Legal Sports Betting Guide

Legal sports betting is available in several states, and efforts are underway to make it a reality in a number of others. For states that have already come online, competition has been intense as the industry’s top sportsbooks continue battling for market share.

That translates into a number of options for bettors in legal states to explore. Getting started is typically quick and simple, with a straightforward registration process that you can complete online or via mobile device in most locales. Let’s explore the key details that you need to know, starting with where you can legally and safely bet on sports in the US.

Where is sports betting legal in the US?

Following a landmark Supreme Court ruling in May 2018 that placed the sports betting legalization question into the hands of individual states, the floodgates started to open. Several states were up and running by the time the year came to a close, and more have followed since then. In the coming months and years, additional states will follow suit. Here’s the current list of states where you can legally and safely play.

Arkansas sports betting: Voters came out in favor of retail sports betting at the November 2018 elections. In-person betting officially went live in the state in July 2019. In April 2021, a new bill was introduced that would permit online and mobile betting in conjunction with the state’s casinos and their partners.

Colorado sports betting: Colorado joined the ranks of legal sports betting states in May 2020. It has become a very hot market in a short period of time, with a number of books operating, and more on the way. In order to set up shop, online sportsbooks have to partner with one of the state’s physical casinos.

Delaware sports betting: In the PASPA era, Delaware actually offered sports betting in the form of NFL parlay games run by the Delaware Lottery (SportsPick). Following the SCOTUS ruling, the state was the first to launch single-game wagering in June 2018 via a partnership with William Hill. Retail sports betting has been available in the state ever since, but no traction has been made on launching online sports betting.

Illinois sports betting: In March 2020, retail sports betting launched in Illinois. The online and mobile rollout followed just a few months later over the summer of the same year. On the retail front, the Chicago Cubs have announced plans to open a retail sportsbook at Wrigley Field in partnership with DraftKings.

Indiana sports betting: Legal betting in the Hoosier State went live in September 2019 with the opening of retail sportsbooks. Online and mobile rollout in Indiana took place just one month later. As has been the case in many other states, operators looking to offer sports betting must partner with an in-state casino.

Iowa sports betting: Retail and online betting officially launched in Iowa in August 2019. Initially, users looking to play online or via mobile device had to register in-person at a brick-and-mortar casino. That requirement went away as of January 2021, so you can now register from anywhere in the state.   

Nevada sports betting: Nevada had a stranglehold on legal sports betting in the US for decades. While that’s no longer the case, the state still brings in a significant amount of betting volume. The signature casinos in the Las Vegas area remain popular destinations, while the state is also mobile betting-friendly, although it requires in-person registration.

New Hampshire sports betting: Sports betting was legalized in New Hampshire in 2019. The state is different from many others in that it awarded the lone mobile license to DraftKings after a competitive bidding process. The DraftKings app went live at the tail end of the year, and retail locations began opening up in 2020.

New Jersey sports betting: The Garden State was the catalyst for legal sports betting to become a reality. New Jersey was ready to go following the Supreme Court ruling, with retail betting open in June 2018 followed by the online and mobile launch in August. The state has become a top market for legal sports betting in the US.

New Mexico sports betting: New Mexico is a rather unique case study. While sports betting isn’t technically legal in the state, the Pueblo of Santa Ana Tribe began taking bets at Santa Ana Casino in October 2018 under an existing tribal compact. Several other tribal properties in the state launched retail betting since then.

North Carolina sports betting: It took some time to get the ball rolling in North Carolina. Legislation passed for retail betting in July 2019, but the official opening didn’t take place until March 2021. Betting is limited to in-person at a pair of Harrah’s-branded casinos operated by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians with no online and mobile options as of yet.

Michigan sports betting: The complete rollout for Michigan sports betting took some time. Retail sportsbooks began opening in March 2020, but the online and mobile launch didn’t take place until January 2021. The state has attracted a number of the industry’s top names, all of which have partnered with one of Michigan’s physical casinos.

