US Bingo Laws: Is Playing Bingo Gambling?

US Bingo Halls are subject to regulations that can differ from State to State due to the complex nature of American lawmaking  This is why it is rather difficult to discuss a specific set of regulations that should be applied for any bingo hall in the USA, whether it is a physical one or an online one. It’s quite the quagmire, but the experts are here to help guide you through.


Is Playing Bingo Gambling in the US?

Is bingo legalGambling is not legal all throughout the United States and you should know this before you play any casino games, but many still question if playing bingo is gambling.  This article will address whether bingo is counted as gambling in the USA and guide you through both the federal and State laws surrounding whether bingo is a legal activity.

The answer to this question is quite complex, due to the State and legislation makeup of the USA. Basically, it depends on where you live. In the USA both States and the Federal Government have the power to make laws.

Federal law will always take premise over local laws (enacted by States for their territory). So before we answer whether playing bingo is gambling in US States, let’s look at how the US regulates online gambling, gaming and bingo in federal law as this supersedes all local law. After that, we’ll turn to which States consider playing bingo as gambling and have made it illegal to give you a clearer idea of where you can and cannot play bingo is the USA.

Federal Law Overview: Is Playing Bingo Gambling in Federal Law?

Unfortunately, the laws passed by the House and by the Senate of the United States are not always in the best interest of individuals. In fact, they are often out of touch with what is going on, especially since the birth of online gaming. The US has some of the strictest gambling legislation there is, but also some of the world’s biggest land-based casinos, and the infamous LA gambling scene- confusing right?

This is due to the Federal State system that allows each State to create their own regulations and laws. In this section we’ll take a look at the federal laws- these are the ones governing the whole country and applicable to online gaming & gambling.

The Wire Act: 1961

Created way before the birth of modern gambling and online bingo, this ancient piece of legislation has been used many times to rule on online gambling for US customers. Its original aim was to stop gambling at organised events, but it included the use of the words, ‘wire communication’ to facilitate betting, which is why and how it is applicable to today’s online gambling as the internet is technically wired communication. The Wire Act says:

“Whoever being engaged in the business of betting or wagering knowingly uses a wire communication facility for the transmission in interstate or foreign commerce of bets or wagers or information assisting in the placing of bets or wagers on any sporting event or contest, or for the transmission of a wire communication which entitles the recipient to receive money or credit as a result of bets or wagers, or for information assisting in the placing of bets or wagers, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both”

The Wire Act Overhaul:  Is Bingo Legal?

In 2011 there was a turnabout as the US Department of Justice declared that The Wire Act should only apply to sporting events or contests. That gave individual States more power in deciding their own gambling regulation and decriminalised certain types of gambling such as Poker, Slots, Bingo and Lottery (note, not online sports betting). Whilst Bingo is counted as gambling it means that bingo is now legal in some areas of the States.

However, it has also created the scenario that post-2011 we live in a confusing, quagmire of State by State different bingo and gambling legislation, which is confusing for Americans and foreigners alike. Often leaving gamers wondering if playing bingo is gambling and if bingo is legal where they live. This confusion has also impacted the bingo industry and it is why there are far fewer US targeted sites.

There has been some push back against online gambling and bingo in the US with some Senators lobbying for the Restoration of America’s Wire Act as it originally was, thankfully it has not gained too much traction.

Interstate Transportation of Wager Paraphernalia Act: 1961

This, like the Wire Act, is practically prehistoric, and yet still used to rule against the online transfer of betting information in the USA. It basically makes it illegal to send via post, internet or other forms, anything that will be used to make sports bets. The language used in the act is very broad, which is why it can still be applied to internet commerce today. Note, playing bingo is not gambling under this act, which only targets sports betting.

Unlawful Internet Gambling Act (UIGEA)

This targets the providers of internet gambling, the companies that supply the games and process the payments, the big fish opposed to the players. Its aim is to prevent money laundering and fraud. It regulates payment methods, including not allowing bank and credit card payments (so the majority of all payments and most popular method), and prevents online gambling companies from accepting payments from anyone with a criminal record. This law is the main reason so many sites will not accept US players.

Under UIGEA playing bingo is counted as gambling (as there is monetary exchange), but it only outlaws the types of payment methods.  Therefore, with the birth of e-wallets and prepaid digital cards, things have begun to get a little easier for US players as they do not have to use bank and credit card payments.

State Law: Is Playing Bingo Gambling in the Individual States?

Is Playing Bingo GamblingTo clarify, under all of these federal laws, we can presume that bingo, when played for cash (AKA a bet) is counted as gambling. For the most part federal law, until 2011, made all forms of gambling illegal. Now it is the case that States has more power to enact their own gambling legislation.

When we break it down to look at State and question whether playing bingo is considered as gambling in the US, things get even more complex. Each State has a different take on what activities are considered as online gambling and which are illegal and which are not.

For many in fact, online gambling has become a grey area that is not legalised, but there is no enforcement or specific local laws covering online playing and gambling. It is fair to say that for most States they really need to catch up. It is, therefore, much easier to identify those States which have made it 100% illegal to gamble online.

In which States is playing bingo gambling and Illegal?

Ten US states have made online gambling altogether illegal, and yes, playing bingo is counted as online gambling too. These states are;

If you plan to gamble online or start a gambling business in one of these states, then you are out of luck and yes, this categorically includes playing bingo, which is counted as gambling.

As we said, many states are a grey area, with non-specific legislation, this means you will find local laws covering land-based operation, but not specifically online. There are only 3 States currently offering regulated online gaming; Delaware, Nevada (only poker is legalised in Nevada) and New Jersey.

The Exceptions of Charitable Games

There are also exceptions when it comes to playing bingo with cash stakes. There are certain states, including Florida, which consider bingo games legal, as long as the funds are directed towards a fundraising. However, such games can only be hosted by charitable or non-profit organizations. Moreover, such an organization must already be at least three years old when the game is hosted. Besides this, the organization also has to be exempted from federal income taxes, under section 501(c) or 528 of the US Internal Revenue Code. However, charitable bingo is not allowed in all the US states.

Taking the example of Pennsylvania, regulations provide detailed information about each category of items that are discussed. The bingo game is clearly defined, talking about the card that is the main element of the game, its design and the way in which a winning card is announced and a license is required to hold a bingo game.

As you see, when it comes to the United States, the regulations related to bingo halls, whether physical or bingo online, are quite difficult to grasp and once you’ve got your head around 1 State, there is another 49 to decode! If you want a quick way to check the laws in each State that you find yourself, our advice is load up a local bingo site and see if they are offering cash cards and prizes- that will let you know the parameters of the local law. Remember though that playing Bingo is not all about the cash, it’s an incredibly fun and lively game!