Certain types of gambling is illegal in nearly every state. However, most states recognize exceptions to this rule and allow some forms of legal gambling. In states that recognize these exceptions, there are actual statutes on the books that make certain forms of gambling illegal. In other states, the exceptions are recognized in practice only so although they may still be technically illegal, it is unlikely to be arrested for them.

What Are Some Common Forms of Legal Gambling?

The forms of gambling that are legal differ from state to state.  However, there are certain types of gambling that are more frequently treated as legal.  These forms include: 

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

What Are Some Factors States Consider When Deciding Whether Gambling Is Legal?

In deciding whether certain forms of gambling are legal or illegal, states consider some of the following factors: 

  • Is the 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 are no house odds and no house income, the 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.
  • Where does the gambling take place?  Gambling in your own private home will be more likely to be legal than gambling in a public place.

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

Yes, most states require that you be at least over the age of majority.  In some states you will need to be 21 to gamble.  In other states, you will only need to be 18. In most states it is illegal for minors to gamble or play games of chamce, this includes professional or college sports pools, poker games, and betting on school sports.

What Are the Consequences of Gambling Illegally?

If you engage in illegal gambling, the consequences will vary according to the laws of your state. Some of the possible consequences are: 

Should I Contact a Lawyer?

If you have questions about legal and illegal gambling, you should contact a criminal defense lawyer or business attorney who is experienced in gaming law. A lawyer will be able to explain to you the applicable laws in your state, and can inform you of your rights. If necessary, a lawyer can represent you in court and ensure that your rights are protected.