What States are Sports Betting Legal in?

It is well known that betting on sports is a popular way to pass away time while at the same time getting some money back. However, while the practice of sports wagering is fairly widespread, it is not necessarily legal in every state. Some states have banned the activity, while others have not fully implemented the legal framework which would allow for its implementation. With the 2020 sports wagering landscape still in transition, it is worth exploring which areas of the country allow for legal betting and what restrictions there may be.

When it comes to legal sports betting, most people think of states like Nevada and New Jersey where gaming is rampant and legal sportsbooks operate with little to no trouble. That is certainly true, but not every state is as fortunate as those two states. In fact, some states had to go through a rather long process of trial and error before they could provide for legal sports betting. Below we will explore five states and the evolution of legal sports betting in each one.


Arizona is one of the original 46 U.S. states and was actually the first to allow for-profit businesses within the state. It was not until the mid-19th century that legal sports betting emerged in Arizona. The state adopted a constitution which specifically mentioned that residents had a right to wager on “all sorts of games, sports, and motorsports” in 1865. Although there was already some precedent in regard to sports betting, it was not until the late 1870s that the practice was generally considered legal. The first recorded instance of a resident legally betting on a sporting event in Arizona was in 1878. The first official state-sponsored sports book opened in 1901 and allowed for-profit businesses to operate in the state for the first time ever.


California was once again one of the first states to offer sports betting legalisation. It was on January 2, 1931 that the state’s Supreme Court overturned an earlier decision by the California Superior Court which had banned all forms of sports wagering. It was a landmark decision which paved the way for the establishment of many sportsbooks in the Golden State. The current statewide framework governing sports wagering in California was first implemented in 1953 and continues to be the basis for the operation of all legal sportsbooks in the state to this day. Under the current regulations, it is illegal for any business to charge a fee for using a bookmaker’s services. Most sportsbooks in California are actually operated by the state or by private businesses which have received approval from the California Sports Wagering Association (CSWA).


It was in 1876 that Colorado became the 37th U.S. state to allow for-profit businesses to emerge. Even before the end of the 19th century, there were already some reports of people betting on sports in the Centennial State. It was not until the early 20th century that sports betting in Colorado was generally considered legal. The current statutes pertaining to sports wagering in Colorado were last amended in 1931, but it did not bring with it any new regulations regarding the activity. Nevertheless, the amendment did make it easier for the state to enforce the existing laws against sports corruption. For instance, under the current regulations it is illegal for employees of the state or counties to engage in any form of sports bribery. However, the practice of fixing games is still considered legal in Colorado.


Missouri is one of the original 13 U.S. states, and throughout its history, it has maintained a reputation for being one of the most exciting and innovative places to live and work. It was not until the latter half of the 19th century that people in Missouri started to get involved in betting on sports. It was, however, during this time that organized crime made its mark on the state. The Kansas City Chiefs, for instance, were founded in 1910, and until the 1960s, the team’s owner was none other than John “Duke” Holmes, a well-known St. Louis mobster. Even after the formation of the FBI, the mobsters in Holmes’ organization were able to continue operations until they were eventually rounded up and brought to justice in the 1970s.


Though Oklahoma was not the first state to offer some form of legal sports betting (that would be Nevada), the Sooners nevertheless became the first state to specifically allow for-profit businesses when they ratified their constitution in 1907. It was not until the following year that legal sports betting was established in the Sooner State. While it remains one of the most prominent sports states, Oklahoma’s current statutes do not provide for any specific regulations regarding sports wagering, and the practice of betting on sports is generally considered illegal.


Utah is another state which originally allowed for-profit businesses to operate within the state. It was on November 6, 1890 that the state’s Supreme Court decided that residents of the Beehive State had the right to wager on “all kinds of games, sports, and motorsports.” Several years later, it was decided that horse racing would become a part of the state’s “culture and heritage.” It was not until the 1926 season that the first legal sportsbook was established in Utah. The practice of betting on sports in Utah remains largely unregulated, and there is no specific legal framework in place regarding the activity. However, it is against the law to pay someone to fix a game or interfere with the sports integrity.

As more and more states have passed legislation allowing for-profit businesses to operate in the legal cannabis market, more and more states are likely to follow suite and offer sports betting. The legal cannabis market is still in its infancy, and there are many opportunities for savvy businesspeople to make investments and build brands. If you’re thinking about entering the sports betting industry, it is imperative that you establish legal sports betting in your state. Doing business in a state which prohibits legal sports betting is a lot more difficult, as you are bound to run up against the law at some point. It is, however, still possible to operate a sportsbook in an illegal manner, but as the risk of getting caught is high, it is generally not considered a prudent business move.