Cryptocurrency Gambling and the law — A Global Guide

by Ciaran McEneaney - Sunday, December 12th, 2021 9:01


legal cryptocurrency gambling

When the first Bitcoin was mined, the excitement around the very idea of a decentralized digital currency was palpable. This was particularly true in the iGaming industry where the possibilities of a truly decentralized currency were seemingly endless.

But it’s been over a decade since Satoshi Nakamoto mined the Genesis Block and while a number of industries have embraced cryptocurrencies wholeheartedly, introducing a decentralized currency into iGaming hasn’t been quite as easy as we first assumed.

This is in most part down to the rather standoff approach that many governments have taken towards Bitcoin and its counterparts. In fact, in many jurisdictions, there is no specific legislation that deals with cryptocurrencies in any shape or form, much less regulatory guidelines on legal cryptocurrency gambling.

Online gambling operators who are considering accepting crypto are left with quite a lot of questions.

  • Does accepting it through an online casino or sportsbook come with the same restrictions and responsibilities as accepting local currencies?
  • Do traditional gambling licenses cover the use of crypto?
  • Are transactions between cryptocurrency exchanges and gambling platforms legal?

While the answers to these questions may seem like common sense, the speed with which financial rules and regulations are changing lately means that when it comes to cryptocurrency gambling, nothing is straightforward.

With this in mind, we decided to take a look at the current state of affairs across the globe. Bear in mind that as this is an ever changing landscape, we will update the information here as and when regulatory changes take place.

Cryptocurrency gambling around the world

Legal cryptocurrency gambling in any specific country or jurisdiction requires two things:

  • Legislation that allows online gambling
  • No ban on the use of cryptocurrencies

However, even though a country may meet both of these criteria, that doesn’t necessarily mean that legal cryptocurrency gambling takes place there.

As mentioned earlier, the ambiguity that governments have approached cryptocurrencies with in recent years puts many countries in a grey area. While there may be no specific prohibitions against crypto gambling, operators may be reluctant to embrace something that their government may prohibit at any point in the near future.

For this reason, we will only list countries and jurisdictions below that have made their stance on either the use of cryptocurrency or gambling with cryptocurrency quite clear.

Africa

According to the latest data published by the Law Library of Congress, there are as many as 25 countries with absolute or implicit bans on the use of cryptocurrencies.

The list includes Egypt, Cameroon, Algeria, and Libya among others.

As it stands, South Africa is the only country that has both a legal online gambling industry and allows the use of cryptocurrencies. That said, it does not have any actual legislation regarding cryptocurrency gambling.

Another country that is in a similar situation is Ghana as the government is currently researching all aspects of the use of cryptocurrency in the economy. There are several Bitcoin casinos operating in the country already and it’s likely that any positive feedback from government research will result in a regulated market.

Asia

Much like Africa, there are many countries in Asia that have placed an outright ban on the use of cryptocurrencies and/or online gambling with China chief among them. The recent crackdown by the Chinese government on illegal online casinos that targeted Chinese residents does not bode well for any hope that online gambling in Hong Kong or Macau might ride out the storm and be allowed to continue without regulation.

In India, the two states of Sikkim and Nagaland issue licenses for online casinos and sportsbooks, but elsewhere the industry is largely unregulated. Recent news suggests that private cryptocurrencies will be banned as the nation’s own digital currency is launched. Even with a ban on Bitcoin et al., the introduction of an Indian cryptocurrency would suggest that gambling with crypto will be allowed in those states with regulated markets.

There are hopes that Japan may allow online gambling now that it has passed casino legislation, but this would be a long way off in the future.

Europe

There are a number of countries in Europe that allow gambling with cryptocurrencies.

These are:

  • Malta
  • Estonia
  • Germany
  • Finland
  • Denmark
  • United Kingdom (including Isle of Man)
  • Gibraltar
  • Switzerland
  • Norway
  • Sweden

The majority of countries in Europe allow both online gambling and the use of cryptocurrencies although only those countries listed above have specifically noted that gambling with crypto is legal and, as such, regulated by the local gambling authority.

Some regulators will issue specific licenses for crypto gambling operators although the majority will allow operators to accept crypto while operating under a traditional gambling license. However, they must adhere to specific regulations regarding cryptocurrencies.

North America

Let’s begin with Canada where sports betting in particular is flourishing thanks to the recent legalization of single event sports betting. The use of cryptocurrency is allowed in the country, but it’s important to note that it is not considered legal tender. Cryptocurrencies are regulated as securities instead.

Despite this, there are quite a few online casinos and gambling operators that allow players to make payments using Bitcoin.

The United States is coming into its own in recent years with the huge number of sports betting bills pushed through in various states. To see where each state stands with regards to legislation, you can check out our USA sports betting tracker.

Unfortunately, online poker and casino gaming isn’t getting quite as much attention from lawmakers and it could be some time before we see too much movement by states in this regard.

When it comes to crypto gambling, most states treat it much the same as they do any form of online gambling. In other words, if online gambling is permitted in the state then the chances are that crypto gambling will also be allowed. However, with very few states specifically mentioning crypto in their gambling legislation, it’s still something of a grey area.

Despite the US Supreme Court striking down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) on May 14th, 2018, it took a full three years before a state made any provisions for deposits made using cryptocurrency in its sports betting legislation.

This happened in August 2021, when the state of Wyoming passed sports betting legislation that specifically approved the use of cryptocurrency as a deposit method.

As it stands Wyoming is the only state with this type of legislation. However as more states establish sports betting markets and eventually push through iGaming bills, we could see more specific mentions of cryptocurrency in future gambling legislation.

South America

While many nations in South America have been quick to embrace the use of cryptocurrencies, none that have regulated online gambling industries have specific legislation or regulations relating to crypto gambling.

However, this also means that it is not expressly prohibited according to law. For this reason, operators in many markets will allow deposits made using cryptocurrency.

As the crypto industry evolves across the continent, we expect to see more regulation introduced which could, in turn, affect gambling activities.

Oceania

Gambling laws in New Zealand prohibit local gambling operators from offering online gambling products. However, locals can gamble on international sites that allow registrations from New Zealand. This is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.

What this means is that while there is no local regulation, locals can use international platforms that allow deposits made using cryptocurrencies.

Australia is a little different. Online sports betting is allowed but online casino gaming is prohibited. Unlike New Zealand, Australia’s Interactive Gambling Act also bans international operators from targeting Australian players. This means that the only legal option for local gamblers are licensed Australian sports betting operators. Unfortunately, none of these currently allow crypto deposits.

Ciaran McEneaney

Ciaran has a decade of experience writing for some of the biggest names in the eSports, poker, and casino industries.