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Every year, legal sports betting becomes more common across the US. Since the Supreme Court repealed PASPA in 2018, legalization outside of Nevada has occurred in 20 additional states and Washington, DC in some form or another.

In the wake of COVID-19, many states are looking for ways to make up for tax deficits. One way to do that is through legalized sports betting, which means we will likely see legalization in two-thirds of US states between 2021 through 2023.

In about half the states with legalized sports betting, you can bet at one of several online sportsbooks licensed in the state. But legal sports betting can also mean you can only bet in-person or at a single sports betting supplier (such as the lottery).

5 Best Legal Sports Betting Apps In The US

The best legal sports betting apps in the US are those that offer stable platforms, competitive odds, and lucrative promos. With that in mind, here are the top five best legal sports betting apps in the US:

  1. BetRivers, which offers a phenomenal welcome bonus that doubles your first deposit up to $250 (claim bonus here). Feel free to use the bonus cash on any combination of bets with odds -200 or longer in all states with legal online sportsbooks except Nevada and West Virginia.
  2. Caesars Sportsbook, best known as a premier casino brand acquired William Hill, the premier sportsbook of the UK. Caesars Sportsbook is available in all US states with legal online sports betting except Pennsylvania. New players are entitled to a $5000 risk-free bet (claim bonus here).
  3. BetMGM, a top-rated sports betting app offering great futures odds, in-app live streaming, and an easy parlay builder. You can find BetMGM in all states with legal online sports betting except Illinois, but BetMGM will be coming to that state soon. New players get a risk-free bet of up to $1,000 (claim bonus here).
  4. FanDuel Sportsbook, Virginia’s first online sportsbook and available in all states that legalized online betting except Nevada, offers a highly intuitive app with odds boosters and parlay insurance offers across most major sports. The welcome bonus is a risk-free bet of up to $1,000, and a lost bet is refunded as betting credits (rather than a free bet of equal value). Claim the bonus here.
  5. DraftKings Sportsbook, the one and only online sportsbook in New Hampshire, is also available in all states with legal online sports betting except Nevada. On top of having a top-rated betting app with extremely competitive odds, DraftKings matches your first deposit by 20% up to $1,000 (claim bonus here).

Sports Betting Bills To Track In 2021

The following states are likely to legalize online sports betting in 2021:

  • Connecticut: Governor Ned Lamont introduced a bill in January 2021 that would authorize tribal casino owners to launch online sports betting, daily fantasy sports, and online casinos across the state.
  • Georgia: Republican state Senator Jeff Mullis is leading the call for legalized online sports betting in the state in 2021, which has the support of the Atlanta Hawks, United, Falcons, and Braves.
  • Louisiana: Voters approved legal sports betting in the state on November 3, 2020, but lawmakers now have to determine the regulations, which will decide whether sports betting will be available online or in-person only.
  • Maryland: Sports betting is legal in Maryland, but statehouses need to hammer out the regulations, which means online sportsbooks won’t launch until late 2021 or early 2022.
  • Massachusetts: Sports betting legalization will almost certainly happen in Massachusetts in 2021 due to the support among voters, lawmakers, sports teams, gaming unions, and beyond. However, legal online and retail sportsbooks wouldn’t launch until 2022 or 2023. 
  • New York: Governor Andrew Cuomo recently came out in favor of legalizing online sports betting, but there are challenges, including a debate between a casino-style market (multiple online sportsbooks) or a lottery-style market (a single, state-run online sportsbook).

What Is Legal Sports Betting

In the US, states that legalized sports betting will offer licensed outlets to place bets on sporting events. These outlets can be online sports betting apps and sites or retail sportsbooks.

So far, 21 states and Washington, DC offer legal sports betting. It is illegal in all other jurisdictions.

States like Oregon and New Hampshire offer one sportsbook app to the entire jurisdiction. Run by the lottery, state-operated online sportsbooks usually offer worse odds than sportsbooks in states with a casino-style market, which allows for competition between multiple platforms.

