Skip the Headaches and Play at a Legitimate Site
You’re looking for a legitimate U.S. gambling site, but can’t decide which site to trust with your hard-earned money?
Good news! We’ve been in the online gambling industry for over a decade (several decades, really, if you add all of our experience together), and we’ve spent countless hours to bring you a list of the most legitimate sites.
Here’s what all of these sites have in common:
- 10+ years in the business with strong reputations.
- Attractive promotions for first-time customers.
- Quick money withdrawals (relative to the U.S. market).
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Why Bovada Is #1 in the U.S.
#1: Fastest Check Cashouts
Bovada gets 10 times as much traffic as its second best US competitor and still delivers check payouts faster than any of them. Bovada processes check withdrawals in 7 days; many of its competitors take weeks, some more than a month to do the same. (There are other fast options, like the #3-ranked BetOnline, which delivers checks in 14 days.)
An equally important aspect of Bovada’s operations is its customer service. If there ever was an indication of how much a company respects its customers, it’s the level of customer service the company provides. I haven’t found any US-friendly site doing this aspect of the business better (although 5Dimes is a worthy runner-up).
Finally, all parts of Bovada’s business (sportsbook, casino, poker, racebook) are popular. Bovada is best-known for sports betting and casino games, however, even its online poker room has around four times as many players online as the second biggest US poker site. You can access all of their games with one player account.
… But You Should Know This
Bovada is recreational-friendly, perhaps more-so than any other US site. You’ll find few golden opportunities in their sportsbook (read more about their use of dual lines), they have a relatively high overall house edge (especially after recently increasing house edge in video poker games) and their online poker room only has “anonymous” tables.
Although not everyone agrees with me, the recreational-friendly part is an advantage for skilled poker players. Since Bovada appeals to recreational gamblers, you’ll be like a shark among regular fish.
Bovada charges a 4.9% fee for credit card deposits (a lot considering how most sites charge nothing). The impact of the deposit fee is slightly compensated by their welcome bonuses, which are better than average.
All online gamblers look for entertaining games, attractive promotions and aesthetically pleasing software. To have a safe experience, however, you want a site to:
- Serve its customers with safety and respect,
- Operate with a reasonable house edge, and
- Handle money transactions promptly.
Yes, the third point is included in the first point but it’s also such an essential part of the customer experience that it must be mentioned separately. Many online gambling websites operate without an adequate level of service so these points are worth considering. It’s rare to find a combination of all three points.
Bovada fulfills all of the above criteria better than other sites but 5Dimes does well, too. In fact, I’m confident in ranking those two as the best USA gambling websites specifically because they deliver so well in the areas related to safety and trustworthiness. A site without proper customer service and safety measures is not one you should deposit money to, regardless of its promotions and whatnot.
What Are Some Alternative Options?
For Sports Bettors
5Dimes.eu is the best betting site in the US for the following reasons: they’re professional-friendly and offer reduced juice betting lines (in other words, less house edge). Before betting on any game, I recommend taking a look at the odds 5Dimes is offering. They’ve been a reliable sportsbook for over 10+ years — you’ll find few complaints about 5Dimes online, and the ones you find have been resolved quickly.
For poker and casino games, I would go with Bovada. But for sports bettors, it makes the most sense to have an account at 5Dimes.
Another Solid Option
BetOnline.ag is my third suggestion. It’s not significantly better than the others in any area but they’re simply a solid option. Prompt cashout processing, decent poker traffic, good sports betting options and entertaining casino games. Additionally, I’ve had good experiences with their customer service.
For sports bettors, BetOnline is worth signing-up at simply to be able to compare betting lines among a few sites. For poker players, BetOnline may offer some good games every now and then (keep in mind: you can bet on sports and play casino and poker games with the same account, so plenty of gamblers will stumble on the poker games eventually). For casino gamblers, BetOnline has a basic but reliable offering.
BetOnline charges a 6% fee for credit card deposits.
Is It Legal to Play?
The definition of ”gambling” and the laws surrounding vary depending on which state you live in.
In Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey, some forms of online gambling have been legalized and regulated (only state-licensed sites are allowed to operate legally). In other states, it’s likely (although not widely agreed upon) that playing – and certainly operating – online gambling games for real money is illegal.
On a federal level, sports betting is the only form of prohibited gambling via the Wire Act of 1961. For several years, the Department of Justice (DOJ) maintained that the Wire Act applies to all forms of online gambling, but in December 2011, they corrected that stance by stating that the Wire Act only applies to sports betting – a result of a 13-page memorandum from the Office of Legal Counsel to the Criminal Division of the DOJ (source).
