Gaming laws are the body of laws, rules, and regulations which govern gambling and casinos. Due to the fact that many casinos in operation today are operated by Indian tribes, numerous gaming law issues also involve Indian and Native American law matters.

What is Legal Gambling?

There are specific forms of gambling that are illegal in almost every state. Most states, however, also recognize exemptions to these rules and permit certain types of legal gambling.

In states which recognize exceptions, there are statutes on the books which do make certain types of gambling illegal. In other states, exemptions may be recognized only in practice.

This means that, although it may technically still be illegal, an individual who participates is not likely to be prosecuted.

What Are Some Common Forms of Legal Gambling?

The types of gambling that are legal will differ by state. There are, however, certain types of gambling that are treated as legal more frequently than others, which may include:

  • Social gambling;
  • Lotteries;
  • Charitable raffles;
  • Bingo; and
  • Betting on horse or dog races.

What are Some Factors States Consider When Deciding Whether Gambling is Legal?

When determining whether a certain form of gambling is illegal or legal, a state may consider some of the following factors, including:

  • Is it a game one of skill or chance? Games of skill will generally be given more leniency than games of chance;
  • Are all gamblers on equal footing? If there is no house income and no house odds, the form of gambling is more likely to be legal;
  • How high are the stakes? Penny-ante games are going to be more likely to be legal than $100,000 stakes; and
  • Where does the gambling take place? Gambling in an individual’s own private home will be more likely to be legal than gambling in a public establishment.

Do I Have to be a Certain Age to Gamble Legally?

Yes, the majority of states require that an individual at least be over the age of majority in order to gamble. In certain states, individuals will need to be 21 years of age to gamble.

In other states, individuals are only required to be 18 years of age in order to gamble. Most states make it illegal for a minor to gamble or to play a game of chance, which may include:

  • Professional or college sports pools;
  • Poker games; and
  • Betting on school sports.

What are the Consequences of Gambling Illegally?

If an individual participates in illegal gambling, the consequences may vary depending upon the laws of the jurisdiction. Possible consequences for a conviction may include:

What is the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992?

The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 is a federal statute. It prohibits any individual or state acting pursuant to the law of a state government agency from doing any of the following related to a gambling scheme that is based on games which are played by amateur or professional athletes:

  • Sponsoring;
  • Operating;
  • Promoting; or
  • Authorizing.

What Kinds of Sports Does the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act Relate to?

The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act prohibits gambling on any professional and amateur sports, which includes:

  • Professional sports;
  • College sports; and
  • The Olympics.

It does not apply to:

  • Pari-mutuel betting such as horse and dog races; and
  • Jai-Alai.

What is Pari-mutuel Betting?

Pari-mutuel betting is a form of gambling that is offered at certain types of sporting events. This often includes races where competitors finish in a ranked order.

Is Pari-mutuel Betting Legal?

Pari-mutuel betting is one of the few types of organized gambling that is considered legal in many states. There are, however, certain states which classify pari-mutuel betting as a form of illegal gambling.

Before an individual places any bets, it is important to ensure that they are aware of the laws in their state.

Why is Pari-mutuel Betting Legal When Other Forms of Gambling are Not?

Pari-mutuel gambling is different from other common forms of gambling because an individual gables against other gamblers instead of against the house. With pari-mutuel betting, all of the gamblers are on equal footing.

There are no house odds which provide one individual or group an advantage over another. This distinguishes pari-mutuel betting from casino games as well as other types of gambling, which makes it less susceptible to corruption and abuse.

What are Some of the Common Kinds of Pari-mutuel Betting?

The most common forms of pari-mutuel betting include:

  • Horse racing;
  • Greyhound racing; and
  • Jai Alai.

How Does Pari-mutuel Betting Work?

Pari-mutuel betting works by having all of the funds from bets of a particular type pooled together. From this pool of funds, taxes and a house fee are removed.

Then, the payoff odds are calculated from the remaining total. The fewer correct bets that are included in the pool, the greater the payoff.

What Kinds of Bets can I Make?

There are several different types of bets an individual can make on a pari-mutuel event. Each different form of bet goes into its own separate pool.

The most common types of bets which may be available include:

  • Bet to win: An individual wins if the competitor they bet on comes in first;
  • Bet to place: An individual wins if the competitor they bet on comes in either first or second;
  • Bet to show: An individual wins if the competitor they bet on comes in either first, second, or third;
  • There are also exotic bets which are bets that are more difficult to win, but carry higher payoffs, which include:
    • Exacta: The individual wins if they picked the first and second place finishers in order;
    • Quinella: The individual wins if they picked the first and second place finishers, but they are not required to be in order; and
    • Trifecta: The individual wins if they picked the first, second, and third place finishers in order.

Can I Bet on a Race that is Taking Place in a Different State?

Federal law regulates pari-mutuel gambling. The majority of forms of interstate gambling are illegal.

However, the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978 permits interstate pari-mutuel wagering in certain ways, so long as pari-mutuels are legal in both states, including:

  • Over the phone;
  • Over the internet; or
  • Through any other electronic communication.

If an individual is in a state where pari-mutuel betting is legal and they wish to bet on a race that is being held in a different state which also allows pari-mutuel betting, an individual may bet on that race without violating federal laws that govern interstate gambling.

Should I Consult a Lawyer?

If you have any issues, questions, or concerns regarding pari-mutuel betting, it may be helpful to contact a lawyer. An experienced entertainment lawyer can advise you regarding the laws of your state as well as advise you on how to protect your rights be gambling legally.

If you have placed a bet illegally and are facing legal consequences, it is important to consult with an attorney to determine what steps to take and if any defenses may be available. Your attorney will represent you in court and may be able to negotiate on your behalf.