Bovada launched in 2011 as a US-facing online poker room, casino, and sportsbook. It’s a spin-off from the once hugely popular gambling website Bodog, though the two gambling companies no longer have anything to do with each other. Bovada.lv remains a popular choice for US-based online sports betting and casino and poker play.
It’s difficult to answer the question of legality when it comes to offshore gambling sites.
Is Bovada legal in the US?
The simplest answer is “No.”
I can point to several US laws to back up my opinion. It’s clearly illegal to place a wager on a sporting event or the outcome of a casino game through an offshore site.
But I think asking if Bovada is “legal” is asking the wrong question.
In this post, I’ll share what I’ve learned about Bovada by researching the question of their legality. I’ll spend a little time detailing US gambling law and the question of whether playing at Bovada is legal or not, then go into detail about the company, its gaming licensure, and its operations.
US Gambling Law and How It Relates to Bovada
Some people think that because Bovada’s headquarters are offshore (meaning not on American soil) that means you can place bets with them legally. That’s not exactly true. However, just because it is technically illegal to bet with Bovada doesn’t mean you can’t do it.
Here’s a quick guide to a few of the laws that make it clear that offshore gambling isn’t legal, as well as some thoughts on why you’re safe placing bets with Bovada.lv.
The Wire Act
The Interstate Wire Act of 1961 is the big factor in determining if Bovada is legal or not. This law prohibits operating gambling businesses outside of an explicitly legal marketplace. The law says that “the placing of bets or wagers on any sporting event” is illegal. There’s been some movement at the federal level recently regarding the Wire Act, clarifying (among other things) that the federal government isn’t out to get gamblers who place offshore bets. Instead, the focus of this law (and all US gambling law) is on illegal betting providers, not on your Aunt Edna who likes to play mobile slots for real money. This law does, however, mean that Bovada is breaking the law by providing the bets to you. Clearly, the Wire Act states that bets at Bovada are illegal.
The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act
Known as the UIGEA, this is the biggest addition to American gaming law in the past few decades. The UIGEA makes it illegal for credit card companies and banks to process gambling payments specifically to offshore entities. Again, this makes depositing and withdrawing funds to and from Bovada illegal, but not really for the bettor. The financial institutions processing your payments are on the hook, not you. Yes, the UIGEA does make certain aspects of Bovada illegal, but it won’t put you in the crosshairs of the long arm of the law.
Consequences of Betting with Bovada
So, what could happen if a person were caught betting at Bovada?
There’s no mechanism by which the US government can prosecute you for placing a mobile bet on the Super Bowl or pulling a digital slot machine arm. The government has never prosecuted someone for the crime of illegal betting with an offshore sportsbook or casino and based on statements by various Attorneys General and Departments of Justice, no entity in America seems interested in beginning to do so.
If you think about this issue from the perspective of the federal government, it makes sense that they would go after illegal providers rather than individual bettors. My $50 NFL bet isn’t doing much harm, and it doesn’t provide much opportunity for property seizure. The government would do much better to go after the guy providing me the bets – he has a bigger pool of cash and is potentially committing more egregious crimes that will stand up in court.
When people ask me if it’s legal to bet at Bovada or any other US-facing offshore casino or sportsbook, I point out that most people do illegal things every day. Have you ever taken the carpool lane with nobody else in the car? Have you ever gone over the speed limit? Have you ever left a case of water on the bottom of your grocery basket and “forgot” to pay for it? If you answered “Yes” to any of those questions, you just committed a more serious crime than you would placing a bet with Bovada.
Bovada’s Gaming License
Gambling commissions are special jurisdictions around the world that are able to issue gaming licenses, regulate gaming, and make decisions about who can and cannot operate casinos, sportsbooks, and poker rooms. Businesses that want to take bets go before these commissions and provide business plans, data, and access to financial records. Gambling commissions have to decide which of these businesses are allowed to operate.
