For decades, live casinos were the only place one could legally play casino games in the US. Today, a number of states have legalized online casinos as well, with dozens of platforms offering casino games over the internet.
If you are on the lookout for a legal online casino platform, you are in the right place. We have prepared a full guide to online casinos in the US, including all the details on recognizing legal casino sites, picking between the different licensed casinos, and signing up for your first online casino account.
Online casinos came to the US in 2013 when New Jersey became the first state to make online casino licenses available. Since then, several other states, such as Pennsylvania and Michigan, have joined NJ in pursuing a free and open online gambling market.
Let’s get started and teach you how to choose your legal online casino among a number of options available out there.
How to Choose a Legal Online Casino?
It is now possible to play casino games online from within the US completely legally. However, there are some things you still need to take into consideration before you decide which platform you want to play at, and availability is the main issue you will face if playing from within America.
These are the main criteria you should keep an eye out for when picking your legal US online casino:
- Your Physical Location: All online casinos in the US are only licensed in individual states. This means you will only be able to play at those casinos that have a license in the state you are physically located in. Your address of residence will not matter in this sense as much as your current geolocation.
- Casinos with Licensees: There are hundreds of online casinos out there that you can sign up with, but many of them are illegal offshore sites that are not to be trusted. Instead, you should always be playing at a legal and regulated casino available in your state.
- Bonuses & Promotions: The final criteria to look at before you pick an online casino to play at is the extra value you will get from the operator for joining up. Each licensed provider offers a selection of bonuses and promotions and you should seriously take these into consideration before you pick one site to commit to.
Why Choose a Legal Online Casino?
Online casinos are not yet available in every state, and it may take some time before they reach the state you are living in. However, if you are currently in a state that offers legal online casino gambling, you should definitely choose to play at a licensed site, for a number of reasons. Here are the main reasons we recommend always playing at a regulated and legal online casino:
- Licensed, Regulated, and Fair: Every online casino that’s licensed in one of the states was tested and audited by that state’s gaming regulator. This means the games at the site are 100% fair to play, and that the operator follows the law in all other business practices, keeping you safe and secure.
- Responsible Gambling: Unlike offshore casinos that are famous for their predatory business practices, licensed US casinos are dedicated to responsible gambling. In cooperation with the state regulators, US online casinos offer fair games and take care of their players through a number of responsible gambling measures and mechanisms.
- Your Funds Kept Safely: Every online casino licensed in the US is obligated to keep player funds segregated from their operating and other funds. This means you can always request a cashout, and the company will give it to you, avoiding scandals similar to the Black Friday of 2011.
- Identity Protection: Companies registered in the US must adhere to strict systems of handling user data, which means they are not allowed to sell them and have to keep them safely encrypted at all times. This is not the case with unregulated offshore casinos, which is another reason to always play at a licensed US online casino.
- Taxes Used for Communal Good: Licensed online casinos pay taxes in the state they are licensed in, and these taxes are commonly used to fund various programs that help your community and make life better for those within it. US gaming regulators also use a portion of these taxes to fund their responsible gambling programs, which means the more players play at regulated sites, the better protection everyone will receive.
How to Identify 100% Legal and Regulated Online Casinos
We have explained the top reasons to always pick a regulated online casino, but you are probably wondering how you can tell such sites apart from illegal offshore sites. There is a number of good indicators that will show you that an online casino is in fact regulated in your state and allowed to take your real money action within the US law. Here are the main ones:
- Gaming Regulator’s Seal: The first thing you should be looking for at an online casino is your state’s regulator’s seal of approval. Each state regulator that issues licenses to online casinos will provide the operators with its seal of approval. These seals are displayed in the footer section of the online casino and usually link back to the gaming regulator’s own website.
- Partnered with Local Casinos: In nearly every state, online casinos can only operate legally if they partner up with a local live casino that already operates within the state. You should be able to quickly find out which live casino is the partner of any licensed online casino, and this will give you the necessary confirmation of legality.
- Legal in Your State: Licensed online casinos clearly display and indicate which state they are operating in. In most cases, the casino’s domain name will be aimed at one specific state, and the website will usually also display the name of the state in which you can legally play for real money.
