Poorly written and haphazardly implemented gambling laws make the United States a tough market to crack. The established European brands don’t want anything to do with it as the legal risk is unknown and they already have a firm foothold in the UK and other parts of the world. Even so, the sheer size of the US market makes it an attractive target for those firms willing to navigate our convoluted legal system.
Numerous offshore sites accept us players but they are unlicensed, unregulated, and essentially illegal. While no players have been prosecuted for playing bingo online in the United States, our company policy is to wait for regulation to hit (likely on a state by state level) and then list operators who comply with US gaming laws. Until that day comes, no US bingo sites will be listed in this section, and we don’t advise playing at any that are listed elsewhere. We look forward to being able to review licensed online bingo sites in the United States at some point in the future.
Depositing and Withdrawing Real Money
The biggest challenge in playing online bingo in the United States is getting your money to the site. Banking laws limit the number of deposit methods available to customers of the US. The best option is to make a deposit with a credit or debit card. Card deposits are processed instantly and with minimal fees.
In some cases, credit card deposits are blocked by the bank that originally issued the card. In that case, you won’t be charged anything but you also won’t be able to complete your deposit. You can try a different card or use a different deposit method such as the cash transfer.
Withdrawals from sites are normally issued via paper check in the mail. All you have to do is log in to your account and request a payment. Check your mail after that and eventually you’ll get a check which you can then deposit at your bank.
Online Bingo Laws in the US
Bingo is classified as a gambling game in the United States and therefore falls under the general laws that regulate other forms of online gaming. There are two sets of laws that govern internet bingo in the US: state and federal. State laws don’t play a large role right now, but that is slowly changing as an increasing number of states warm to the idea of legal online gambling.
Up until 2006, Washington DC didn’t have much to say about online gambling. The closest thing we had to any sort of regulation was the Wire Act and even that wasn’t very clear. It was written well before the internet was even a thing and seemed to deal with sports betting more than any other form of wagering.
Online bingo before 2006 was a virtual free-for-all. Anyone with the technical know-how to operate a gambling site could set up shop and host real money games as long as they were hosted from outside the US. Back then, the Wire Act was interpreted by the US Department of Justice as applying to all forms of online gaming which prevented domestic companies from opening sites on US soil.
However, there were no mechanisms in place to prevent overseas companies from accepting bets from Americans. It took little effort to find a site, sign up for an account and make a deposit. Services such as Neteller were able to move money to and from gambling sites quickly and efficiently.
Internet poker, gambling, sports betting and bingo experienced a boom period throughout the early 2000s. Online poker became especially popular after a 27-year old accountant named Chris Moneymaker won the 2003 World Series of Poker. The media coverage surrounding the event, Chris’ image as a normal guy and the fact that he won his seat via an online satellite at PokerStars all combined to ignite the online poker boom of 2003.
All forms of gambling saw growth through the early 2000s. Things were great for anyone involved with gambling and bingo, but we all knew the party couldn’t last forever. Rumors began circulating in 2004 that politicians were taking a closer look at internet gambling… and that has never been a good sign for any industry.
2006 was a bad year for online bingo. The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA) was passed as a rider to an unrelated piece of “must pass” port security legislation (SAFE Port Act) in the final minutes before Congress adjourned for the 2006 elections. Lawmakers later stated they had zero chance to read the text of the UIGEA before voting on the SAFE Port Act.
Contrary to early media reports, the UIGEA does not ban or criminalize online bingo. The legislation deals entirely with payment processing. Basically, the UIGEA requires anyone involved in financial transactions (banks, credit cards and payment processors) to block payments to or from internet gambling sites.
The text requires financial institutions to have “policies and procedures” in place to identify and block transactions involving internet gambling and poker. This also includes bingo. The UIGEA is largely responsible for the difficulties US players often have in making deposits and receiving payouts.
The passage of the UIGEA led to publicly traded companies such as Party Gaming and 888 to immediately leave the US market. Others decided to stay the course and fill in the void left behind when other big names left the market. Over time, numerous other gaming and poker sites left the United States to focus their efforts elsewhere.
There are still plenty of companies today willing to deal with the challenges presented by the UIGEA. The US market is too big and too tempting. Today we still have Bovada and a variety of bingo sites doing business in the US. Deposits and withdrawals have been affected but bingo websites have gotten very good at finding loopholes around the restrictions placed on US-based banking institutions.
DOJ Reinterprets the Wire Act
The next biggest development on the federal side came in late 2011 when the US Department of Justice issued a new ruling on its interpretation of the Wire Act of 1961. In short, the DOJ stated that it now believes the Wire Act only applies to online sports betting and not other forms of gambling or poker.
This was a big development as it paved the way for individual states to legalize casino games and poker within state lines. Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware have since done exactly that. Each of those states now has some form of legal casino gaming, poker or both.
State-regulated online bingo hasn’t yet made an appearance, but that’s not due to legal issues. There simply isn’t enough demand for bingo on a state-by-state level to justify offering it in any single state. Today’s US bingo websites still operate from overseas jurisdictions and accept players from all 50 states.
State law also regulates internet gaming in addition to federal law. Most states take no position either way, but several have passed legislation to allow limited forms of online gambling. One notable exception is Washington State.
Washington is the only state in the US that actually criminalizes the act of placing a bet online. It is considered a Class C felony to place a bet online and carries with it potential jail time of 1-5 years. However, not a single person has ever been prosecuted under that law despite many players from Washington participating in internet betting every day.
The best way to sum up the current legal situation is this: it’s illegal to operate a gaming site but it’s not illegal to play at one. You face absolutely zero legal consequences for logging on, playing bingo and winning money – but that doesn’t make it safe to do so. Many customers have lost their deposits or even been refused payouts on their winnings.