Sports and gambling are two major industries in the United States. However, until fairly recently, the intersection of these two activities (i.e., gambling on sports) was limited to a small number of states. Even today, while it's far easier to participate in sports betting—thanks in part to a myriad of online and mobile options—it can still be heavily restricted or even outright unavailable depending on where in the U.S. you're attempting to gamble. Here's what to know about sport betting laws by state.
- Gambling on sporting activities typically requires working with an individual or company that accepts bets, also known as a sportsbook. These can either be retail locations that offer in-person bet placement or online and mobile platforms, depending on state laws.
- According to the American Gaming Association, 30 states and the District of Columbia currently have sports betting legislation that's considered “Live, Legal,” meaning single-game sports betting may be offered to consumers through legal retail and/or online and mobile sportsbooks.
- Florida, Nebraska, and Ohio are the three “Legal—Not Yet Operational” states, as sports betting has been legalized by these states but the market is not yet available.
- Alaska, California, Georgia, Kansas, Massachusetts, Missouri, and Oklahoma have either pre-filed or introduced bills in the state legislature to legalize single-game sports betting or have scheduled voter referendums on the matter.
- Even if sports betting has been legalized, restrictions may still apply and can vary by state, such as limited authorized operators, few permissible bet types, and a minimum age requirement.
Understanding Sports Betting
Sports betting is a type of gambling that revolves around predicting and wagering on the outcome of competitive physical activities. The term sports betting can encompass athletic competitions, such as basketball or American football, non-athletic events (i.e., auto racing), and non-human contests (i.e., horse racing). Although not technically sports in the traditional sense, some online sports betting websites also offer the chance to wager on non-sporting events, such as the results of political elections and/or entertainment events (e.g., the Oscars).
There are several different types of sports bets, with some of the most common being spread bets, prop bets, totals, and moneyline bets. Spread bets are wagers that a team will either win by or (should they lose) cover a specific number of points. Prop bets refers to wagers on specific events (i.e., who wins the coin toss or scores the first touchdown). Totals, also known as “over/under” bets, pay off if the total scores for both teams are over or under a predicted total. With moneyline bets, the amount won is based on the likelihood a particular team will win or lose (i.e., bets on underdogs pay more). Of these four, prop betting is unique, in that there are five states where this is the only permitted bet type.
Sports betting activities are typically facilitated by sportsbooks, which are companies or individuals that accept bets. Sportsbooks can be retail locations that offer in-person bet placement or online/mobile platforms. A sportsbook is functionally the same thing as a bookmaker, though the latter term is typically used solely in reference to an individual person. Physical sportsbooks may be found in professional sports venues, casinos, racinos (combination race track and casino), etc. If a sportbook offers betting on races but is located outside a racetrack, this is known as off-track betting (OTB).
Previously, sportsbooks in the U.S. were only able to operate legally in Nevada. Following a 2018 Supreme Court decision, many states have introduced new legislation to legalize both sportsbooks and, by extension, sports betting itself.
Sportsbooks make money by setting their odds so that they will generate a profit in the long term. As is the case with any form of gambling, the house always has the advantage, and there is always a negative expected return for the gambler.
Sports Betting Laws by State
In the U.S., according to the American Gaming Association, 40 states and the District of Columbia currently have or are considering some form of sports betting legislation. Of this number, the majority (30 states and Washington, D.C.) have laws that are considered “Live, Legal,” which means that single-game sports betting is legally available to consumers through retail and/or online sportsbooks within these states. The three states that are classified as “Legal—Not Yet Operational”—Florida, Nebraska, and Ohio—have, as the name suggests, legalized sports betting but there are no legal sportsbooks currently available. The remaining seven states—Alaska, California, Georgia, Kansas, Massachusetts, Missouri, and Oklahoma—have either pre-filed or introduced bills in the state legislature to legalize single-game sports betting or scheduled voter referendums about the issue.
Even in states where sports betting is both legal and available, there may still be limitations. For instance, our research found that in North Carolina, New Mexico, North Dakota, Washington, and Wisconsin, only tribal casino operators are permitted to offer sports betting. As such, even though sports betting is considered legal and there is an operational market, no online sportsbooks are currently available within these states. Other restrictions can include bets being limited to in-state collegiate teams or specific events. Age requirements also vary, with some states requiring gamblers to be at least 18 years old, while others have a higher minimum age of 21 years old.
New York is the only state that has two different age requirements: Gamblers must be at least 21 years old to use commercial casinos and online sportsbooks, while those utilizing tribal casinos only need to be 18 years old.
How Many States Allow Online Sports Betting?
Forty states, plus the District of Columbia, either currently have or recently introduced legislation legalizing sports betting in some form. Of this number, 22 allow online and mobile sports betting.
In Which States Is Sports Betting Illegal?
Currently, nine states either do not have—or are not considering—legislation legalizing sports betting: Alabama, Alaska, Idaho, Kentucky, Maine, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and Vermont.
Is Sports Betting Legal on a Federal Level?
In 2018, the Supreme Court overturned the federal ban on sports betting, allowing state governments to set their own policies on the matter. Although it is now possible for sportsbooks to operate legally in the U.S., no legislation has been passed on a federal level legalizing the activity.
The Bottom Line
If you're considering betting money on the outcome of a sporting event, it's important to be aware of the opportunities and restrictions in your state. Even where sports betting is legal, the odds are stacked against you and there's a much greater risk compared to other ways you could be putting your money to work, such as investing. As such, always make sure you're wagering money that you're certain you can afford to lose.
If you or someone you know has a gambling problem, call the National Problem Gambling Helpline at 1-800-522-4700, or visit ncpgambling.org/chat to chat with a helpline specialist.