The Development of Gambling in the US

The US history of gambling is long. In general terms, gambling is an activity where a person or a group wagers something valuable, usually money, on a game’s or event’s outcome. In America, gambling was popular in the Great Britain colonies even before the American Revolution.

Gambling extent differed across America, with some areas embracing it than others. However, America didn’t have a large-scale prohibition of gambling. If an area wanted this activity, it prospered, and if a location didn’t like it, the people were okay with it too.

But some people criticized gambling heavily. And this explains why this activity faces legal restrictions in the US. Nevertheless, some people prefer gambling by visiting brick-and-mortar establishments like casinos. Here, people wager while playing their favorite games. By 2019, the US had more than 400 commercial casinos.

Meanwhile, some people gamble online, a trend that’s gaining increasing popularity. With online gambling, people wager through apps and websites. These digital gambling platforms offer a wide range of promotions to attract people that want to gamble from the comfort of their homes, offices, or even on the go. For instance, you can visit a 10 dollar deposit online casino, register with it, claim your bonus, and start playing different games on your mobile phone, MC or PC.

Colonial Gambling in the US 

The first settlers brought different games of chance to the American colonies. Communities perceived gambling differently, but as hinted, America didn’t have large-scale prohibition of the activity back then.

As of the 1680s, an upper class was emerging in Virginia and cementing its economic status by having a grip on horse race gambling. Heavy gamblers exhibited their skill and courage, promoting shared consciousness and values among this category of social elites.

Wealthy landowners in Virginia created elaborate rules and formal codes dictating the amount a person could bet while marginalizing the non-elite roles. They also established an honor code regarding individualism, greed, personal relationships, materialism, and the ruling right. Up to the mid-18th century, when the Methodists and the Baptists declared gambling sinful, nobody challenged the political, economic, and social Virginian over-class dominance.

Some historians have found around 392 lotteries in thirteen colonies held in newspaper adverts during the colonial era. Lotteries were a popular form of gambling in America, with proceeds from this activity helping grow the young country’s public infrastructure, especially the expansion of the school system.

Essentially, the 13 American colonies saw lotteries not just as entertainment but as a revenue source. For instance, Jamestown financiers funded lotteries in Virginia used the activity to support their territories. With these lotteries, gamblers could win instantly, which is also the case for some modern games.

But the British Crown restricted lotteries in 1769. Since this form of gambling had already gained massive popularity, it became one of the issues that led to tension between Britain and the colonies before the American Revolution.

Early Gambling Trends in the US

The federal and state levels of pre-revolutionary America continued to use lotteries to raise revenue. For instance, New Orleans became the leading gambling region in the country. However, religious revivals fueled hostility against gambling, considering it sinful. These revivals included the Third Great Awakening and the Second Great Awakening. The concentration of these moralists was on state legislatures, leading to the passage of laws restricting gambling, horse racing, Sabbath violations, and pleasure halls.

But even with these restrictions, gambling venues became increasingly popular in different communities in the colonies. Jacob Rush, a local judge, told gamblers that the law didn’t ban all sports, hinting that the law was against gambling-associated games only.

Nevertheless, the judge condemned gambling, saying it was immoral since it tyrannizes humans beyond control while reducing them to wretchedness and poverty. He further stated that gambling contaminates the mind deeply by harboring and indulging hostility.

Eventually, gambling became illegal, forcing people to practice it on riverboats or havens like New Orleans. The Mississippi, for instance, had a vibrant riverboat gambling scene, where operators provided entertainment to those seeking to escape gambling opposition on land. Anti-gambling movements continued to shut down different lotteries. But the legal prohibitions created opportunities and risks for illegal operators.

Thus, the demand for gambling persisted while legal prohibitions drove it underground. In California, widespread gambling emerged from the gold rush, but the government interfered with it. Nevertheless, gambling didn’t disappear in this state but continued to flourish, operating outside the law.

