The legality of online sports betting exists in a sort of shrouded grey fog of possibly questionable behavior. However, there are still plenty of quality offshore operations that are willing to take your bets and pay out your winnings. If you want to know how to bet on sports online—like, say, for the Super Bowl—we'll tell you.
This is not an endorsement of skirting the legal/illegal line of betting online. We're just here to say that for the betting curious, it's possible. If you follow these instructions, you'll limit the risk of getting screwed and increase your risk of getting paid when you win. We're not guaranteeing that you'll win though. That's totally on you, and the sports gods.
The most important thing in betting online is to attach yourself to a reliable, reputable online sportsbook. It's not unlike eating at a restaurant; why go somewhere dirty, overpriced, and awful tasting when Le Bernardin is out there? And since sports betting directly involves your cash moneys, it's even more important to stay clear of bad establishments and go with the ones you can trust.
Here is the online book we prefer: 5Dimes.
There are others, of course, but from talking with people who've won thousands of dollars betting online, 5Dimes is easily one of the most popular. The independent enthusiast site Sportsbook Review gave 5Dimes an A+ ratings for reasons such as "having the most extensive selections of betting odds & wager types in the industry". It also recently won a reader poll on popular sports betting forum SBRforum for Top Sportsbook. It's a good idea to get in the same boat as other players when you sail through the oft choppy waters of online gambling. Power in numbers, ya know.
5Dimes has been around a long time—since 1998—and it is confident that it'll continue to be in business for much longer. When I asked 5Dimes if they were worried about getting slammed by the feds like the poker sites, they made it clear that they're completely offshore (5Dimes is based in San Jose, Costa Rica). 5Dimes assured me that they have no reason to draw ire from US officials; they have no banks in the US, no official ties to the US and even use .eu URLS. It's a haven for US players, 5Dimes told me nearly that 90% of its business is from the US.
So yes, if you want to bet online, use 5Dimes. It's as safe a book as you'll find.
The easiest method to get your account rolling is to use your VISA credit card. It's like shopping online! You do that all the time, right? You can load anywhere from $50-$500 per transaction via credit card and it's completely free of fees on their end (your credit card may charge you a foreign transaction fee since 5Dimes is based elsewhere).
Unsurprisingly, it's not too hard to give them money. You just select 'VISA Processor' from their drop down menu, agree to the Terms and Conditions (which you'll probably want to make sure you comb through this time) and verify your card through their phone verification system (they'll call you and give you a 4 digit code to punch in at the verification page). For authorization purposes, 5Dimes requires scanned copies of your ID and the front of your credit card along with an authorization form to get started. It sounds scary but they're professionals. Gambling professionals but still professionals.
Note, if you live in Washington, Washington DC or Maryland, this deposit option won't work with 5Dimes for legal reasons. 5Dimes suggests you ask for customer service to explore alternate means. In other words, Washington, DC and Maryland residents are probably more at-risk in terms of online sports betting.
This is the easy part. Now that you've got money in your account, pick the game you want to lay down dollars for and bet away. Reminder: no take-backs. And as they say (or at least I think they said it last time I was in Vegas), only bet what you can afford to lose. Don't be an idiot and max out your credit card just because it's there. And maybe go easy on the prop bets. You don't know how long Renee Fleming is going to sing the national anthem for nor do you know if Bruno Mars is going to suck or not (even if you already know).
Here's where it gets slightly annoying. You can get a certified check or money order from 5Dimes but those methods incur fees ranging from $40-$80 and have a minimum withdrawal amount of $1000. Not to mention the processing time it takes to get to you and the possible hold up from your bank.
A more convenient way to get your hard earned, sweat drenched money is to get paid out directly to your Visa or MasterCard debit card. You need to sign up through their Debit Cards Fund Application but after you clear those hoops, you can pull out anywhere from $100 to $2500 once every 48 hours (with the amount being credited to your card in 3-5 business days). You can request payouts Monday through Thursday from 9:00AM ET to 1:00PM ET.
The fees are lower when pulling out money via debit card, only $15 for any withdrawal up to $500, $25 for $1000 and $40 for $2500. If you're smart about it, you can actually get these fees waived as you are allowed one free withdrawal every 30 days. In order to get the fee-less withdrawal, you'll need to make a redemption request on Mondays between 9:00AM ET and 1:00PM ET. Note it in your calendar.
To be extra safe, take out your money monthly so it doesn't rot away or tempt you to bet more than you want. If you want to add more money, just deposit it again through your credit card. Depositing is always easier than withdrawing. They'll never stop you from depositing.
The truth is, no one is absolutely certain. The way things are going, you should be fine, but if our government decides to nail online sportsbooks like they did online poker sites, you're probably going to get screwed (financially, at least). So the question is, will our government go after these sportsbooks?
There are two popular laws that get cited when online gambling is brought up: the Wire Wager Act and the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA). Both sound bad. The UIGEA especially:
"Prohibits gambling businesses from knowingly accepting payments in connection with the participation of another person in a bet or wager that involves the use of the Internet and that is unlawful under any federal or state law."
But when I spoke to Lawrence G. Walters of Walters Law Group, he stressed that though these laws are fairly broad, they've been "interpreted by the courts to regulate gambling businesses", not individual Joe Everyman Bettor. That means that in practice, at least so far, they've only been used "to prohibit individuals from becoming bookies, bookmakers or starting a betting business," not to stop them from betting online.
However, Mr. Walters further explained that the nuance of legality also depends on your state. Some states (including, but not limited to, the three mentioned above) do have laws that say that betting on games of chance or skilled games is illegal. But since these betting activities are done over businesses on the internet, the question becomes "whether states have the legal authority to regulate the internet." Which, it turns out, they can't! The Commerce Clause of the Constitution explicitly states that only the federal government has the power "to regulate commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes." And the feds have been much more forgiving.
Basically, the federal laws banning gambling have so far applied to gambling businesses in the United States, not individuals. State laws that do specify that gambling is illegal for individuals have no power to regulate the internet because of the Constitution. Judging by the fact that the feds haven't made any movement toward shutting down sportsbooks (if they were going to, why not do it at the same time as the poker sites?), you're very likely safe if you work with offshore bookmakers like 5Dimes andLegends.
Again, the best precedent for all of this is when the poker sites got shut down. The feds didn't go after individual players, they went after the gambling businesses. Player deposits were frozen for a while but, even they were eventually returned. Presumably, any action against the sportsbooks would take the same route.
And if not, well, you're gambling anyway, right?
A version of this article previously appeared on Gizmodo last June.