Sports Betting Laws by State

The majority of states either have—or are considering—legalized sports betting

Sports and gambling are two major industries in the United States. However, until fairly recently, the intersection of these two activities—gambling on sports—was limited to a small number of states. Today, it's far easier to participate in sports betting, thanks in part to a myriad of online and mobile options. However, it can still be heavily restricted or even outright unavailable depending on your location. Here's what to know about sport betting laws by state.

Key Takeaways

  • 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, 38 states and the District of Columbia have legalized sports betting, meaning single-game sports betting may be offered to consumers through legal retail or online and mobile sportsbooks.
  • Even when sports betting has been legalized in a state, restrictions may still apply.

As a result of the 2022 midterm elections, two ballot measures were rejected in California that would have legalized two separate sports betting options. Proposition 26 would have legalized sports betting at tribal casinos, while Proposition 27 would have legalized online and mobile sports betting.

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 or entertainment events, such as 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).

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 legalized 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, 38 states and the District of Columbia have legalized sports betting. This means that single-game sports betting is legally available to consumers within these states in some form, whether retail, mobile, or both. Four states have pending legislation or scheduled voter referendums about the issue. In eight states, sports betting remains illegal.

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?

38 states, plus the District of Columbia, have legalized sports betting in some form. 29 states, plus the District of Columbia, allow online and mobile sports betting.

In Which States Is Sports Betting Illegal?

Currently, 8 states have not legalized sports betting: Alabama, Alaska, California, Idaho, Minnesota, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah.

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.

Article Sources
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  1. Supreme Court of the United States. "," Pages 3, 31.
  2. American Gaming Association. ""
  3. NPR. "."
  4. Gamblingsites.org. ""
  5. Supreme Court of the United States. "," Page 31.
  6. National Council on Problem Gambling. "."
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