Illegal online sports betting is performed at an unlicensed sports betting website based in a different country. Illegal bookmakers, known colloquially as “bookies,” also take underground bets. Both of these methods are considered unsafe alternatives to legally licensed sports betting.

History Of Sports Betting Legislation

The gambling laws by state vary dramatically. For example, Utah doesn’t offer the lottery, casinos, or sportsbooks – despite being sandwiched between Nevada, home of Las Vegas and Reno, and Colorado, which legalized online sports betting, online casinos, and poker sites.

But even in states with liberal sports betting laws, the practice was illegal as recently as 2017 everywhere except Nevada, New Jersey, and states with sports lotteries like Oregon, Delaware, and Montana.

Really, the legality of sports betting didn’t begin until the Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) on May 14, 2018.

The repeal of PASPA paved the way for other states to change their sports betting laws. Since then, changes to gambling laws by state legislators and voters have poured in. It wouldn’t be a surprise if two-thirds or even three-quarters of US states launched legal sports betting by the end of 2023.

Timeline of Legal Sports Gambling In The US

  • 1961: The Federal Wire Act of 1961 prohibits the interstate transmission of sports betting wagers. This act eventually prohibited internet sportsbooks from offering their services to US bettors. 
  • 1992: The passage of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA) outlaws sports betting in all states except Nevada and the state lotteries in Oregon, Delaware, and Montana. It also allows New Jersey to pass sports betting legalization if it so chooses to do so.
  • October 27, 2011: Cantor Gaming, the first legal online sportsbook in the US, launches in Nevada, followed closely by William Hill Nevada just a few weeks later.
  • May 14, 2018: The Supreme Court overturns PASPA, which means all US states and jurisdictions can legalize sports betting as they see fit.
  • 2018: Starting with Delaware and followed closely by New Jersey, seven states join Nevada to offer legal sports betting, including Mississippi, West Virginia, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island. Since then, all offer online sports betting except for New Mexico.
  • 2019: Seven more states launch sports betting: Arkansas, Iowa, Indiana, Tennessee, New York, Oregon, and New Hampshire. Iowa, Tennessee, and Indiana launched several online sportsbooks since then. New Hampshire and Oregon launched limited online sports betting.
  • 2020: Sports betting launches in Illinois, Michigan, Montana, Colorado, and Washington, DC All offer several casino-style online sportsbooks except Montana, which offers a single, lottery-style sportsbook.
  • March 2020: The MLB, NBA, and NHL all suspend their seasons, and the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments are canceled due to COVID-19.
  • July 2020: The NBA and NHL return to play modified playoffs, and the MLB begins a 60-game season without crowds.
  • 2021: Michigan and Virginia launch legal online sportsbooks, and Iowa’s in-person registration requirement expired on January 1, 2021. 

The Future Of Legalizing Online Gambling

The future of gambling legalization is almost entirely centered around online sports betting. While a few states legalized online casinos and poker sites, states likely to lean toward gambling legalization are focused specifically on sportsbooks.

New York State is garnering the most buzz for legalizing online sportsbooks because it has such an enormous population. 

However, some of the biggest sports franchises in Texas formed a coalition to push for legal sports betting, and Florida might pass gambling legalization depending on how things shape up in 2021. Those are the second and third largest states by population, respectively.

But the state with the biggest population, California, likely won’t pass any form of gambling legalization. If they do, it will most likely be for retail sportsbooks, not online sports betting.

Placing Sports Bets Online Legally

Risking your money and personal information at an illegal online sportsbook is never worth it. These sites are notorious for disappearing with their players’ money, refusing to pay out rightful winnings, and hiding outrageous terms and conditions.

Legal online sportsbooks, on the other hand, are subject to strict, local regulations that ensure the security of your money and personal information. These platforms can’t refuse to pay rightful winnings, and even if they go out of business, they’re legally obligated to return all players’ funds.

Why Should I Trust Online Sports Betting Sites?

Each state has its own, extremely strict gambling regulator. For example, the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement (DGE) approves sportsbook licenses and enforces all in-state regulations. The Michigan Gaming Control Board (MGCB) does the same for all operators in the Wolverine State.

