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Is Your Online Casino Illegal?

When you bet at illegal offshore casinos and sportsbooks, you put your identity and financial information at risk—and you may not even get paid. Here’s how to make sure you’re playing with a legal, regulated casino.

A quick Google search of online casinos brings up lots of names you may recognize: Las Atlantis, Red Dog, Super Slots, SlotsLV. Among the most recognizable is Bovada, cited by many legitimate news sites in their “top online casino” lists.

In a recent Yahoo Sports story about NCAA football, the writer quoted Bovada odds on USC quarterback Cody Kessler. Even gray-eminence publications like the Wall Street Journal have written about Bovada as if it were perfectly legal to play in the United States.

But it’s not.

Bad Actors

Based in Costa Rica, Bovada is unregulated, untaxed and illegal in the U.S. By pitching its services to stateside players, Bovada makes it clear, right up front, that it plays by no rules but its own. That alone should raise questions about its integrity. But there’s more.

When you bet with Bovada or another illegal site—wittingly or unwittingly—you risk more than the amount of one wager. With a few clicks, you’re handing sensitive personal and financial information to an offshore business, with no guarantee that the info will be protected. And if that offshore sportsbook or casino decides not to honor your winning bet, sorry, Charlie. You’re out of luck.

One website that endorses Bovada has this to say: “Bovada is legal for all USA players … (because) offshore sport betting sites do not have to follow any laws in the United States.” Well, the same applies to piracy, but no one is claiming it’s legal.

Another says, “It is not illegal to play online at Bovada, but players can’t complain about the safety” (in other words, don’t say you weren’t warned).

All this pretzel logic aside, let’s compare legal and illegal online casinos the old-fashioned way, with a pros vs. cons list.

Compare the Pros and Cons

Legal Casinos & Sportsbooks       Offshore Casinos & Sportsbooks
A portion of revenues goes to taxes Who knows where the $$$ goes?
Vetted & guaranteed by regulators Fugghedaboutit
Your identity is protected Maybe, maybe not
If you win, you’ll get paid It’s anybody’s guess
Industry creates local jobs, and taxes fund state projects In some cases, revenues have funded criminal enterprise

A lot of times, offshore operators target players in states where iGaming and mobile sports betting aren’t yet legal. And even in jurisdictions where online sports betting and gambling are legal, they often offer better bonuses and better odds. To reel people in, there are fewer hoops to jump through before you play.

Sounds good, right? But ask yourself why. Illegal online casinos and sportsbooks have much lower overheard because they don’t pay taxes, don’t pay for licensing, don’t abide by ethical marketing and KYC (know your customer) rules, and don’t have responsible gaming protections. No wonder they can offer you better deals and/or odds.

But they also don’t protect you, your bet, or your bankroll.

Bovada once operated with impunity in the U.S., but for the last few years has been getting squeezed out by fed-up regulators. In 2016, it fled the New Jersey market, chased out by the state Division of Gaming Enforcement. And in May, it announced its exit from New York (where legal iGaming is about to go live). According to Legal Sports Report, Bovada has decided it’s “better to leave the party on one’s own volition than get tossed out, or potentially mortally wounded.”

Keep It Legal Online

So make sure you gamble with a reputable online casino or sportsbook. First, go to the “About” feature of the website. If it shows where the site is licensed in the U.S., you’ll get a good game and a fair shake.

Or better yet, just use any of the casinos or sportsbooks promoted here on iGamingPlayer. You can trust that anything listed on iGamingPlayer is licensed, regulated and reputable. We can’t do business with these offshore operators because we risk our various state licenses and our agreements with all the legal U.S. operators.

You can also check the website of the American Gaming Association. The AGA’s interactive map of legal betting states in the U.S. is up-to-date and accurate; if an online casino or sportsbook isn’t listed here, do yourself a favor and keep away from it.

Meanwhile, if (when) you stumble upon these illegal sites, government watchdog divisions are waiting for your complaint. The FBI offers IC3, the Internet Crime Complaint Center and Integrity in Sport and Gaming (ISG). Among ISG’s priorities is to investigate organized crime groups that operate illegal sports betting operations and disrupt and dismantle their activities. Go to IC3 to submit your complaint.

Want the straight scoop on legal betting action in the U.S.? Read all about it at iGamingPlayer.

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