Playing Online Blackjack in the U.S. – Is it Legal to Gamble?

Many blackjack players are confused as far as whether they can play online blackjack in the United States or not.  This can be a complicated topic but I’ll take a few moments to provide what you need to know here in a nutshell.  Looking at this practically, this really all comes down to access, not legality.

Before the UIGEA (The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006) was passed in late 2006, American players could play blackjack at whatever online casinos they wanted.  Then most of the sites exited the U.S. market.  Many felt that this was because playing blackjack for real money, as well as other casino games, was now illegal in the U.S.

The Truth About UIGEA

The UIGEA has nothing to do with the legality of gambling at all though, it just makes certain financial transactions illegal, those involving the proceeds of illegal gambling.  It has nothing to do with players either, it is directed solely at companies processing financial transactions, such as banks, credit card companies, and other payment processors. Online blackjack sites are not located in the United States, and therefore are in no way subject to U.S. law.  In the early days of online gambling, some in the U.S. government thought that these foreign sites were violating international law by offering gambling to its residents, but lost that battle in court.

What these online gambling sites were concerned about though is the difficulty that this new law would have in processing financial transactions with U.S. residents.  You couldn’t use the same channels, as the UIGEA did spook a lot of American transaction processors, who are subject to this law, and a lot of online sites felt that this all wasn’t worth the trouble anymore.

A lot of the fear back then was the mistaken view of the U.S. Department of Justice that online casino gambling and online poker playing was illegal in the U.S. by way of federal law, specifically the Wire Act of 1961.  As far back as 2002 though, the U.S. Federal Court of Appeals ruled that it did not apply to casino or poker, but they just ignored it. In recent years, they admitted this mistake, and also had to admit that there has never been any federal law prohibiting online casino gambling and poker.  The legality of gambling is currently solely decided at the state level. So it’s these laws that players need to pay attention to, in spite of all the talk about legalizing online gambling at the federal level, they don’t even have the legal power to do that if they wanted to.

The laws of individual states differ a lot as far as whether they prohibit online gambling, including blackjack.  The State of Washington explicitly makes it illegal.  In many states, any sort of gambling not otherwise permitted is illegal, and online gambling is a form of gambling, so it would be illegal as well.  In some states it’s not so clear.

Having a law against something and having it enforceable can be two different matters though.  It’s one thing to break up an illegal casino or even a home game, the cops can bust up the game and make arrests, and this happens from time to time. Arresting people for playing blackjack online in their own homes or on their mobile devices is a whole other matter though.  The private nature of these activities place them well beyond the reach of the authorities, even in countries where governments can invade people’s privacy at will.

North Korea has the only effective solution to banning online gambling actually, they don’t have the internet and they don’t have ways to connect to it even if it were available.  Otherwise, if people can connect to the internet, they can play online blackjack, and if governments force internet service providers to block gambling websites, people can just connect to the gambling sites through a server in another country by using a VPN.

Bottom Line: Can You Play or Not?

So does the legality of online blackjack in your state not matter at all?  Well it does matter, but only to the extent that online blackjack sites won’t allow you to play with them.  For instance, no one offers online gambling to Washington residents anymore due to their clear laws against it.  Several other states are singled out by several providers as well, reducing the number of casinos you can choose from.

Many online casinos don’t accept Americans at all. However, for residents of most states, there are still a number of very good casinos you can still play blackjack at.  Some wait for regulation, others see the matter from a more practical point of view and play all the blackjack they want without waiting.