For residents in many states, the days when the only online betting options involved shady offshore operators have come to an end. With more states at various stages of regulating online gambling, safe online sportsbooks will soon be widely available via mobile and desktop devices.
A significant advantage to legal, state-licensed online sportsbooks is that they are under the jurisdiction of state governments, usually via the local gaming commission.
Terms of licensing involve protection for problem gamblers and a demonstration of fair, safe and tested platforms. If there is an issue or dispute, you, therefore, have an avenue for complaints.
We cover all you need to know to bet at online sportsbooks in the US safely.
First, we examine states that are already live along with the appropriate laws. Then, we discuss how to securely deposit and withdraw your winnings, along with responsible gambling.
What makes an online sportsbook safe and trusted?
Online betting, at least in regulated states and markets around the world, is extremely safe.
Two key drivers are the requirements and oversight of licensing bodies and the reputation of the big gambling brands.
The books are licensed to local brick-and-mortar casinos. As part of this license, the local gaming commission tests the platforms, and responsible gambling and protection for minors are in place. Also, secure banking methods need to be available.
State sportsbooks are partnerships with some of the biggest gambling brands. These apps and websites are often the results of years of development.
Keep in mind that these operators have long-standing reputations to protect. The competition between them ensures that the betting odds and promotions offered also need to be fair.
Bonus offers and customer service are the final areas to consider.
These include fair terms and conditions for welcome bonuses and any ongoing offers. A sportsbook that treats players unfairly by voiding bonuses for spurious reasons will not last for long.
While the gaming control boards oversee the safest (state-regulated) books, their service should be at a level where any disputes can be resolved quickly and easily.
Once you select the trusted legal sportsbook of your choice, check our full guide to sports betting basics.
Trusted New Jersey online sportsbooks
The Garden State was the first to offer online sports betting.
New Jersey drove the legal challenges to PASPA, a federal bill that prevented states from deciding on their sports betting laws. The US Supreme Court then overturned PASPA in 2018, thus paving the way for both live and online sportsbooks.
New Jersey already had the legislation in place via bill A2578. PASPA being overturned subsequently triggered a clause allowing sports betting. Many operators already had casinos and poker rooms online; therefore, the transition to NJ online sports betting was smooth.
Licensing for New Jersey online sportsbooks is handled by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement (NJDGE).
An existing brick-and-mortar casino holds each license. These casinos then are partners with some of the biggest and best-known sports betting brands. These include DraftKings, Fox Bet, 888 and William Hill.
Early online gambling sites in New Jersey did have some geolocation issues; however, they were false-negatives.
Access to real money games and deposits were denied close to state lines because the software was unable to confirm the user as being inside the state. Issues were quickly ironed out, though, with the experience ensuring that other states avoided these problems.
List of the top sportsbooks in New Jersey
Trusted Pennsylvania online sportsbooks
The authorities in Pennsylvania explicitly stated that they would make a move from retail to online sports betting slowly to ensure that everything ran smoothly before going live.
True to their word, there was a long gap between the legislation being passed (H 271, in October 2017) and the first PA online sportsbooks going live in the summer of 2019.
These were made possible by the Supreme Court decision to overturn PASPA in 2018. Like in New Jersey, Pennsylvania has licensing for casino and poker online in addition to sports betting.
Big brand names have once again partnered with the local (license-holding) casinos. They have global reputations to protect, built up over many years and, in some cases, decades.
With proven platforms and innovations like live and cash-out betting, these new online sportsbooks have made a smooth debut in the Keystone State.
List of the top Pennsylvania sportsbooks
More online betting sites will likely join these as the market matures.
Trusted Indiana sportsbooks
Unlike NJ and PA, Indiana passed legislation for online sports betting, though not for casinos or poker rooms.
The Hoosier State saw its first retail sportsbooks go live just before NFL season kickoff this year. Indiana online sportsbooks are expected to follow soon, with the first ones going live by the end of the year. Bill H 1015 became law on May 8.
Indiana has 14 land-based, riverboat and tribal casinos, which can apply for sports betting licenses. These are under the jurisdiction of the Indiana Gaming Commission. Restrictions to ensure the safety of IN bettors include a ban on esports betting and betting on any non-pro event where the participants are younger than 18.
Other states: DFS and horse racing sites
Other states including Tennessee, West Virginia, Colorado and Iowa are have already passed legislation for sports betting. Many other states, such as Virginia, are also at various stages of passage, with more expected to follow as we move through 2020.
In the meantime, there are ways to enjoy betting online safely from non-regulated states.
The first is to enter daily fantasy sports (DFS) contests.
Operators, including FanDuel and DraftKings, are active in the majority of states. They run real-money contests where you pick lineups of players for gamedays. You can challenge others, or enter bigger tournaments, where your lineups compete with others from around the country.
Second, you can bet safely online on horse races. There are national sites which allow bets via the pari-mutuel pools, such as TwinSpires, BetAmerica and TVG. These sites also welcome credit card payments. You’ll be betting under advance deposit wagering rules.