State laws, however, often indirectly prohibit gambling. Or to put it another way: it would be difficult to claim any forms of online gambling legal with absolute certainty in most states (lotteries and such aside). Most state laws indirectly prohibit gambling simply by making all forms of gambling unlawful that have not been made lawful.
Purely based on history, it’s unlikely you’ll get into legal trouble; then again, if something is illegal, you can get into trouble, and someone probably will. Gambling online may be illegal where you live. Contact a local gaming lawyer to get a better idea of your local laws.
Industry-changing events have taken place in the online gambling world – mainly concerning online poker – such as the UIGEA and Party Poker’s exit from the US market, or PokerStars’ exit from the US market in 2011.
Those crimes were committed by online poker operators, though, not players. Still, the mere fact that online poker companies were targeted was enough to cast a shadow over the legality of US online poker, and furthermore, players grew more and more worried about one of these sites getting shut down along with the money on their player accounts.
In fact, there is a legitimate reason to worry about dishonest US gambling sites taking your money. Some sites have indeed taken off with the money – a recent example is Lock Poker, which currently may owe its customers over $15 million. I created LegitGamblingSites.com mainly to give more exposure to the sites with strong track records of honest business practices.
The lawmakers, in that regard, have a point about not allowing unlicensed sites to provide online gambling games to US citizens. While that may not be the reason, it’s likely one of them. (If I had to guess, I’d say they’re more concerned about losing out on tax dollars and protecting the interests of brick & mortar casino owners such as Sheldon Adelson, although through the RAWA – Restore America’s Wire Act legislation – he tries to do that by himself.)
How to Move Money Around
Ever since the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA) became a law, US citizens have had a more difficult time finding a suitable deposit method.
There are only a few left, actually.
The most common deposit method for US citizens is still credit card deposits, out of which VISA is the most widely accepted brand, followed by Mastercard, with American Express being a distant third. Cards must be eligible for both international and online transfers.
The alternative method is to use a money transfer service such as Western Union. Western Union is mostly a deposit-only method. (Bovada is an exception since they only allow you to withdraw money via a check.)
Why to use a money transfer service instead of a credit card?
- A card deposit fails to go through. This happens every now and then, and the only way to know if your card will be accepted is to try. According to various forum reports, Vanilla VISA is declined at most sites while Netspend VISA has been successful.
Surprisingly, players have had problems with card deposits even at state-licensed sites due to banks like Bank of America outright declining all gambling transactions. Things will likely get better with the new MCC codes for VISA, Mastercard, American Express and Distant which will help casinos to identify gambling transactions more accurately. It’s unclear how much of a help this will be since banks still have the right to decline transfers marked with the new MCC codes, and due to not wanting to violate the UIGEA (according to which they’re prohibited from knowingly processing unlawful gambling transactions), banks may decide it isn’t worth it and keep cancelling transactions even if they were for state-licensed sites.
This is expected to change once bigger states – perhaps even the biggest of them all, California – join internet gambling, since declining the transactions will then affect such a large percentage of any bank’s customer base.
- You want a faster cashout. While money transfer services cost more (many sites, like Bovada, allow one free check cashout a month), the money is usually delivered to be picked up at a local Western Union location in five days or less.
- You don’t want a check cashout. You need to go to a cashier to cash a check. Most people would rather avoid doing this, especially since banks aren’t allowed to knowingly process online gambling related transactions (unless in Delaware, Nevada or New Jersey, but people have had problems in those states as well).
In general, you’ll have higher transaction costs with money transfer services than with a combination of credit cards and checks. BetOnline and Bovada are the only major USA sites charging for credit card deposits and most allow one free check cashout per month – some, like True Poker, allow a free check withdrawal every seven days.
How to use a credit card/check combination?
- Enter your credit card details online after which you have the money on your player account instantly.
- When done playing, order a check cashout, which will take from a week to over a month depending on which site you’re dealing with.
- Go to your local bank to cash the check.
How to use a money transfer service (like Western Union)?
- Go to their website or a live Western Union location and send money to the gambling site. (You’ll need to contact the gambling site first to get their transfer details.)
- When done playing, initiate the withdrawal from your player account.
- Go to a live location to collect the money.
As mentioned, Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey have legalized and regulated some forms of real-money online gambling. Delaware started with online poker but has since expanded into casino games as well; Nevada offers online poker games only; New Jersey offers online poker and casino games.
As you can see, not a single one of these states offer online sports betting. In New Jersey – clearly the biggest market of the three – there’s a clause according to which sports betting may be considered to be added in the future.
