Is Internet Sports Betting Legal?

Confusion about the legality of online gambling is rampant. Part of the reason behind people’s questions about wagering over the Internet is the fact that online sportsbooks are a relatively new venue for gambling. Online gambling has only been around for a couple of decades and many government authorities have yet to address Internet wagering legalities. Depending on where you live in the world, online sports betting may or may not be legal. It’s important to research the laws where you live; restrictions on placing wagers at Internet sportsbooks vary from country to country and from state to state.

The Legalities of Internet Sports Wagering in Different Countries

There is no across-the-board answer to the question “Is online sports betting legal?” That’s because local and national governments from around the world have a wide variety of laws on the subject. Whether placing sports wagers over the Internet is legal or not depends on a nation’s cultural history and contemporary politics. In most of Europe, for example, gambling has been a legal and legitimate form of entertainment for centuries, thus many European nations allow sports wagers over the Internet.

Here’s a quick look at some of the world’s major gambling markets and their applicable Internet sports betting laws.

United States Internet Sports Gambling Law

The Federal Wire Act of 1961 was passed as an attempt to prevent illegal bookmaking, particularly illegal sports betting operations run by organized crime outfits. According to this law:

“Whoever … knowingly uses a wire communication facility for the transmission in interstate or foreign commerce of bets or wagers . . . shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.”

The law was seen for many years as a general restriction against all forms of interstate gambling, including Internet casino and poker games. However, in 2011 both the US Department of Justice and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals clarified the law, saying it applies only to bets placed on sporting events, and not online games of chance and skill. Those same clarifications also pointed out that the law, as it is written, is designed to punish the providers of illegal sports gambling, not the participants.

So are online sports wagers legal in America? The Federal Wire Act of 1961 clearly makes it illegal for anyone to process sports wagers across state lines, but the US government is not interested in arrested individual bettors. They have bigger fish to fry, going after illegal networks of bookies and online sportsbooks operating illegally on US soil. The short answer is that a person placing a sports wager online in America is highly unlikely to get in any kind of trouble, though the bet they’re placing is technically illegal. In the US, it is far more dangerous to operate an interstate sports betting operation than to drop a few bucks on an NFL bet here and there.

Australian Internet Sports Gambling Law

The most pertinent law to sports gamblers in Australia is the Interactive Gambling Act of 2001. Known as the IGA, this law was an attempt on the part of the Australian government to make a clear statement about what kinds of bets Australians can place over the Internet.
Good news for Australian sports fans, the IGA protects their right to place wagers on the outcome of sporting events. As long as all bettors involved are 18 or older and the sportsbook maintains a legal record of their customer’s identities, Internet sports betting in Australia is legal and there are plenty of state-licensed sportsbooks operating in Australia.
Internet Sports Gambling Laws in Europe

The legalities of placing a sports wager online in Europe are more than a little confusing. Because the European Commission controls gambling legislation for members of the Eurozone, that body’s rules tend to be the law of the land, whether you’re in Germany or Greece. The European Commission is currently still working out a set of laws acceptable to all members of the Eurozone, but the situation is complicated. For starters, most European countries have their own sets of laws related to online gambling; in Germany, for instance, all online sports betting takes place on sites controlled by a government monopoly. Meanwhile, the UK is a hotbed for sports wagering of all types; there’s a betting shop on virtually every street corner in London, and online sports wagering is legal as long as gamblers are 18 or older.

If you have more specific questions about Internet wagering legalities in Europe, it’s best to consult each individual nation’s laws. Until the European Commission comes out with a complete set of laws related to sports wagers placed online, bettors should follow the law of the country they’re in. Luckily, most European nations allow their citizens to place this type of wager on the Internet with few restrictions.

Canadian Internet Sports Betting Legalities

Canadians who want to place a bet on a sporting event online are probably free and clear to do so in the eyes of the Canadian government: Section VII of the Canadian Criminal Code is the section of Canadian law that directly addresses online sports betting. According to this set of laws and restrictions, it is not explicitly illegal to bet online on Canadian soil, but it is illegal to accept sports wagers without a license from the government. In other words, you can’t operate your own book in Canada without meeting certain government criteria. But as far as placing wagers on the Internet, there is no extant Canadian law forbidding it, and no Canadian has ever been arrested for placing such bets.

The above examples of Internet sports betting laws around the world show the wide variety of conditions that sports bettors face depending on where they live. If you have questions about the legality of betting sports over the Internet in your country, you should consult a legal expert or read through your nation’s applicable legal code. For the most part, betting sports over the Internet is legal under the right conditions. Areas of the world where gambling on sports online is illegal are in the minority.