Avoid unsafe operators
Just how safe the new state-regulated sportsbooks are becoming clear when you compare these to the alternative: the offshore and illegal sportsbooks.
For many years, gambling sites have operated from sovereign states in the Caribbean and Central America. These sites are “licensed” by Curacao, Panama or Antigua (and others). This licensing is light touch, with no oversight on the finances, fairness or safety of the sportsbook operations.
Most importantly, if you have a dispute, for example, a refusal to pay out winnings, then there is nobody to contact. Some sites have closed, simply disappearing along with player’s bankrolls. Others have delayed payouts for spurious reasons, citing “bonus abuse,” though never specifying what is meant by it.
Using them is risky, and where there is a legal and reputable alternative, this makes little sense.
Is my data secure if I use my bank or credit cards?
An area of concern for many is whether it is safe to use your bank cards to make deposits at an online betting site.
With the new state-regulated betting sites, the answer is yes; however, plenty of alternative deposit options are available.
If you are comfortable using debit or credit cards to deposit, then this is fast and easy. Making the deposit follows the same process you would use for any online purchase. As long as you are within the state lines where the online sportsbook is licensed, your balance will be available to bet with almost instantly.
If you are not comfortable with this process or do not want to see gambling deposits on your bank statement, then there are many safe alternatives.
You can deposit with cash in many states.
First, you can make a trip to the casino cage of the license holding casino or sportsbook.
Some sites welcome PayNearMe deposits. With this, you take cash to your local 7-Eleven store, along with a barcode from the sportsbook.
Third-party wallet systems are another way to feel secure while making an online sportsbook deposit.
These services include PayPal (Skrill and Neteller are alternatives). Here, you use an online wallet account as a secure bridge between your bank and the sports betting sites.
More prominent online sportsbooks will offer branded debit cards. You will need to apply for these separately from your main account registration. You can fund your card using your regular credit or debit cards, then use the branded debit card for deposits and withdrawals.
There are also bank transfer options, including bill pay, ACH (e-checks) or even wires available.
As long as the sports betting site is licensed and legal in your state, then deposits and withdrawals will be safe.
Compare bonus offers at safe online sportsbooks
Even among the reputable, safe online sports betting sites, there are significant differences in the quality of their bonus offers and promotions.
You’ll find deposit bonuses look similar at first. When you dig into the terms, though, these can look different. Checking those terms, and finding the best bonus deals, only takes a few minutes.
Here are some things to look out for:
- Matched Deposit Bonuses: Compare the number of times you need to bet (playthrough) the bonus before it can release into your cash balance. The best books offer 1x, while between 5x and 20x is common.
- Risk-Free First Bets: Some sportsbooks return losing first bets in cash, while more common is having this returned in betting credits. If you need to wager again to clear this bonus, then it is not 100% risk-free.
- Restrictions on Bonus Bets: Bonuses often specify minimum odds (for example, -200 or better) and have time limits, which mean futures bets are not possible.
With so much competition in regulated states, most bonus offers are easy to clear. It always pays to familiarize yourself with the fine print before you sign up.
Stay secure at online sportsbooks: Responsible gambling
A significant difference between secure, regulated sports betting sites and offshore ones is a real commitment to responsible gambling.
This process involves protecting minors and those bettors who may have gambling problems.
The usual format for state-regulated books is to have a badge or link at the top (and usually in the footer, too) of the site. The link takes you to an information page, which contains advice, information and tools.
You will need to be 21 years or older to bet in the state-regulated sportsbooks. Sportsbooks verify this by requiring the last four digits of your Social Security number as part of the registration process. Additional security or verification may be needed later on.
Here are the key elements of an excellent responsible gambling policy:
- Self-Assessment: This is for anyone that thinks they or someone they know may have a gambling problem. It involves a series of questions about gambling behavior and thinking.
- Links and Phone Numbers: National and local charities can assist with advice or counseling for anyone with gambling issues. Trusted online betting sites make sure they list contact details.
- Betting Limit Tools: You can set up betting limits, deposit limits and even limit the time on reputable sportsbooks.
- Timeout: Short term timeouts are useful if someone feels they need a break, for example, from chasing losses.
- Self-Exclusion: This capability is for bettors who need a more extended break. You’ll be able to exclude yourself for one to five years. In some cases, you need to opt back in after the self-exclusion period is up.
While most people can bet responsibly, these measures should be welcomed by everyone. By protecting those people that may develop gambling problems, the sports betting sites can stay safe and legal for all.
Always pick a safe betting site
With regulated, legal online sportsbooks rolling out in multiple states, the need to stray to the offshore, gray market is gone. This is good news for sports betting fans for many reasons.
First, the risk of non-payment of your winnings (or a site disappearing completely) has gone.
Second, you’ll be able to use a range of mainstream banking options for deposits and withdrawals.
Third, if you do have an issue with a safe online sportsbook, you have the opportunity to complain to your local gaming commission office.
Add to this that the biggest and best gambling software powers the state books, and you’ll see that choosing a legit betting site is a win-win situation.