That means the best sports betting apps are regulated by several different state regulators. Meanwhile, illegal sites hold licenses in tax havens where they can offer their services outside of US law.

Is My Money Safe With Online Sportsbooks?

Your money is as safe at a legally-licensed online sportsbook in the US as it is in your bank account. These companies use the latest encryption technology to keep all data as safe and secure as possible. So, while no internet company is 100% secure, legal sportsbooks are as safe as it gets.

Are Sportsbook Winnings Taxable?

Yes, sportsbook winnings are taxable. Players are responsible for paying taxes on their net winnings every year. This includes both state income tax and federal income tax, both of which vary depending on local laws and income bracket. Some states, like New Jersey, also charge higher taxes for online gambling than they do for in-person gambling.

Why Is Responsible Gaming Important?

Responsible gaming is the only way to gamble safely. Most sports bettors lose more than they win, and even the best sports bettors in the world lose more than 40% of the time. 

That means you should only gamble for the fun of it, placing every bet assuming that it will lose. 

Set strict betting limits, never bet while bored or depressed, and reach out to a support network if you ever feel like your gambling is getting out of hand. 

Is My Personal Information Safe When Betting Online?

Yes, your personal information is as safe as your money at an online sportsbook. Per state regulations, these apps have to ask for identifying information, including your SSN, driver’s license number, address, phone number, full legal name, and more. The idea is to protect players from fraudulent attempts to create an account in their name.

Legal Sports Betting Online – FAQs

Is Online Betting On Sports Legal In The US?

Yes, online betting on sports is legal in some states in the US. The states with casino-style, legal online sportsbooks include Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, New Jersey, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. New Hampshire, Oregon, Delaware, Montana, and Washington, D.C. offer a jurisdiction-wide, lottery-style online sportsbook with a monopoly on the market.

What Was The First State To Legalize Gambling And Sports Betting Online?

Nevada. The first state with legal online sports betting was Nevada, which was also the first state to launch legal online poker. However, it has not legalized online casino gaming. The first state to legalize online casinos was New Jersey, which allows online sports betting and poker sites as well.

How Many States Allow Online Gambling?

17. There are currently 17 states that allow some form of online gambling. However, most of these states only legalized online sports betting. The only states with legal online sports betting, casinos, and poker sites are Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Michigan, and West Virginia. Delaware is the only state that legalized online casinos and poker sites but not online sportsbooks.

How Many States Have Legalized Sports Betting?

21. There are currently 21 states with legalized sports betting in some form. 10 of these states have retail and online sports betting, 10 have just retail sportsbooks, and Virginia only has online sports betting. The biggest online sports betting markets are New Jersey, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Michigan.

Is It Legal To Bet On College Sports In The US?

Yes, most states with legal sports betting allow bets on college sports. However, many of these states restrict prop betting on college sports as well as betting on in-state college teams. New Jersey also does not allow betting on any college sporting event that takes place within state lines, even if a New Jersey school isn’t playing.

Is It Legal To Bet On High School Sports In The US?

No. It is illegal to bet on amateur or high school sporting events in all US states, including those with legal sports betting. In general, any sporting event involving minors (those under the age of 18) is restricted. This is also why betting on the Olympics is often restricted in sports betting legislation. 

A common exception to the “no betting on minors” rule is with international sports, as many major soccer teams have players below the age of 18, particularly during the World Cup.

Is It Legal To Be On eSports In The US?

Yes, in Colorado, Nevada, New Jersey, and West Virginia, betting on esports is legally allowed. Colorado even launched a couple of esports-specific sportsbooks. You can also bet on esports at some tribal sportsbooks across the US, including in New York and Michigan, as they’re not under the same sports betting regulations as the commercial sportsbooks. Here’s our full guide on where to bet on esports.

About the Author

Mike Epifani

Mike Epifani is an experienced online gambling writer who specializes in online casinos and sports betting sites. From the nuances of bonus offers to winning strategies, his insights have helped countless bettors keep more of their money while having fun and staying safe.

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