What Kinds of Bets Are Not Considered Gambling?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 15, 2021

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Is every bet gambling? No! Odd as it may seem, many kinds of bets are not considered gambling, at least in the law’s eyes, and so are not regulated in any way–which means you are free to make them. 

How do you determine if a bet is or is not gambling? Simple: if it doesn’t meet the criteria to be considered gambling, it is not gambling. To be considered gambling there must be all three of following: 

  • Consideration: something of value offered for the wager; 
  • Prize: something of value you can win; and 
  • Chance: some factor outside the bettor’s control which determines the outcome of the bet. 

If there is nothing at stake, it’s not gambling. You can say to your friend, “I bet the Yankees will win” and if you didn’t stake any money on the team winning and will not receive anything (other than bragging rights) if you were right, that’s not gambling. 

Bettor’s control of the outcome 

There are many bets for money which are not gambling because there is nothing outside the bettor’s control determining the outcome. 

“Proposition” bets are a common example of this. Say you bet your friend you can pull a table cloth out from a number of dishes without breaking anything. All that determines the result is the speed and steadiness of your hand; whether you succeed or fail depends on you, nobody else. There is no “chance” involved, so legally it’s not gambling. Betting you can bank a 3-pointer shot from beyond the three-point line, make a difficult pool shot, eat the jumbo “Dinosaur Burger” at local dinner by yourself, or fit an entire pizza slice in your mouth at once, are other examples of non-gambling bets. 

Betting your good buddy Sam you can beat him at darts or tennis or golf, those are also non-gambling bets. It comes down to your skill/strategies vs. his. But betting your friend Bob that your mutual friend Tom could beat him at darts, bowling, tennis, etc. would be gambling, because you are not the one playing, which means the outcome is beyond your control. That factor beyond your control equates to chance and makes the bet gambling. 

You can play chess with your neighbor John for money and that’s not gambling. Chess is 100% skill, without any random factor to it (i.e., no luck component). But playing backgammon for money, that is gambling, because the roll of the dice which determines how many pieces, how far, you can move is up to chance and beyond your control. (Admittedly, there is skill involved, in knowing the best move for any given board set-up and dice roll, but all the skill in the world will not make rolling a 2 and a 3 as useful as rolling double 6’s.) 

When you take the luck out of the bet and make it based solely on what you can or cannot do– that’s not gambling. 

Online bets 

Those bets placed on online activities–again, it comes down to control. Betting on chess or a head-to-head first person shooter game played over the internet, when you are one of the players? Not gambling. Betting on the outcome of someone else’s online game, or on an online game involving chance (e.g., where a random number generator determines the outcome), such as virtual roulette or blackjack? That’s gambling. 

Side bets 

The same principal applies to side bets–as long as the subject of that bet (the side bet) is under your control, it’s not gambling. But if the outcome of the side bet is not under your control, then it is gambling. Control–and a lack of factors outside your control–is the issue.

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