The United States people and their government have always had an ambivalent view of gambling, including lotteries, casino games, and betting on sports games. Even today, with gambling being legal in various states and Indian tribal areas, most people view the activity as either illegal or immoral. And the state of the law in regards to betting in any form just makes the situation even more difficult to unravel for the majority of people living in the US.
Throughout the history of the country, the legalization and criminalization of gambling has proceeded in cycles. First, no gambling is legal, but it is impossible to enforce such laws. Reforms are made to allow some types of games, which then leads to more liberalization of the laws and more types of betting becoming legal. Inevitably, corruption comes into the picture on a small scale, then on a large scale, and scandals become the focus of media attention. As a result, the reform is made back to all gambling being illegal.
This cycle has repeated numerous times in American history, and we are currently experiencing a third wave of legalization. This third wave started during the Great Depression as some states went from a complete ban on legal gambling to allowing certain types of betting on horse races and off track betting. Nevada also allowed casino gambling during the 1930s. The cycle picked up steam in the 1960s with the first state-sponsored lottery in New Hampshire and the promotion of legal casinos on Indian tribal lands.
Once the door was open to state lotteries, numerous types of gambling started to become legal and legitimate types of business, if not openly embraced and accepted in general. Governments started to allow different types of casino games and betting in order to generate tax revenue, and even participated in various plans to promote such lotteries and casinos. New Jersey allowed legal casinos in the 1970s, and Indian tribal lands gained the ability to create them during the 1980s.
In the early 1990s, Iowa allowed riverboat gambling, and then several more states allowed legal types of gambling. The point of no return had been reached, leading to the situation today: 48 out of the 50 states in the US allow some form of commercial gambling, and three out of the five territories owned by the government also allow it. The only two holdouts are Utah and Hawaii, and even Hawaii now allows social gaming, although it does not sponsor gambling at the state level.
The only real hurdle left to for the US to jump over is the legalization of offshore online casinos operating in the country. With literally thousands of different online gaming websites out there, most of them based in foreign countries, the worldwide trend is towards legalizing, licensing, and regulating gambling institutions, rather than just banning them or restricting trade. And it is probably only a matter of time before even these companies are legally allowed to operate in the United States of America.
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