Not all forms of gambling are legal across the USA, but the country is enthusiastic about it just the same.
The United States has always had a special relationship with gambling, and it’s certainly been a wild ride, historically speaking.
The American frontier brough people with dreams in their minds and hopes in their hearts, as well as more open attitudes compared to their European homelands. There’s plenty of reasons why they called it the Wild, Wild West, after all. Even making your way there was a gamble in its own right.
Needless to say, gambling was not illegal in the original settlements, but it didn’t proliferate anywhere either. In fact, lotteries were organized to raise money to build universities, or improve existing schools in the 18th and 19th century.
In fact, it was Britain that attempted to place a restriction on those lotteries in 1769, but this only made the pre-revolutionary tensions fester.
After that, gambling diversified and New Orleans became the hotbed of betting activities. The gambling grew so out of hand that it was eventually repressed, the state lotteries along with it.
This, along with the prevailing Christian religion of the settlers, saw America greeting the 20th century with almost all gambling outlawed.
Of course, nothing is sweeter than forbidden fruit, so gambling activities continued to thrive under the state’s radar, even during Prohibition. Famous mobsters who ran gambling and moonshine operations became the stuff of legends, before it all came to a screeching halt.
The Great Depression rolled in and gambling was legalized once again to help raise much needed revenue, with lotteries and bingo. Las Vegas was the town to flourish the most with the money injection from crime lord Bugsy Siegel. Similarly, gambling in Nevada took off when
legitimate investor and aviator Howard Hughes saw the potential there.
Fast forward to the late 1970s, we see New Jersey legalizing gambling in its notorious Atlantic City. But, it was the Seminoles who were the first to open commercial casinos and this later led to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. It was this Act that allowed tribal casinos to flourish as a form of reimbursement from the government.
Indian and Las Vegas casinos began to offer table games, slot machines and all other casino games we know and love. Little by little, lotteries and parimutuel betting became legal under federal law across the States.
Currently, the only two states offering casino-style gambling statewide legally are Nevada and Louisiana. Some other states only have cities or designated casino-style gambling areas, such as Las Vegas and Atlantic City. and, of course, there are still Indian casinos.
There are many restrictions when it comes to interstate and intrastate laws.
Though the states have unique, however connected, histories, something happened that would affect them all. At the turn of the century, internet casinos really exploded.
It will all make more sense once we take a trip through memory lane.
It all started with the Wire Act in the 1960s, and later the UIGEA and PASPA laws. These are the three legal documents that have shaped gambling in America as we know it today.
Back in the 1950s and 1960s, America’s telephone network got a massive expansion. Of course, this meant that bookies could now take bets on the phone, allowing the mob to run its operations smoothly.
The government responded to this by creating the Wire Act in 1961. The idea then-president Kennedy had was to prohibit gambling over the phone, as well as gambling in foreign countries. It was aimed to target the mob, not individuals.
But, it’s wording didn’t hedge itself from all possibilities. Namely, it’s all about betting on sporting events, like horse racing, but casino games aren’t expressly prohibited.
The Wire Act was revised in 2011, and this allowed states to legalize casino games because they weren’t covered in the Act.
The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act was passed in 1992 and it allowed four “grandfathered” states to conduct single-game sports betting. This did not include sports such as jai alai, or pari mutuel horse or dog racing.The states in question were Nevada, Delaware, Oregon and Montana. Automatically, all other states were prohibited from doing the same.
Delaware led the way in 2012 by legalizing its in-state run online casinos. They started operating the following year and the state began to amass the gambling revenue generated.
New Jersey joined the legalization process that same year, but their online casino revenue was huge compared to Delaware’s. The market in NJ continues to expand.
Next, the UIGEA (Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act) came about in 2006 as a sort of supplement to the Wire Act. This is because the Internet Era was now here, and American gaming had to be regulated. Again, it didn’t directly prohibit gambling online. Instead, it prohibited financial transactions between a US bank and a gambling site illegal.
The response was for online casinos operators to move offshore.
And, Americans continued to gamble online with offshore casinos because of the legal loopholes. To reiterate, the Wire Act and UIGEA both “targeted” the ones who offer gambling services or allow transactions, not the individual. The most anyone has gotten was some misdemeanor charges, so it hasn’t put Americans off offshore gambling.
Come 2018, the Supreme Court lifted the online sports betting ban, thereby overturning PASPA.
Since then, Rhode Island, also, voted to legalize sports betting and West Virginia became the fifth US state to offer legal sports betting. Eight states so far have their own online casinos in the works, including New Hampshire and Pennsylvania.
This is all in its beginning stages and the offers are limited.
That’s why most Americans still seek out offshore gambling using online casinos. So much so, it’s becoming a problem.
There are currently around 330 million people in the US, and the population is fast growing. Studies have recently shown that a whopping 10 million people (or 2.6% of the population) have a gambling addiction.
This research found this was true for every state; even where gambling is prohibited by law. Even the only two states that prohibit each and every form of gambling, Hawaii and Utah, have gaambling addiction thanks to the internet.
Gambling-related problems are currently costing the country around 6 billion dollars a year, and are a significant burden to the U.S.
It’s still very much a male illness, as statistics show barely any women are problem gamblers. Nowadays, mobile phone gambling is becoming prevalent with the younger population and PCs are more prevalent among the older demographic.
The internet has brought about a proliferation of gambling; it has never been easier and more accessible.
Researchers have found online gambling to be the fastest growing addiction amongst teenagers, and even pathological gambling rates are climbing. The Harvard Medical School Center for Addiction Studies director even stated that more children nowadays are suffering from gambling-related symptoms than from drugs. A survey was also done in Atlantic City, which showed that over 60% of teenagers interviewed had played in a local casino. Not only that, just under half of them had done so before they turned 14.
This is a highly disturbing fact to discover, seeing as the legal gambling age in the US is 21 or older, or 18 and up in several places.
Experts suggest that gambling commercials should be censored the way cigarette commercials are. Another suggestion is to place limits on the amounts people can play with and, subsequently, lose.
Likewise, experts advise banning gambling establishment loans and even the presence of ATMs near casinos.
And if there’s anything Americans like, it’s convenience.
Perhaps this is why the attempts to legalize gambling, as well as curtail problem gambling in the US, show no signs of slowing down.
And while well-meaning experts speak up on all the ways to treat the symptoms of gambling, they’re at a loss when it comes to the source of addiction. Well, perhaps not entirely at a loss, but there is something intangible to science in the human spirit. Something that makes you want to eat the forbidden fruit, something that makes you want to gamble your hard-earned money away.
Despite constant repression, people continue to desire rolling those dice.
And, they say, what you resist, persists.
We can only hope that saying holds true and that, as more states legalize diverse forms of gambling, the country’s obsession will just fade away into a matter of mild interest.a