Mississippi sports betting: The Magnolia State got ahead of the curve and repealed its prohibition on sports betting in 2017, well before the Supreme Court sounded off in May 2018. The state went live with retail betting in August 2018. While there have been efforts made to expand into online and mobile, no substantive progress has been made.

New York sports betting: Retail sports betting has been up and running in NY since July 2019. There has been a ton of back and forth about legalizing online and mobile betting, and a green light was finally given in April 2021 with the expectation for four sportsbook apps in the state. The actual rollout is expected to happen in late 2021 or early 2022, but questions remain on which operators will get the nod.

Oregon sports betting: Sports betting has officially been allowed in Oregon since August 2019. The first retail book opened its doors a month later, followed by the launch of the lone app, Scoreboard, overseen by the Oregon Lottery. Retail books are permitted at tribal casinos, while there have been rumblings that DraftKings may take over mobile operations.

Pennsylvania sports betting: Legal sports betting debuted in the Keystone State in November 2018. It was in-person only for a while, with the online and mobile launch not coming until May 2019. Pennsylvania has become one of the top markets for wagering, with the potential for even more growth to come.

Rhode Island sports betting: Sports betting was approved in Rhode Island in 2018. Initially retail-only, an online option was added with in-person registration in 2019, but that requirement is expected to be waived in the future. Options for bettors are limited as bets are only permitted at a pair of casinos and via the lone approved website, Sportsbook Rhode Island.

Tennessee sports betting: Legal sports betting went live in Tennessee in November 2020. There are no physical casinos in the Volunteer State, but several of the biggest names in the industry have set up shop. Those that have done so also have to navigate a required 10% hold on total wagering volume.

Virginia sports betting: It took some time to sort things out with sports betting in Virginia. It finally became legal in 2020 with the official rollout taking place in January 2021. For now, it’s online and mobile betting only with several top sportsbooks, but legislation passed in 2020 also approved the building of physical casinos.

West Virginia sports betting: West Virginia was up and running with legal sports betting in August 2018. It was retail-only for a bit, with the online launch coming a few months later. There was an outage for several months in 2019 due to problems with lone operator BetLucky, but the void was filled later with the debut of the FanDuel and DraftKings apps.

As mentioned, additional states are expected to come online before long. You can keep track of the progress on our sports betting legislative tracker page. We also provide extensive coverage on many other facets of the sports betting industry with topics like revenue and handle reports, sports betting integrity fees and official league data requirements.

How to bet on sports

While signing up to play in legal states isn’t tricky, what to do from there can lead to plenty of questions. The good news is that the learning curve for betting on sports is beatable. We have a number of dedicated resource pages that provide detailed information on all of the basics.

Sports betting odds: Sports betting and numbers go hand-in-hand. One of the most important areas for those new to the game to understand is the odds. After you gain a little seasoning, you’ll be able to understand the most likely outcome, the potential return for winning bets, and which side the public is backing just by studying the odds.

Moneyline: This is a basic bet and a great starting point for beginners as a result. When betting on the moneyline, you simply have to choose which side you think will win. There will be odds on both sides: negative numbers for favorites and positive for underdogs.

Parlays: A parlay is a bet for which you combine two or more outcomes on a single slip. There’s an opportunity for great returns, but you must be right on all selections to have a winning ticket so your odds are longer. On a monthly basis, one of the biggest sources of hold for sportsbooks comes via parlay wagers.

Spread: In a nutshell, the point spread attempts to level the playing field between two teams. It’s like a margin of victory that you must account for in your wagers. Point spread betting takes place on many sports, but it might go by different names such as run line betting for MLB or puck line betting in the NHL.

Totals: This bet is also commonly referred to as an over/under and is a wager on the total combined score of a game. Oddsmakers will set a benchmark number, and bettors then wager on whether the actual score will be over or under that amount. The odds on both sides that can move in response to betting action.

