Gambling is very much a global pastime, with over a quarter of the world’s population participating in some form of gambling or another. However, the country that leads the pack in gambling is the United States. Research shows that 85% of Americans have gambled at least once in their lives, and in 2022, the total gross gaming revenue of casinos in the U.S. was more than $60 billion, with Nevada, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey reporting the highest revenue. The gross gaming revenue of casinos in Nevada alone was $14.8 billion in 2022 – and those numbers are just for commercial casinos.
But what makes the U.S. gambling industry so unique? What are its origins, and what does the future hold? How has the rise of online gambling in America and the subsequent popularity of online casino games over the past two decades transformed the industry? Read on for some insights.
The History of Gambling in the USA
It has been a rollercoaster of legalities for gambling in the U.S. over the years, with numerous states still fighting to legalize all aspects of the industry, both online and in-person. But where did it all begin?
While the earliest evidence of gambling dates back to the tile games played in Ancient China in 2300 BC, the first recorded instance of gambling in the United States is said to have come much later in 1665, when settlers in Jamestown, Virginia, hosted a lottery to raise money for their colony. However, despite that being the first recorded instance of gambling in America, it’s believed that Native Americans played and wagered on games of chance in their various traditional ceremonies for centuries before the country was colonized. Once colonization occurred, the gambling culture began spreading across the ’new world,’ with colonists betting on sports like bullfighting, horse racing, and other ‘blood’ sports.
Over time, gambling ‘go-to’ spots were formed in specific locations, including New Orleans, which emerged as something of a gambling ‘mecca’ in the 18th and 19th centuries, despite the pastime being illegal for a significant chunk of that time.
From the start of the 20th century, more and more aspects of gambling were outlawed in various states. By 1910, the only legal way to gamble was to wager on horse racing in Kentucky or Maryland. Some 20 years later, amidst plenty of gambling rebellion, the laws began to shift. The ban on horse racing and ‘charitable’ gambling was lifted in most states. Nevada was the state that stood out the most regarding its ‘forgiving’ stance on the pastime, legalizing casino gambling in 1931.
El Rancho Vegas, the first large casino similar to the MGM Resorts that everyone knows and loves today, opened its doors a decade later on what would eventually evolve into the iconic Las Vegas Strip. From there, big, glitzy, and glamorous casinos started popping up by the dozen, especially when the wealthy organized criminals and mobsters turned their attention to gambling following the end of prohibition. The mob dominated the Vegas scene for many years. The laws regarding gambling started to shift outside of Vegas once again, and certain aspects were legalized in certain states.
The Current State of Gambling in the USA
Gambling is currently legal under United States federal law, but each state is able to regulate or prohibit gambling as it sees fit. So, not all states allow gambling. Though, a lot of progress has been made regarding legalizing gambling across the States. Currently, you can gamble legally to a certain extent in 48 states. Hawaii and Utah are the only exceptions, enforcing an almost total ban on the activity. Utah is considered the state with the strictest laws against gambling because even social gambling games aren’t allowed to be played in one’s private capacity (i.e., at home), which isn’t the case in Hawaii.
But the reality is that traditional casino gambling is still outlawed in many states. You won’t find any land-based casinos in Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Utah, Vermont or Virginia. Plus, sports betting remains illegal in 20 states.
With the number of restrictions that have been placed on where casino gambling is legal, you may be wondering, “Is online gambling legal in America?” Well, if you want to gamble online in the USA legally, it’s important to know that it has only been regulated in 11 states. Having said that, online gambling in the USA is becoming more widely accepted, and a lot of work is being done to legalize as much gambling as possible in as many regions as possible.
How Is the USA Gambling Industry Unique?
Firstly — and most importantly — the USA boasts the most expansive consumer market in the world, with an ever-growing population of over 335 million people and an impressive GDP of $27.62 trillion in 2023. In short, most Americans simply have the capital on hand to comfortably enjoy a pastime of a gambling nature. This interest in gambling has fueled the industry’s growth over the years, especially in the online casino gambling market. The U.S. online gambling market is one of the fastest growing and continues to push boundaries as more legal hurdles are overcome.
The Impact of Online Casinos in the USA
The dawning of new online casinos in the late 1990s spurred future gambling legalization across the States. Since then, many people have come to find online casino games to be extremely therapeutic and a great way to relieve stress. They favor the convenience that comes with gambling from the comfort of their homes whenever it suits them rather than traveling to land-based casinos.
Legal online gambling sites have also driven the growth of the U.S. gambling industry. In fact, the online casino industry has gripped plenty of people who might ordinarily never have visited a brick-and-mortar casino before but who have enjoyed playing certain games online, like bingo or real online slots. In the past two or three decades, the online casino market has grown from virtually non-existent to a highly lucrative industry responsible for billions of dollars in revenue annually. In 2023, statistics have shown that the online casino industry has grown to 176 million users and $95 billion in revenue – largely thanks to the accessible, easy-to-start platforms of online casinos and the much more extensive library of games and betting options.
So, while classic, land-based casinos are certainly here to stay, it’s safe to assume that playing live casino online games is very much the industry’s future. With technology continuously advancing, it’s exciting to think about what the future of online gambling in the U.S. may hold.
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