- US Headquarters: Legal US casinos must have their headquarters within the US. This makes the company behind the company legally responsible for every action the operator takes, making the whole business a lot more serious and responsible.
- Telephone Support Lines: Online casinos that are actually licensed within the US offer live telephone lines that are usually toll free and offer customer support in real time. International online casinos will rarely offer such an option, with email and live chat usually being the only support options.
- Player Rewards Programs: The best licensed US casinos also provide their customers with the most value. While some offshore casinos also have a customer loyalty program, the best player rewards are offered by online casinos that are operating 100% legally.
- A Name You Know: Finally, you will often be able to tell if an online casino is actually licensed by simply looking at their name. Big name companies like BetMGM, BetRivers, or DraftKings Casino are all recognizable names that you will instantly know. These companies don’t accept any action from players outside their legal jurisdiction, guaranteed!
Best Value — Welcome Bonuses and Promotions
Online casinos in the US must compete for customers, which is great news for the players. Each casino offers a variety of bonuses, promotional offers, and rewards to get the players’ attention. When picking the licensed casino to play at, you should pay special attention to the welcome bonus offered by each operator, as well as the selection of other promotional offers they have for you.
There are several popular types of rewards that online casinos offer their customers, and while most regulated casinos offer them in some form, the actual value you can get from them differs from site to site.
The welcome bonus is the first gift you will receive from any online casino out there. You should always make sure to get the full value from every welcome bonus out there, and each regulated operator in the States will give you one.
Casino welcome bonuses are issued as special bonus balance, which is subject to wagering requirements. However, they can be fully used to play real money games, and by increasing your starting bankroll, they will give you a great chance to win big money at the games.
The wagering requirements of the regulated US online casinos are significantly lower than those at international offshore casinos, making a regulated casino the clear choice in terms of value.
Another popular choice of player rewards from regulated casinos is free spins. Casinos give away free spins at the most popular slot machines as part of the welcome bonus package, as well as at various other times.
If you can get your hands on some free spins, you can look forward to playing a fun slot game without any cash required, and you get to keep any winnings you make. Keep in mind that the winnings might be subject to some wagering requirements, but once again these will be significantly more favourable than those imposed by the offshore sites.
Tournaments, Leaderboards, Competitions
Bonuses and free spins are just some of the rewards one gets from playing at regulated US online casinos. Apart from these, the casinos throw a variety of other promotions on a regular basis, and there is a ton of value to be had from these.
If you play online casino games regularly, we suggest shopping around for the best promotions available at the time in your state. You can get some extra value from at least one regulated online casino in your state every week, so make sure not to leave any money on the table.
Online casino promotions you can benefit from include various slot tournaments, table game insurances, free bets for games like blackjack or roulette, leaderboards and competitions across all the games, and more.
Advantages of Online Casinos Over Land-based Casinos
Live casinos have their allure, and there is no denying that the atmosphere of a live gambling facility is hard to match. However, online casinos also have their upsides and every casino enthusiast out there should be aware of all the pros that playing casino games over the internet has to offer. These are just a few of the major upsides that online casinos have over their land-based cousins:
- Easy Access: Online casinos bring an entire world of entertainment into your home, or better yet, to your mobile device. With an online casino account, you have access to casino games around the clock, without any restrictions. This means you don’t have to dress up or travel to a live casino, and that is convenience that can hardly be matched.
- More Casino Games: Live casinos, even the biggest ones, are restricted by space. After all, there are only so many games that a live casino can offer before they run out of space and the staff to spread the games. Online casinos are not restricted in such ways and can offer hundreds upon hundreds of different casino games, all within a single casino site.
- Better Promotions: The costs of running a live casino can quickly add up, which means there is less money left to award the players. This makes online casinos the absolute champions when it comes to welcome bonuses, player promotions, and customer loyalty programs.
- Higher Payout Rates: Online casino games are famous for their high payout rates, especially when it comes to slots. Many online slots offer an RTP of more than 96%, which is something you will not find in any live casino, where payout rates at slot machines can go as low as 80%.
- Safe Money Transfers: Winning big in a live casino means you will be left carrying a pile of cash with you, making you vulnerable to theft and attacks. Online casinos, on the other hand, make handling your money easy, as you can quickly transfer your cash in and out of your balance and have access to it within hours.