The American Frontier

A legal gambling bastion became the American frontier, tolerant of bettors while perceiving professional gambling as a trade. Between 1848 and 1855, Gold Rush in California attracted many young prospectors from different places worldwide. These ambitious youngsters prospected gold while gambling with two manliness sides.

As of the 1850s, the aspiring prospectors’ influx made San Francisco a famous city globally, overtaking New Orleans as a gambling capital in the US. Nevertheless, the setting in respectability saw California strengthen its laws gradually to police gambling. And this caused the closure of some lotteries.

On the frontier, gambling was famous during the West settlement, with almost everybody participating in the games of chance. For instance, towns like South Dakota, Kansas, and Deadwood towards the cattle trails’ end and railway hubs like Denver and Kansas City were famous for luxurious gambling houses. Frontier gamblers were the local elites at that time. Riverboat gamblers topped the line, wearing expensive jewelry, exuding refined respectability, and dressing smartly.

Gambling in the Late 19th Century

In the South, horse racing became a luxurious hobby for the wealthy. However, the Civil War ruined the affluence on which it rested. But this sport came back under the jockey clubs’ leadership in the Northeast. These clubs run prestigious racetracks in the US. Since horse racing is a spectator sport, it attracted affluent audiences, working-class, and struggling gamblers.

Racetracks regulated the situation closely to maintain honesty in the sport while preventing fraud. Communication systems like the telegraph helped off-track bookmakers, with the runners’ design attracting a wider audience. Bookmakers paid honestly set odds at the racetrack.

Gambling became a significant issue in states like Chicago, with large migrant and working-class immigrant neighborhoods and expanding industrial centers. In some cases, some individuals saw the activity as a vice. Nevertheless, the wealthy urban elites in the city had closely monitored horse race tracks and private clubs.

When workers discovered independence and freedom in gambling, they found a world away from closely monitored factory jobs. Gambling enabled them to validate their masculinity aspect of risk-taking. Thus, they wagered heavily on card games, dice, cockfights, and policy.


As of the 1850s, the US had hundreds of salons offering gambling services, including off-track wagering on horses. Some historians say that organized crime allowed for upward mobility to some non-white community members. High-visibility and high-income vice lords and racketeers grew profits and careers in these neighborhoods. Some of them branched into local politics, protecting this domain.

Gamblers in larger cities exploited illegal gambling and rampant prostitution despite their restriction to geographically-isolated red-light districts. Both legit and illicit business owners had to make scheduled payments to the corrupt politicians and police disguised as the licensing fee.

States like Chicago, for instance, standardized the informal rates in 1912 to $20 per month for cheap brothels, while luxurious bordellos paid up to $1000 per month. But reformists didn’t accept the secluded vice districts and wanted them to shut down permanently.

The influential racketeers and vicious cliques comprising vice lords in larger cities were politically, socially, and economically powerful to keep upright law enforcers and reformers at bay. Nevertheless, the reformers with legislative backing and law enforcement support became strong politically between 1900 and 1910 to shut down the vice lords system, with survivors going underground.

Gambling in the 20th Century

As of the 20th century, gambling was widely prohibited in the US because it was illegal. Consequently, criminals took over this business, making it an element of organized crime. Gangs capitalized on gambling while taking over the distribution and sale of alcoholic beverages.

But some parts of the US were more tolerant to gambling, like Galveston, Texas, Florida, and Miami. And these became the illegal gambling hotbeds at this time. Nevertheless, gambling and alcohol consumption didn’t flourish in the US overall.

Both alcohol and gambling prohibition failed. Perhaps, that’s because the laws prohibiting them were pretty unpopular. Due to harsh economic times, Nevada decided to legalize gambling at the beginning of the 1930s. And this was the first tidal wave that has grown since then, despite being slow. However, Southern Maryland legalized slot games in the 50s and 60s. Atlantic City embraced gambling in 1977.