You must be physically located within a state’s boundaries to play at the licensed sites. If you’re currently located in California but live in Nevada, you’re unable to play until you return to Nevada; if you’re currently located in Nevada but live in California, you can play as long as you stay within Nevada’s state boundaries.
Licensed sites have to make sure nobody outside of the state can participate in the games. Geolocation – identifying exactly where a person is located – has been difficult, and there are still people who are unable to play even though they’re located within those states. This is one of the reasons licensed online gambling sites have done financially worse than expected.
Only existing brick & mortar casino owners within those states can apply for licenses, although they can apply together with an existing online gambling site in a software-licensing agreement, like Caesar’s Interactive and 888.com have done. If a poker site kept operating in the US after the UIGEA of 2006, it will be subjected to a ”bad actor” clause in Nevada and be prohibited from operating in the state for now.
Each state has had a rocky start, although New Jersey is doing OK. In March 2014, they did $11.87 million in revenue, which grew into $13.16 million in March 2015. A growth rate of 14.57% year-over-year is better than nothing, but still a far cry from the $1 billion within the first 7 months of operating Governor Christie expected (New Jersey gambling sites were launched in November 2013). In other words, his expectations were a little over $140 million a month on average, or about ten times the current revenue.
According to PokerScout.com, Nevada’s online poker revenue is going downhill. Year-over-year decrease in revenue of around 44% (from February 2014 to February 2015) is, no matter how you look at it, a disappointing result. Problems with card deposits and geolocation – both of which exist in other states as well – and player liquidity have undoubtedly contributed to the significant decrease. Players have to deal with fewer problems when playing at offshore sites, and as long as that continues, it will be difficult for state-licensed sites to gain major traction.
In Delaware, the state keeps all yearly revenue up to $3.75 million. Since total revenue for 2014 was around $2.1 million, gambling operators have made nothing. The main reason for such a low amount of revenue is Delaware’s population of 0.94 million (in comparison, New Jersey has a population of 8.9 million). Liquidity is important for online poker since you need lots of players to run games at various stakes, in several forms and throughout the day. Delaware is trying to improve its poker liquidity by combining player pools with Nevada but so far there hasn’t been a significant improvement to its online gaming revenue.
If all of the three states were to combine their player pools, it would create a poker economy of around 12 million people, which could add significant liquidity to the games and thus bring in more revenue to each of the states.
Gambling sites accepting US customers from outside of the three states are all ”offshore” sites, meaning they operate from outside of the US and have no license to operate within the US. They have obtained a license in some other jurisdictions – such as Antiqua & Barbuda or Panama – but many of those jurisdictions have less-than-stellar reputations.
The disadvantage of gambling at offshore sites is the lack of safety. For an outsider, it’s impossible to know how strict testing measures these sites go through to prove their legitimacy, and hypothetically, if one of them were to disappear from the internet tomorrow along with your money, what could you do about it?
Lock Poker, as already mentioned, is an ongoing example. They’ve now lost their license in Curacao (weirdly, they were able to keep the license easily over a year after refusing to process customer cashouts) and there’s nothing anyone can do to make sure Lock Poker’s customers have their money returned. All we can do is spread the word to the people who are considering signing-up and depositing money to their site.
The best thing you can do is consider the reputation of the site rather than the jurisdiction since all jurisdictions have had dishonest sites. The longer a site has been fully operational, and the fewer complaints it has generated, the better. Essentially, Bovada has been in the online gambling business since 2000 when Bodog.com was founded (the US-friendly operations of Bodog were re-branded as Bovada in 2011), and as mentioned, they’ve achieved an excellent reputation with a high level of customer service.
But there are advantages to playing at an offshore site, too, and you can legitimately argue that the advantages override the disadvantages. Offshore sites place fewer restrictions on customers, need less personal information and have to compete with lots of other sites (within US states, competition is limited) which forces them to be at their best in order to succeed. There are no geolocation issues either.
Safety and legality aside – although obviously, both are big considerations – offshore sites are the better option in almost every area. Since only three states have legalized some forms of real-money online gambling in the US, they’re the only places for internet gambling for around 96.4% of US population.
US online gambling is in a transitional phase: after a long wait of legalization, three states have done it, mostly with lackluster success. Suggesting geolocation and deposit issues are resolved, revenue streams may grow. With online poker, though, most likely at least one of the bigger states has to legalize it and combine player pools with the others to create a meaningful poker economy.
A federal legalization would create much-needed competition and player pools, which in turn creates a bigger incentive for operators to participate and, in many ways, a better environment for gamblers. If internet gambling was to be legalized nationwide, every operator and their grandmother would want a license. As of now, it’s more beneficial for most operators to stay outside of the US.