Welcome to Washington, DC! If you came here looking for a place to gamble, there aren’t any. In fact, DC has no casinos, no racetracks and no other gambling properties to its name. Online gambling in DC is available but limited to sports betting, online lottery games and daily fantasy sports.
Since legal online casinos in DC do not exist and there are no land-based gambling options of any kind, it’s hard to know if or when to expect things to change in the nation’s capital (if at all).
But now that the District of Columbia is home to sports betting, albeit uncomfortably, it’s important to go through all the options that DC residents and visitors do have for gambling. So, read on for all the latest if you want to do something other than visit the Smithsonian or lobby your congressperson while you’re in DC.
Sweepstakes casinos available in DC
Can you gamble online in DC?
Yes, there are some online gambling options in Washington, DC. The most notable and recent of these options is online sports betting, which right now consists of William Hill and the DC Lottery’s GambetDC.
Speaking of the lottery, you can also play lottery games through your laptop or mobile device in DC. The district lottery maintains a selection of online lottery games that are available to you wherever there’s an internet connection in Washington. You can take a chance on some of the multi-state draw games or play e-instants — games that can mean a big payout in seconds.
And speaking of sports, you can also take part in daily fantasy sports contests in DC. While DraftKings and FanDuel appear to accept players from the DC area, there is no law on the books that regulates them or specifically outlaws them. So, for now, think of it as a legal gray area.
Finally, sweepstakes casino sites are available in DC. As is the case with all sweepstakes, you can play on these sites for free for a chance at real money prizes. If you want to play slots, table games or poker without leaving the district, sweepstakes sites are your best option.
Are online casinos legal in DC?
No. There are no legal online casinos available in Washington, DC, at this time. The only viable options are the aforementioned sweepstakes sites. The top options for those types of games are Chumba Casino, LuckyLand Slots, Global Poker and Funzpoints. Chumba is the prize of the bunch, with both slot titles and table games available for play. LuckyLand is focused entirely on slot play, and there aren’t many options beyond the machines. Global Poker, despite its primary focus, also has a few slot titles and a surprising diversity of table games, too. Finally, Funzpoints is similar in scope to LuckyLand Slots, but also maintains a couple of options for keno players.
Can you play slots online in DC?
No. You cannot play slots online in DC, and anyone who says otherwise is incorrect. In fact, you cannot play slots of any kind in the district, much less online. DC is still working to fully figure out sports betting at this moment, and there’s no timeline for online slots to make their way into the nation’s capital. Your best bet for online slot play is at one of the aforementioned sweepstakes casinos.
You can also drive across the river to MGM National Harbor. The large resort property has the closest legal slot machines to Washington, DC. None of them are online. However, when and if DC decides to move toward online slots, you will undoubtedly have your choice of the top slot titles in the market from Bally, IGT, NetEnt and more.
Can you play online poker in Washington, DC?
No. The situation in Washington for online poker is identical to the one for online casinos. There are no legal online poker sites within the limits of the district. However, as mentioned, you can play on sweepstakes poker sites and mostly replicate the experience you’d find on a site like PokerStars or WSOP. Global Poker offers cash games, tournaments, and sit and go’s around the clock, and you can play against fellow Americans in Texas Hold’em, Pot Limit Omaha and, quite unusually, Crazy Pineapple games. Until DC decides to change its tune about most online gambling, Global Poker is going to be the only game in town for online poker players.
Will DC regulate online gambling in the future?
Aside from the types of online gambling mentioned above, it’s hard to say. Washington, DC, has always labored under the difficulty that comes with being a special category of location in the US. According to the US Constitution, DC is administered directly by the US Congress in terms of its laws and ordinances. Although DC has a city council and is allowed to make small changes under the concept of home rule, Congress retains the right to dictate exactly what occurs in the district by law. Sports betting in DC, for instance, had to go through an extensive multistep process before it could become reality, and the sheer number of fingers in the pie has served only to add complexity and struggle to the regulation of legal sports betting in Washington DC.
There’s no reason to assume that expanding to allow online casinos and poker would be any smoother. Based upon the difficulty of getting anything done in DC, it is unlikely that online casinos and poker sites are coming to the nation’s capital anytime soon. DC is going to have to hammer out all the issues with sports betting and get it running smoothly before anything else can happen.
Legal online gambling vs. offshore sites
If you’ve done any web searching for online gambling sites in DC, you may think you have options. After all, there are plenty of sites that appear available for online casino play in DC, so what gives?
The problem is that those sites are not specifically authorized and regulated by DC or US law. In fact, they are all based outside of the US. As such, they come with risks.
- Security and safety: Online gambling requires a significant amount of faith and vulnerability on the part of each player. You have to log into the site with your unique IP address and submit your personal details, like your name, address and Social Security number, in order to register for an account. Then, you have to furnish your financial data and banking information in order to fund your account and play. You can’t be sure that an offshore site will keep all that information secure.
- Unregulated: Laws are broadly meant to protect you and the public from those who wish you harm. The problem with playing through an offshore site is that you lose those protections. While sites might claim they are licensed, your options for pursuing a legal resolution to a problem might be quite limited and/or unreliable.
- Trust: Finally, you can never be certain if the site’s network security and anti-hacking measures are truly effective. Even if the site claims to be above board, there is no guarantee that you can trust it. A number of offshore casinos have had payment problems in the past.
Who regulates online gambling in Washington, DC?