Lotteries eventually became available in more states, and the Indian casinos’ arrival expanded land-based centers where people could gamble in the US. Riverboat casinos became legal in several states, and abolishing the requirement for their over-water location followed.

The expansion of land-based casinos continued into the 21st century, spilling over to the Internet frontier. Today, three states embrace regulated online gambling. At the same time, several states are debating online gambling regulation.

New Frontier for the US Gambling Industry

As per the law, many states legislate gambling in the US. Essentially, gambling regulation is a state affair. But that was the case before telecommunication. The federal government is now involved because people and casino operators can transmit information across the states.

The US has many anti-gambling statutes from the early days of gambling prohibition. And most states are yet to update these statutes. For instance, some of these regulations compile prohibited games that people have not played for more than a hundred years. For example, the US has exclusive laws for dealing with land-based gambling that occur at physical locations within a state’s borders, like gambling halls.

But some laws prohibit gambling without referencing a specific form of it. However, regulations often specify the games they illegalize. Whether the law defines a particular form of gambling, like wagering on a computer, as illegal or legal, the prohibition often takes a general form.

For example, the law can specify wagering on a game of chance or betting on a contingent event as a crime. That means betting on anything whose outcome is uncertain while wagering is illegal. More often, people can interpret this to mean the law prohibits wagering in any form.

But the Internet changed the gambling law landscape significantly on different fronts. It also changed the way the gambling sector operates, increasing acceptance and tolerance. And this has led to a wide array of exciting dynamics. Interesting issues around gambling have emerged, and more is on the way as the industry evolves.

Online Gambling in the US

The Internet is undoubtedly among the primary innovations in humankind’s history. This innovation enables people to access information, money-making opportunities, and entertainment instantly from any location. Online gambling is among the areas that have benefited from the Internet.

As the Americans mainstream joined the Internet, some software developers and programmers created platforms that enabled people to start gambling online. Software developers like Playtech and Microgaming were already designing gaming software in the mid-1990s. Some of the primary online casinos, poker rooms, and sportsbooks in the US launched between 1996 and 1998. The US had the most profitable and the largest online gaming community during the Internet’s early days.

Essentially, the first online gambling sites emerged in the mid-90s, although the early gambling websites were different from what the world has today. Some of the best online gambling platforms operated out of Barbuda and Antigua due to the islands’ Free Trade and Processing Act. This bill allowed the Caribbean nation to grant interested businesses the right to start online casinos. And this developed a new industry. Towards the end of this decade, the US had between 600 and 700 online gambling sites.

But the online gaming sector in the US has faced ups and downs over the years. Even before going online, gambling was a controversial topic. That’s because many people associate gambling with addiction and criminal activity. Some individuals and groups believed that gambling could strongly impact family lives negatively. That’s why the country had laws suppressing the advancement of the gambling industry.

The Kahnawake Gaming Commission emerged after 1996, whose role was to license online gambling platforms. Essentially, this commission was the regulatory body that facilitated online gambling. It showed that the country could regulate online gambling. Towards the end of 1997, the commission had registered and licensed over 200 gambling sites.

But this smooth sailing didn’t last long. For instance, North America banned online gambling for real money at some point. Although this ban didn’t restrict gamblers from betting, local online operators found it hard to offer their services.

The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act’s passage in 2006 made it illegal for credit card companies and banks to process US customers’ payments to online gambling sites. This act compelled many online gambling platforms to stop accepting US customers immediately.

Due to this law, some of the most popular gambling websites recorded a significant decline in traffic between September and October in 2006. Some experts note that the top-ten US gambling sites recorded up to 56% traffic decline during this time. But many gamblers and casino operators strived to circumvent this act.

Thus, this is not the case anymore. Online casinos and payment processors implement Know Your Customers policies that require them to do due diligence regarding the payments. That way, they avoid ruining the gambling industry due to a small percentage of individuals that want to use it in dirty deals like money laundering. While payment processing takes longer, online casinos continue to operate.

