From the Strip to the Web: An Interesting History of American Casino Laws

You may not realize it, but gambling is as American as apple pie. The country has a history of gambling and casino laws that have led to the explosion of legal gambling beyond the borders of Nevada.

How have American attitudes toward gambling been reflected in our laws since we gained independence? We will take you through that history in this guide.

Keep reading to learn the storied history of gambling in the United States.

Early Days of Gaming

The history of gambling in the U.S. goes back to pre-Revolutionary War days. A British law from 1769 restricted lotteries, which the colonies used to fund essential services. This stoked tension between American settlers and the crown, which contributed to our fight for independence.

Once the war was won, legal gambling had a brief golden age in the country. The Las Vegas of the early 1800s was the Mississippi River. This was the era of riverboat gambling, and this form of entertainment flourished.

Growing Pains

Puritanical morals started to brush up against betting-related entertainment in the mid-1800s. This was around the time of the Gold Rush in California. Gambling migrated west with the prospectors.

One form of betting that has remained relatively untouched by restrictions is horse racing, which is legal across the country. All three races in horse racing’s Triple Crown—the Belmont Stakes, the Preakness, and the Kentucky Derby—were established by 1875. Since then, Derby Day has become one of America’s most beloved and nostalgic makeshift holidays.

Since gambling has been regulated by various government bodies over the years, it would fill a library for us to compile all of the laws around it. But by the early 20th century and especially Prohibition, games of chance were on the outside of the law. They were mostly the domain of the Italian mob and other organized crime syndicates.

Modern Casino Laws, Sports Betting, and Online Gambling

Gambling grew in popularity as the 20th century progressed. The stock market crash of 1929 that gave way to the Great Depression saw the legalization of gambling is Nevada as a way to generate revenue. From there, havens of gambling emerged in the following cities.

  • Atlantic City: Gambling legalized in 1977.
  • Native American reservations: The Seminole tribe opened the first reservation-based casinos in 1979. The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 puts decisions around gambling on tribal lands in the hands of the states.
  • Illinois, Louisiana, and other states: Riverboat gambling legalized in the 1990s.

Sports betting and online gambling remain issues of states’ rights, thanks to a couple of key laws. In 1992, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) went into effect. This left Nevada, Oregon, Delaware, and Montana as the only states exempted from its restrictions on sports betting because of their existing industries.

In 2006, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act put online gambling in the hands of state regulatory agencies. As a result, there are still many murky areas around interstate internet gambling. This blog is a great resource for parsing some of the confusion in this area.

Don’t Leave Your Representation up to Chance

Gambling is big business in the United States, despite the fact that casino laws remain complicated. Most of them come from state governments, with the federal government staying relatively hands-off.

If you find you need help sorting through these laws because of your own gambling winnings, we recommend searching for representation in our database of lawyers

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