How Social Casinos Navigate Legal Constraints in the US

Date IconLast Updated: Nov 29th, 2023
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How Social Casinos Navigate Legal Constraints in the US

You can play social casino games online and win virtual currency, merchandise and sometimes cash prizes from virtually any US state. Despite the lack of real-money gambling laws in certain states, social and sweepstakes casinos offer a legitimate alternative to people across the US. To find out why social casinos are legal in the US and where you can play sweepstakes games, scroll down now.

What are Social Casinos and Sweepstakes Casinos?

Social casinos are gaming sites that offer free-to-play games. Although real-money US casinos also offer free games, they’re slightly different. Free games at a real-money casino are, essentially, a prelude to their cash-based counterparts. That’s why they’re known as demo games. They’re a demonstration of what to expect when you play for real-money prizes.

Free games at social casinos are the main event. You play using an onsite currency known as Gold Coins. You can win Gold Coins and use them to unlock special features, such as rewards and extra games. Social casinos give you free Gold Coins when you join and at regular intervals as an existing customer. This means they’re 100% free to use at all times. 

The other aspect of social casinos that’s important to discuss is Sweeps Coins. Social casinos that offer Sweeps are classed as Sweepstakes Casinos. These platforms are a subset of social casinos with the added benefit of offering prizes that have real-world value. You can unlock these prizes using Sweeps Coins. 

How do you get Sweeps? You can either win them by playing games or get them as a bonus when you purchase Gold Coins. Now, for the record, it’s important to note that you don’t have to purchase Gold Coins. However, the option is there if you want to and, as a nice little bonus, you’ll get some Sweeps Coins. Accumulate enough Sweeps and you’ll be able to exchange them for prizes, including vouchers, cash payments, and cryptocurrency. 

Basically, what you’ve got here is a system through which you can play casino games for free but still win cash prizes. This is perfectly legal in the US thanks to state-based sweepstakes laws. Therefore, in places where you can’t access real-money casinos, it’s still possible to play for prizes in a safe and legal way.

How Do Laws Apply to Social Casinos in the US?

US online casino laws are state-based, which means you might not have access to real-money gaming platforms where you live. At the start of 2024, real-money online casino gaming was legal in these states:

  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Michigan
  • New Jersey
  • Pennsylvania
  • West Virginia

More states are likely to regulate real-money casinos in the coming months and years but, in lieu of that, you can use social and sweepstakes casinos. Sweepstakes casinos are governed by various agencies in the US, including the Department of Justice. Laws are also state-based, and you won’t be able to use these sites/apps if you’re in Washington State, Idaho, or Nevada.

Every other state allows sweepstakes casinos, as long as they comply with these laws:

  • The platform and its games must be free to use. 
  • There must be a free, alternative means of entry (AMOE).
  • Entry and eligibility requirements must be clearly outlined on the site/in the app.
  • A player’s chances of winning and/or a game’s RTP must be disclosed.
  • The rules on how to win prizes and exchange sweeps must be clearly advertised.
  • Start and end dates for competitions must be clear (e.g. Jan 1 to Dec 31).

As long as these conditions are met, in addition to any other laws outlined by the state, sweepstakes casinos are legal gaming entities.

What are the Differences Between Online Casinos and Social Casinos?

Online casinos allow you to make real-money bets and win cash prizes, social casinos don’t. It’s really that simple. However, in the interests of completeness, here’s a round-up of the specific differences between real-money and social casinos:

Free Play

You can access free-to-play games at online and social casinos. The former offer demo games that give you a taste of what to expect when you switch over to their real-money counterparts. Social casinos only offer free-to-play games. You wager Gold Coins with no real-world value. You also have the opportunity to collect Sweeps Coins that can be exchanged for prizes, such as cash vouchers. 

Real Money Play

Real-money play is the act of making cash wagers on slots, table games, and anything else a casino offers. Making real-money bets allows you to win cash prizes within the games you’re playing. You can only make these types of bets at licensed US online casinos. 

Age Requirements

Real-money online casinos are governed by US gambling laws. That means the minimum age for online casino gaming is 21. In contrast, because social casinos don’t offer real-money games, they don’t fall under the same laws. As such, you can use social and sweepstakes if you’re 18. The exceptions to this rule are New Jersey and Connecticut, where the minimum age is 21.

Different Legal Constraints

Online casinos must be licensed by the state they wish to operate in. Each state has its own laws that govern how games are offered, taxes are collected, and payments are processed. It’s a similar story for social and sweepstakes casinos. There are overarching laws, the main one being that games have to be free. However, you’ll also find certain nuances in each state. For example, the maximum prize value for sweeps competitions in New York is $5,000.

What Does the Future Hold for Social Casinos?

States across the US have been seeking to clarify the federal laws surrounding social casinos for many years. A recent case in Washington, a state where sweepstakes casinos aren’t legal, ruled in favor of defendants suing a company that, in their view, offered social games. Had this lawsuit been filed in another state, it would have been dismissed on the grounds that social casinos are legal. 

This lack of consistency is why states are seeking federal clarification on the legal status of social and sweepstakes gaming platforms. This could lead to federal regulations in the future. For now, these casinos are legal in virtually every US state except Washington, Idaho, and Nevada. So, if you want a safe, legitimate way to play online casino games and win prizes in your state, social casinos are a great option.

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