Legalities of Online Gambling | An Overview of Gaming Laws

The Laws

For as long as people have gathered in societies, they have been gambling on the outcomes of battles, games of chance, and personal skills; and for nearly as long, people have gathered at establishments catering to the purpose. Not until the last century, however, has legislation limited or restricted the venues and practices of gambling. Twentieth century America saw the shift from the saloon culture of the “Old West” to the 1930s legislation banning gambling in the United States. That legislation was quickly followed by the passage of laws in the state of Nevada allowing gambling in that single state. The culture of gambling in the United States in following decades revolved around Las Vegas (and, to a lesser extent, other Nevada cities like Reno and Tahoe) capitalizing on their character as a lavish “Destination Location,” drawing vacationers interested in the unique experience of the fancifully themed casinos, as well as serious gamers and high-rollers who treat their time at the gaming tables as a business of sorts. The legalities of gambling took another turn in the United States with the 1988 passage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which acknowledged the sovereignty of Indian tribes to offer gambling on tribal reservations, and provided framework for the regulation of reservation gaming.

The entire face of online gaming—and the laws applying to gambling—began to change with the advent of the online casinos in the mid-1990s. The Caribbean country of Antigua and Barbados can be credited with having the foresight to create a legalized form of online casino gambling, which became instantly accessible to gamers the world over from the moment it went online. Suddenly, instead of having to travel to a hot spot location to enjoy the games of gambling, players could participate any time at all, and from any place with an internet connection. Rather than the expense of a drive or a flight to another city—and the associated costs of staying there to play—a gamer could sit back in the comfort of home, at no additional cost whatsoever, and log into an online game of poker, or blackjack, or roulette, or pokies, or progressive jackpot, or any number of the long list of games available in an online casino. It was a revolutionary new model of gaming, opening up the field to millions of skilled and serious gamers who didn’t previously have the ongoing access to gaming avenues.

For more than a decade, the participants in online gaming included residents of the United States, where gambling had been illegal for decades except in a handful of designated areas, including the single stand-out state of Nevada, and tribal Indian reservations whose legal sovereignty allowed them to bypass the nation’s no-gambling laws. Legislative wrangling over the legality of online gambling continued in the United States for a number of years, while gamers continued to enjoy the experiences offered in their favorite online casinos. The 1996 passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act made the first move to prohibit gambling over the internet in any location where gambling would be illegal face-to-face. United States players continued to enjoy gaming with online poker houses and casinos for several years, until the 2011 court ruling that confirmed the legality of the 1996 law, and launched the massive shut-down of online casinos to players in the United States, and concurrent freezing of player accounts. United States players are now specifically barred from playing at online casinos, but players elsewhere are enjoying the online play of internet casinos.

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