Another important role these commissions play is monitoring – looking for issues in compliance with existing gaming laws. When an online sportsbook or casino holds a valid gaming license from one of these commissions, customers can trust that someone is looking through the books to ensure fair play.
For years, Bovada’s gaming license was issued by a tiny Canadian territory called Kahnawake. That relationship dissolved in 2016, and nearly five years passed before Bovada.lv regained licensure from any regulating body. In 2021, Bovada announce licensure through Curacao eGaming. The Curacao eGaming regulatory body made a deal with Bovada (and other names from the Bodog umbrella) and is meant to be watching over their operations.
Is licensure from Curacao eGaming a sign of legitimate operation? Not necessarily. The truth is, no US-facing sportsbook or casino site holds what might be considered a truly legitimate gaming license. That’s because US law is very particular about online gambling, even offshore-based betting. No legitimate licensing body will do business with a site that exclusively does business with US customers.
Essentially, a Curacao eGaming license is a way of “going through the motions,” giving customers some sense of trust.
Understand, though, that holding or not holding a gaming license isn’t necessarily a sign of legitimate operations. Full Tilt Poker, infamous for illegally seizing their customer’s funds, was in full compliance with a legit regulatory body at the time. Plenty of sites that aren’t regulated have long histories of good customer service.
Don’t look past Bovada.lv just because of the Curacao eGaming license – but continue to be careful, betting only money you can afford to lose, and approaching all bonus offers and deal with a little skepticism and a lot of fine print reading.
Bovada’s Customer Restrictions
Bovada refuses business from customers living in New Jersey, New York, Maryland, Delaware, and Nevada. That list of states is very telling.
All five of those states have existing state-licensed sports betting programs. Nevada, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland have been in the business of licensing their own sports betting operations for years now, and New York is just beginning its own sportsbook platform, including mobile betting options. These existing sportsbook regulations get in the way of Bovada’s business with state residents, so to avoid any kind of repeat of Black Friday, they voluntarily pulled out of those markets.
In some ways, the fact that Bovada restricts business from these 40 million potential customers is a good sign. They’re doing everything they can to work within the confines of a very restrictive legal landscape. It also shows that the operators of the site are keeping up with changes to US gambling law.
Bovada’s Available Markets
I took a quick trip over to Bovada.lv to browse their available bets. Here’s a breakdown of what’s available as of my visit this morning.
The available markets are seasonal, for obvious reasons. As of this morning, you could place bets on MLB, G-league basketball, Olympics, tennis, UFC/MMA, soccer, and a long list of niche sports. The Olympics options are robust compared to some other US-facing sites, with a long blend of props and straight up wagers covering every possible sport. Browsing through the more niche sport offerings, which are more limited by nature, I see things like rugby, snooker, water polo, and eSports. The book has a clean modern design, it’s easy to navigate, and I can switch between odds styles and currencies from any page with a convenient little box at the bottom of the screen.
Running on RTG software, Bovada’s casino hosts 27 table games, 100 slots, and 8 video poker games. There’s a live dealer section which offers 32 different games and dealers.
Bovada hosts classic games Texas hold’em and Omaha as well as more modern versions Fast-Fold and Jackpots. It’s the most popular site for US poker players and is home to a huge variety of tournaments, so there’s lots of traffic. Cash games start at $0.02/$0.05 and go up to $10/$20 for six-max and full-ring.
You can bet on races at 34 tracks around the world at Bovada’s racebook. Stake range is from $1 up to $2,000, with props and exotics capped at $200.
Conclusion – Is Bovada Legal?
You don’t need to worry about US gambling law before you decide to do business with Bovada.lv or any other US-facing offshore betting website. Let Bovada worry about the legal ramifications of their business. You can place your bets in peace, without fear of Johnny Law showing up with a notepad and a head full of questions.
It is not explicitly legal to place bets with Bovada, but there’s no way that you’re breaking a specific law and can be prosecuted just for making an offshore bet as an American citizen.