How to Sign Up with a Licensed US Online Casino?
Now that you know all the reasons to play at licensed US casinos, all the perks you will be getting from playing there, and all the things you should look out for, it is time to sign up for your first player account. The actual sign up process can differ between operators, but it boils down to a few essential steps you need to follow:
- Picking the regulated online casino you want to play at is your first step. Follow our instructions to choose one of the online casinos with a license in your state and get ready to sign up.
- Click the “Sign Up” or “Register” button and fill out your registration form. Regulated operators are obligated to ask you a lot of personal details that you will need to confirm later during the KYC process.
- Confirm your identity by providing the operator with personal documents that match the information you entered into the registration form. As long as you told the truth when registering, this process should be fairly painless.
- Making your first deposit is now possible. Pick your favorite deposit method such as a credit card of your choice, PayPal, or cash deposit at a live casino. Your money will be instantly available for real money play, along with your welcome bonus.
- Your registration is done and your balance is ready. It is now time to pick your first online casino game and enjoy the thrills of playing online in a perfectly safe and regulated environment.
Where Are Online Casinos Legal?
Online casinos are a privilege still only available to players in a handful of states. Bills are currently in the works to make the activity available in some other states as well, but at this time you will only be able to play online casino games legally in the following states:
- Delaware: While many don’t know it, Delaware was the first of all the States to make online gambling legal back in 2012. The first sites were launched soon after, although Delaware’s small population makes this State’s online casino industry relatively negligible in the grand scheme of things.
- New Jersey: The State of New Jersey was one of the first to legalize online casinos and their first site launched back in 2013 in the Garden State. NJ online casinos are linked up with some of the major casino operators in Atlantic City.
- Pennsylvania: It took years for the next state to approve a Bill that would make online casinos legal, and PA was the one to do it. The Bill itself was adopted in 2017, but it wasn’t until July 2019 that the online casino market actually launched.
- West Virginia: Gov. Jim Justice approved online gambling in March 2019 and it took over a year for the first online casinos in WV to launch in the summer of 2020, making it the fourth state to offer legal online casino games.
- Michigan: One of the States becoming synonymous with online gambling, Michigan was the next to launch a regulated online casino site in January 2021. Today, Michigan is one of the leaders in the iGaming industry in the US.
- Connecticut: To date, Connecticut is the latest of all the States that have regulated the online casino industry, with the first casino launching in October 2021 with a gaming license from the state regulator.
Legal History of Online Casinos in the US
The entire history of gambling in the US has been quite eventful, with many changes in laws and regulations pertaining to the gambling industry at large.
Online casino industry, in particular, has seen many ups and downs over the years. Here are a few of the key dates in the development of the modern US online casino history.
- First Casino Software in 1994: Microgaming was the company responsible for the development of the first ever online casino software, which was used to launch Intercasino in 1996, the first fully-fledged online casino with 18 games that was available in the US.
- Kahnawake Gaming Commission: Operated by the Mohawk Tribe stationed in Canada, the Kahnawake Gaming Commission was responsible for issuing the first operating licenses to some of the major online casinos on US soil.
- UIGEA Passes in 2006: The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act was passed to prohibit any deposits or cashouts from internet gaming sites, but it did not outlaw playing at online casinos. This meant players could still legally play at such sites, butt payment processors were to be prosecuted for handling any such transactions.
- Black Friday in 2011: Technically, the Black Friday impacted the online poker industry the most, as several major online poker sites were taken down by the DoJ. However, online casino industry was also severely hurt, as international casino operators realized that working in the US despite UIGEA could spell real trouble.
- Delaware Launches First Online Casino in 2013: Just two years after the Black Friday, the state of Delaware was the first to launch a fully legal American online casino, with IGT commissioned to create the platform.
- New Jersey Becomes the Biggest State with Legal Online Casinos: The same year, New Jersey entered the online casino industry becoming the biggest state to date to allow full igaming and paving the way for other states to eventually legalize online casino games.
- PA, MI, WV, and CT Launch Online Casinos: It took some years before other states joined the ranks of those where online casinos were legal, but starting with Pennsylvania in 2017, a number of other states started issuing their licenses, making the industry a phenomenon that will hardly be stopped anytime soon.