Props: A prop bet can revolve around team or player performance during a game, or on the contest as a whole. A prop is basically a side bet on something that might or might not happen. Prop bets on player performance share a lot in common with fantasy sports. They’ve become a natural starting point for many new bettors as a result.

Teaser: The teaser bet lets you move the point spread on two or more games. You can shift the lines in your favor, making the bet easier to win but also lowering your potential payout.

Events to bet on

One of the convenient things about sports betting is that there are plenty of choices to consider. You can shop around for your favorite places to play, and focus on one or more bets that work for your approach, for example. The same applies to what you’re wagering on. From the most popular games and leagues to those that fly under the radar, there’s something for everyone. Here’s a look at some of the most popular sports to bet on.

NFL betting: The NFL is the most popular sport for betting in the US. During the regular season, each game brings in lots of betting volume, while interest intensifies even more for the NFL playoffs. Betting on the Super Bowl is the biggest annual single-day event for sportsbooks, and they go all-out with hundreds of prop bets for bettors to consider.

NBA: The NBA has firmly settled in as the second-most popular choice at sportsbooks in terms of overall volume. As a sport that runs daily during the season, the nationally televised games tend to generate the most action. During the postseason and NBA Finals, each contest draws even more interest and wagers.

MLB: The days of MLB being the most popular sport in America are in the past, but it still has a tremendous following. Baseball also benefits from getting the stage to itself for a few summer months while other major sports are on break. Interest will be high around Opening Day, and again during the MLB playoffs and World Series.

NHL: While the NHL trails the big three in terms of overall attention, this is still a sport with an incredibly loyal and passionate following. Similar to the NBA, interest is highest for nationally televised games. Once the Stanley Cup playoffs roll around, there’s a surge that continues until a champion is crowned.

Golf: The PGA Tour has become incredibly popular in betting circles. The four majors — Masters, US Open, British Open and PGA Championship — generate the most volume, but the average Tour stop still brings in plenty. Interest in golf is no longer star-dependent, but an intriguing crop of younger players has certainly helped it grow.

Tennis: The ATP and WTA tours have always had their fans, but it is attracting new ones in the legal betting environment. The four Grand Slam events — Australian Open, Wimbledon, French Open and US Open — are the biggest highlights. However, just like golf, other tour stops can generate interest as well.

College basketball: Many seasoned handicappers shift their attention here after football season has wrapped up. Regular-season college basketball is popular, but the sport really takes over the spotlight with one of the year’s signature betting events – March Madness gets even the most casual fans off the sidelines.

College football: For the fall and winter months, it’s football that controls the conversation in the world of American sports. While college football isn’t quite on the level of the NFL in terms of overall popularity, there are games on the docket where the volume is comparable to its pro counterpart. That’s especially true for bowl season and the College Football Playoff.

Other items you should know

One of the most important concepts to grasp with sports betting has nothing to do with how to do it or ways to improve your skills. Responsible gambling is sometimes overlooked, but it’s imperative for folks to keep it in mind.

Problem gambling can rear its head at any time and impact people from all walks of life. All legal and regulated online sportsbooks have dedicated sections on responsible gambling, along with instructions on where you can get some help if necessary. The same applies for the websites of state gambling authorities.

For help with other issues, your first stop should be with customer support at the sportsbook where you are playing. Many sportsbooks offer several ways to get in touch, which may include phone support, email and live chat. If you find yourself in a situation that you can’t get resolved with the book itself, you can contact the regulating government body in your state.

Lastly, while the number of options for legally and safely betting on sports continues to grow and shows no signs of slowing down, there’s still a black market for sports betting out there. In order to be protected in the event of any problems and to make sure your funds will be safe, it’s important to stick with the regulated legal sites.

Offshore bookmakers claim to be operating under a veil of legal uncertainty, but the bottom line is that there are no protections in place for consumers in the event something goes awry. Legal sports betting is increasingly available nationwide, eliminating many of those risks.

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