States That Allow Gambling

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Which states allow gambling? The short answer is, “All of them, except for Utah and Hawaii.” 

But the short answer does not tell the whole tale because there are many different forms of gambling. If you engage in a form not allowed in your state, you are violating the law even if other types of gambling are allowed. It’s important to know not just if any gambling is allowed in your state, but what kinds of gambling are permitted.

Utah and Hawaii 

Before breaking down gambling by type and state, it’s worth discussing why Utah and Hawaii do not allow any gambling, since that illuminates some of the underlying principles behind gambling’s legality: 

  • Utah: Due to the dominant position of the Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS, or Mormons) in Utah society and public policy and its opposition to any forms of gambling, no gambling is allowed, including tribal gambling. An outright ban on all gambling makes it easier for the state to enforce its public policy against the activity. 
  • Hawaii: Hawaii’s economy is heavily dependent on tourism. The state has made a policy decision that it wants what it considers “family friendly” tourism–gambling need not apply. That policy, coupled with the fact that it has no Native Americans (native Hawaiians are of Polynesian descent, and are not considered Native Americans) and consequently does not need to consider tribal casinos, has made it easy for the state to bar all gambling. 

What are the main categories of gambling? 

When people think of legalized gambling, they think of commercial casinos, which are typically Las Vegas- or Atlantic City-style casinos operated by non-Native Americans. In some southern or western states, it can take the form of “riverboat” gambling on mobile or stationary “boats” designed to evoke the riverboat gambling of the Old West. Most states restrict their commercial casinos to certain defined locations (i.e., Atlantic City in New Jersey); a few (very few) allow them anywhere (principally Nevada) with geographic borders. 

  • As of October 2018, some form of commercial casinos exist in CO, DE, IL, IN, IA, LA, MD, ME, MA, MI, MS, MO, NV (of course!), NJ (Atlantic City only), NY, OH, PA, RI, SD, WA, & WV 

Some individuals may also think of tribal or Indian casinos. These can be indistinguishable from commercial casinos, in the case of large Indian casinos offering a full suite of games, dining, shopping, shows, and hotel rooms, such as Connecticut’s Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos. Or they can be bare-bones, no-frills gambling-only destinations or offer only bingo and certain other limited games, as is the case in many western states. For there to be tribal gambling, you need to have Native American tribes–not just people of Native American descent, but recognized tribes with their own tribal land (reservations), and you also need at least some forms of gambling to be allowed by the state. 

  • Currently, tribal gambling can be found everywhere except AR, DE, GA, HI, IL, KY, MD, MO, NH, NJ, OH, PA, UT, VT, & WV 

Lotteries are gambling, too, and are a very widespread form or type of gambling–hardly surprising, since they are either run by the state government (so that the state pockets all the money) or run by private companies under licenses returning a high percentage of the revenue to the state. Some lotteries (e.g., “Mega Millions”) are multi-state or cross-state, which allow for larger jackpots. 

  • Every state except the following has lotteries: AL, AK, HI, NV (NV gets more than enough revenue from all its other gambling), & UT 

Racetracks (usually horse, though in a few places, dog) exist in only a comparatively small number of states–once the “sport of kings” and the most common legal gambling in the U.S., racetracks have been in decline in the U.S. for decades. 

  • You can find racetracks in AK, CO, DE, FL, IL, IN, IA, KY (of course!), LA, ME, MD, MA, MI, MN, NJ, NM, NY, OH, OK, PA, RI, VA, WV, & WY 

Pari-mutuel betting is a type of betting where all the bets are pooled and totaled (which is why it is also called the “tote”) and then the odds are determined based on the bets placed. It is used on horse racing, dog racing, and jai alai (FL), and is used in “remote betting” on races, etc.–that is, you don’t have to be at the track, or even have tracks in your state to have pari-mutuel betting. 

  • Right now, every state except the following has some form of pari-mutuel betting: AL, CT, GA, HI, MS, MO, NC, SC, TN, UT & VT 

Online gambling is betting via the internet. The games offered can vary widely by state and operator/provider but can potentially simulate any casino-style game and poker. 

  • There is only limited availability of online gaming at present; it is available in: DE, NV, NJ, and PA only, though this is expected to change and online gambling is expected to be come more widespread. 

Sports betting used to be legal (for all practical purposes) in Nevada only (a not-quite-handful of other states offered very limited forms), but has recently been made available for any state which wishes to legalize it. Like online gambling, it is expected to become more widespread. 

  • Presently, sports betting is legal in: DE, MS, MT, NV, NJ, OR, PA, & WA 

Many states also allow charitable gambling and social gambling, as well.

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