the U.S. and the options currently available to players who live there.
Gambling Regulations in the United States
Gambling has a long history in the U.S. from both an illegal and a regulated standpoint. In the land-based gambling world, the regulations have been left to the individual states, with the Federal government taking a step back from it all. State lotteries exist in 44 of the 50 states, and this is the most common form of gambling to be found. Although there are reported billions of dollars spent betting on sports by Americans, the only place they can do it legally is in Nevada. This was the real impetus for the start of the online gaming industry in the U.S., with several bookmakers moving offshore and setting up call centers to accept bets from American players. This early boom happened around 1996, with many top sites marketing in the face of the U.S. government.
Not long after the initial sportsbook boom online, casino and poker sites followed. Within a couple of years, there were hundreds of sites offering slots, table games, and poker along with the sportsbooks, and the U.S. gambling market was the hottest on the planet. Companies were lining up to take on licensees, and operators only needed to open their doors, and seemingly everyone was a huge success. This success, of course, did not go unnoticed by the U.S. government. While trying to determine the best course of action, some sportsbook sites chose not to wait, pushing the envelope with guerilla marketing techniques and advertising that would finally push the government over the edge. The first domino fell with the arrest of the principals behind Bet On Sports, the largest U.S.-facing sportsbook. Indictments followed, and essentially that site was shut down. However, that didn’t do much to slow the industry down and seemed to be a blip on the screen like a news story.
Online poker is what really thrust this offshore gambling into the public eye. Unlike sports betting or casino games, the game of poker was treated like a sport, often taking up hours of airtime on the top national sports networks. Poker players became celebrities, and when amateur player Chris Moneymaker won the 2003 World Series of Poker after having qualified for $40 in an online satellite, the industry exploded. The demand for content was astounding, and several sites spent significant money advertising in traditional channels by circumventing the FCC rules on gambling advertising.
The government felt it was time to push back, and after much lobbying, the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act was added to the Safe Port Bill written in 2006. When it passed, the landscape of online gaming in the United States changed overnight. With accepting transactions from U.S. banks now illegal, many payments companies withdrew from the market, along with many casino and poker software companies. Those that were publicly traded were most certainly going to leave, abandoning in some cases up to 70% of overall company revenue in the process. However, the risk of prosecution or jail time was too much for these firms.
A group of poker sites decided to stay in the market, and as a result, they capitalized on a gambling public that still had the desire to play, but lacked many options for where to make deposits. Companies like PokerStars turned this disaster into a multi-billion dollar windfall. All this time, many online casinos were still operating, offering players their choice of slots and Table Games. Sportsbooks continued to be very successful and profitable, with one owner, Calvin Ayre, ending up a cover story in the Forbes Billionaire’s issue.
While the government had managed to curtail the business, it wasn’t satisfied, and after a few years of letting these sites get away with it, the Department of Justice stepped in, and indictments were served to the owners of Poker Stars and the other two largest online poker sites. Also, the websites of these companies were seized, and on April 15, 2011, all three of these sites were closed. The operators did have their sites re-opened to non-US players, but this closure effectively shut down the internet poker business in the country. When the dust settled, Poker Stars ended up paying a fine of 765 Million USD which included having to bail out the pyramid scheme that was its largest competitor, Full Tilt Poker.
Today, individual states have started the progression towards legalized online gambling. Many states, starting with Nevada and New Jersey, wrote regulations that were passed into law, allowing for online casino games to be offered to residents within the state. While the revenue numbers aren’t mind-blowing, this is an excellent step in the right direction, and with bills being discussed or tabled in over 15 states currently, the efforts to make online casinos legal in the U.S. seems to be trending positively.
The one question that remains in the gambling world in the U.S. revolves around the monopoly that Nevada holds over legal sports wagering. The State of New Jersey has taken this all the way to the Supreme Court, who plan to render a decision in the spring of 2018. This could be a landmark decision, with a win from New Jersey almost certainly opening the door to legalized sports betting in the entire country.
Online Casino Software Available to Americans
The unfortunate side-effect of all this turmoil for American casino players is that the software options are extremely limited at this time. Many of the larger online providers left the market to protect their global businesses, meaning the only companies left are technically violating the law to offer their games to licensees. The silver lining is that the games that remain are still of excellent quality, and you will find hundreds of great slot machines and Table Games available from the U.S. The leaders in the U.S.-facing casino software industry include the following:
- Rival Gaming
- Real Time Gaming
If you live in a state where online casinos are now legal, you will also find proprietary software from Party Poker and 888, as well as companies like IGT involved.
Best Online Casinos for U.S. Players
In our opinion, the most important item for a player from the U.S. to look for when selecting a place to play is the reliability of the site. As many of these sites are either going to be unlicensed or licensed by operator-friendly jurisdictions like Curacao, the longer a site has been operational, the better. We look at all the player forums when we review sites to see what complaints if any exist against a site, and include this information in all of our comprehensive site reviews. We have taken the liberty of creating a shortlist of U.S.-friendly online casino sites that we would be happy to recommend. These sites have the best slot machine and Table Game options, along with excellent track records and decent options for you to get your money to and from the site.