Nevertheless, all struggles that gamblers have faced over the years have made the industry safer. As long as gamblers choose a licensed US casino, they have nothing to worry about when playing their favorite games online. Also, the US has laws that regulate the activities and operations of online casinos. The primary purpose of these laws is to keep gamblers safe.  


Modern Gambling in the US

Today, the US gambling law allows people to engage in different gambling activities depending on their locations. Essentially, various states accept varying gambling activities as legal. Here’s a list of the American States and gambling activities.

  • Virginia – Online casino gaming, online sports betting, and online poker
  • Delaware – Online poker and online casino gaming
  • Iowa – Online sports betting
  • New Jersey – Online casino gaming, online sports betting, and online poker
  • Michigan – Online casino gaming, online sports betting, and online poker
  • West Virginia – Online poker and online casino gaming
  • Nevada – Online poker
  • Tennessee – Online sports betting
  • Colorado – Online sports betting
  • Indiana – Online sports betting
  • Illinois – Online sports betting

Essentially, the law allows US residents to engage in different online gambling activities. In some states, live casino games or live dealer games are legal. With this option, casino operators can stream card games and table games live. That way, gamblers interact with other players and dealers on the same table. And this provides the same experience gamblers enjoy in a land-based casino.

Live dealer games became increasingly popular, especially during the pandemic when people spent most of their time at home due to the lockdowns. Gaming software developers created virtual table games with social elements to enhance online interactions. Some developers streamed the live dealer games from innovative gaming studios.

In-game chat features and device microphones allow players to interact with dealers while playing these games. Among the game versions with this option include:

  • Poker
  • Blackjack
  • Baccarat
  • Roulette
  • Craps
  • Sic Bo

In addition to allowing gamblers to play games online, the US now accepts mobile betting in some states. That means US-based gamblers in some states can use tablets and smartphones to access online gambling websites. Players can do this via the operator’s native application or mobile-optimized casino sites. And this applies to online sports betting too.

Future Development of Gambling in the US

As of 2020, the US had an online gambling industry worth more than 2 billion dollars. Experts project its growth to increase by around 17% within the next five years. Perhaps, this growth is mainly due to COVID-19, which imposed restrictions on land-based gambling venues. During the pandemic, most online casinos received high traffic globally due to the closure of land-based institutions. Thus, online gambling was the only option for most gamblers.

Despite being profitable, US land-based and online casinos are businesses. Some state governments see the potential of online casinos as tax revenue sources. Thus, they can use them to facilitate their economic recovery. Consequently, more states, like Illinois, are re-evaluating their regulations or positions on the online gambling issue. Therefore, more states could legalize online gambling, meaning the US will have more fully regulated operators.

What’s more, technological developments will push the gambling industry forward. Everyone and everything is going digital. Even land-based casinos are innovating to provide services to more customers. Apart from being gambling businesses, casino operators have become tech companies.

Some casinos now accept crypto payments. Thus, casinos have no option but to innovate and adapt to the latest technologies to remain relevant and competitors. The popularity of live casino games is also increasing, with gameplay becoming more immersive.

The following gameplay feature will most likely feature VR and AR aspects. And this technology will enable gamblers to immerse in gaming environments that mimic the experience they enjoy while playing in land-based casinos.

Final Thoughts

The US gambling industry has come a long way since the arrival of the early settlers. While gamblers and operators have faced many challenges, including heavy restrictions, they have persisted in bringing the gambling industry where it is today. Thus, the development of gambling in the US has had ups and downs but has remained strong. Today, land-based and online gambling remains a hobby for many US citizens. Also, game developers and casinos are experimenting and embracing the latest technologies. Thus, gambling in the US could eventually feature VR casino games, with players having entirely virtual casinos on consoles and PC. Therefore, gamblers will ultimately enjoy more immersive and exciting games.







Previous post

How Has Lockdown Impacted Body Image?

Next post

The phygital transition is revolutionising the design world