The only true gambling regulator in the district is the DC Lottery. Until 1982, all gambling was illegal in DC, so there’s really no other existing option for an oversight agency for online gambling in Washington. The lottery also now oversees sports betting in the district. Although its handling of the new industry, particularly with the GambetDC app, has raised eyebrows, there’s no doubt that the DC Lottery holds sway over gambling in the nation’s capital. Any additional legal online gambling in DC seems likely to operate under the same jurisdiction.
With that said, there is a small chance that more expansion would precipitate the need for a true DC gambling commission. Creating and funding such an agency would depend on the complex legislative process in DC, however.
What is the legal gambling age in DC?
The legal gambling age in Washington, DC, is 18. Since the DC Lottery was the only type of gambling in the city for so long, it’s not a big surprise that 18-year-olds were able to play. However, in a somewhat-surprising move, the legislation to bring sports betting to the district did not have any provision for raising the gambling age to 21, which is the more typical age for that kind of gambling. That makes the district one of the few places in the US where you can place a sports bet while you are still in high school.
Obviously, things might change if any other type of gambling comes to DC. While it’s not unheard of for poker sites and poker rooms to require a minimum age of 18, few casinos and online casinos allow players younger than 21. Now, there are no current bills to bring casino gambling of any kind to DC. However, we feel pretty confident that any that might arise would call for a minimum age of 21 to play.
Types of legal gambling in DC
There really aren’t many types of legal gambling in Washington, DC. Gambling has largely been illegal in the city since its founding in 1790. Although gambling houses and casinos have operated in the district at different times, they have always been against the law and either tolerated or targeted by law enforcement. Here are the only forms of legal gambling in DC:
- Online lottery
- Sports betting
- Daily fantasy sports
- Charitable gaming
However, due to Washington’s close proximity to other states, you have more choices nearby. You might have to drive across a river to get there, but there are definitely gambling options nearby in Virginia and Maryland.
Are there casinos in Washington, DC?
Not really. There are no casinos in Washington, DC, itself. There are also no racetrack facilities inside the city limits. There are, however, a couple of options within easy or fairly easy driving distance:
- William Hill DC Sportsbook: 601 F St. NW, Washington, DC 20004, 855-754-1200. William Hill offers sports betting.
- MGM National Harbor: 101 MGM National Ave., Forest Heights, MD 20745, 844-646-6847. MGM National Harbor offers slots, table games, poker and a racebook.
If you want more options, there are venues in several directions. You can drive into West Virginia for online sports betting, online casinos and the Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races. You can drive into Maryland for either the Maryland Live! Casino or the Horseshoe Baltimore. Online sports betting in Maryland is also in the cards. You can also cross the Potomac into Virginia if you want more options for online sportsbooks. Finally, you can make the drive to Delaware for multi-state online poker and three racinos. So, even though DC itself doesn’t have much to offer gamblers, there are plenty of other ways to gamble if you’re based in the district.
Responsible gambling in DC
Since there are plenty of options for gambling in and around DC, there also are options for those dealing with addiction. You’ll find several resources in the district.
The first place to try is the National Council on Problem Gambling. Usually, the NCPG acts as a sort of central switchboard for problem gambling resources in various states. However, since DC is a federal city, not a state, and the NCPG is headquartered there, then your local problem gambling resource is, in fact, the National Council itself. The NCPG offers a 24-hour helpline for anyone who needs to get some advice on how to proceed. Call 800-522-4700 any time to be connected with trained counselors who can assess your situation and provide you with a list of treatment options. Every call is confidential and free to make.
Another option for support is through peer groups. Organizations like Gamblers Anonymous have provided relief for thousands of problem gamblers through fellowship and accountability with other addicts. Family members of problem gamblers can also get support through Gamblers Anonymous’ sister organization, Gam-Anon. Finally, if you don’t want to go to one of the weekly GA meetings, you can also speak with fellow sufferers on Gamtalk, an online community for problem gamblers.
DC Lottery’s self-exclusion program
Finally, if you are certain that you cannot stop gambling, the best thing to do might be to place yourself on the self-exclusion list. The list is maintained by the DC Lottery and bars you — on a criminal level — from playing any games that fall under lottery oversight. This means that sports betting and lottery games would be off the table. In addition, it would probably be a good idea to consider joining the lists in Virginia and Maryland, too, since they are so close by and offer gambling options.
The DC Lottery self-exclusion program allows for exclusion periods of one year up to a permanent ban. Because self-exclusion is such a severe step, understand that you must put yourself into the program — no family member or concerned friend can do it for you.
History of gambling in Washington, DC
Yes, gambling in DC was expressly illegal for most of the district’s existence, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Even if we set aside all the political scandals, there have been numerous incidents and establishments dedicated to vice in the nation’s capital. Thousands of prostitutes were known to live in the city during the Civil War, hoping to attract business from the resting soldiers. In fact, the area in the district that houses some of our most important and hallowed buildings, including the National Archives, was a site known as Hooker’s Division in the 19th century and was a hotbed of brothels and saloons. So, the fact that there are no casinos, racetracks or other gambling establishments in DC is a bit confounding.
It’s not as though DC is a foreign place for gambling in the past, either. An entrepreneur named Edward Pendleton opened “The Palace of Fortune” in 1832 on Pennsylvania Avenue. Though the establishment did not stay open forever, Pendleton’s chosen colors for casino chips — white for $1 and red for $5 — remain the standard colors for those denominations in many casinos worldwide. In the mid-20th century, a gambler named Jimmy LaFontaine opened a full-blown casino called the Maryland Athletic Club, which strategically placed its driveway inside DC’s city limits.
However, during all of these periods, gambling remained illegal in the district. That was the case until 1982, the year that the lottery was created. Since then, minute additions and changes have occurred in the nation’s capital, including the addition of an online lottery in 2012.