Will I Go To Jail If I Bet Sports Online?

Based on legal precedent, and a total lack of arrests at the state and federal level, the simple answer to "Will I go to jail for betting on sports?" or “Will I get into trouble for online sports betting?” is quite simply, NO! It is highly unlikely that an individual will go to jail, or get in trouble with the law in general, in the US for betting on sports, even though it is technically a legal gray area to place bets on sports using your Internet connection. For example, a US-based bookmaker cannot legally offer or accept bets over the Internet from residents in other states. This is due to the Interstate Wire Act of 1961. That said, some states where sports wagering is legal at the commercial level will allow customers in the same state to use their mobiles and Internet-connected devices to wager on sports. However, the vast majority of online sports bettors do not live in such states (even though more and more are getting on board with online sports betting in general).

The disparity between the letter of the law and the way the law is enforced – in addition to the law’s overly nebulous semantics – is just more evidence of the upside-down nature of the American legal system, and your likelihood to go to jail for online sports wagering does depend heavily on what state you live in, but you can rest easy when you place a bet on your favorite sports team from within American borders if – and only if – you use an offshore sportsbook that operates outside of US legal jurisdiction. This works because the preponderance of US state and federal gambling laws all focus on sportsbook operators rather than individual bettors. Essentially, it is legal for just about anyone to place a sports bet in the US, but it is illegal for the dramatic majority of operators (who are unlicensed) to accept those bets. This applies to both Internet-based bets and in-person bets alike.

The list of American states that have laws explicitly outlawing all online gambling is quite short, and it is subject to change rapidly now that the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA, 1992) has been overturned, giving all states complete control over their own sports wagering regulations and operations. These states currently include: Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Montana, Oregon, South Dakota, and Wisconsin, as they all have laws on the books that could theoretically land you in jail if you place any sort of wager on a gambling website. (It is important to note again that this has never actually happened in practice.) The state of Nevada also has a law that forbids citizens from placing wagers at non-state-regulated gambling sites, language similar to what online sports bettors and poker players may soon see if other states begin regulating and taxing their own versions of online casino and sports wagering sites.

Still, no one has yet to get in trouble or go to jail based on the language in those state's penal codes outlawing online betting. That indicates that state governments, like the federal government, are more interested in taking down the big fish: gambling providers operating illegally on American soil. Those people that do go to jail for using online sportsbooks are likely the hosts and operators of sports betting sites that operate within US borders, running afoul of the law. Part of the reason that individuals aren't targeted under anti-online gambling laws is the simple fact that it is difficult, and in some cases illegal, for governments to track the online activity of citizens. It is far easier for governments to locate people responsible for providing illegal gambling operations and arrest them, as happened with a handful of the world's most popular poker sites in America in 2011.

So how can you keep yourself out of jail and continue to place the sports bets you want to lay down? First and foremost, check the laws in your state. We are not legal professionals; contact a lawyer or other legal authority to find out about online sports betting law where you live. If you live in a state with laws against online betting, we don't recommend that you place sports bets, as those state laws could be used to put you in jail and levy hefty fines against you.

The second thing you can do to make sure you are placing safe sports bets is to always deal with regulated and certified online sportsbooks like the legal sports betting sites we have on this site. Look for sports betting sites that have regulation certification from a recognized gambling jurisdiction, and stick to the larger and better-known sports wagering Web sites. Dealing with legitimate sports wagering sites is a great way to make sure that your wagers are within the confines of American gambling law so you won't have to keep wondering “Will I get into trouble for online sports betting?” Because if you’re smart and proactive and thorough about it, you definitely won’t.

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