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Last Updated: March 27, 2007

Basic Online Gambling Information

Introduction

If you have never gambled online you are probably bewildered by how to get started. Online gambling is still a very young industry and as such the test of time has yet to root out many of the less reputable casinos. The good and the bad are still fiercely elbowing each other for market share. So choose where to play carefully. I have some tips below which may help you.

You are probably also wondering if the games are fixed. At one point I said emphatically not. On average the casinos keep about 75% of money deposited so they shouldn't need to cheat. However I have heard complaint after complaint of extremely bad luck from playing at some non-licensed casinos that use no-name Java software. I do believe that the vast majority of online casinos play fair but am suspicious of a small minority. As you hop from one web site to another of the online casinos it may seem arbitrary about choosing one to play at. Let me help by saying that quality counts. Take a close look at their web site or the free games. If they seem like a professional organization chances are better that they are. Finally trust your gut. If you get a bad feeling about a place then resist playing there, even if you can't explain to yourself the exact reason.

The Basics of Playing

There are two ways you can go in terms of actually gambling online, Java and downloadable software. Java offers almost immediate playing but downloadable software offers better sound and graphics. Personally I find downloadable software to be much more enjoyable and faster but I respect the opinion of those who prefer Java. About half of the casinos with downloadable software also offer a free CD version. Once you have the software installed (unless with a Java based casino) the next step is to open an account. This is sometimes done on the casino web site and sometimes through the software. Then you must put some into your account. The vast majority of the time this is done with a credit (or debit) card. Other options include Western Union and bank wire transfers but both of these necessitate substantial fees, which many online casinos will credit back to your account. Beware that some credit cards will treat deposits to an online casino as a cash advance. If this happens then you may have success in arguing the charge but many credit cards have a flat policy that a purchase of casino chips counts as a cash advance. I recommend using debit cards instead, there is never a cash advance fee and the transactions are posted faster.

Once you have money in your account you may then begin to play. Be sure to check the rules first, many online casinos favor European rules which can be different that U.S. rules. This can be good or bad depending on the particular rule. As you play I would suggest documenting everything you do. Personally I use graph paper to keep a running track of my bankroll and the total amount bet.

If you plan to return in the near future do not cash out, just leave your money in your account. When you do cash out the chips will be converted to cash and credited back to your credit card, up to the amount of the initial purchase. If you have a net win then the winnings will have to be sent another way, usually by check. Most places will send winnings for free but others will subtract a finance charge.

The Pros and Cons of Online Casino Gambling

There can be no debate that online gambling is a lot different than gambling in a physical casino. In some ways it is better and in some ways it is worse. Below are my pros and cons of online gambling, based on my personal experiences, compared to gambling in a "real" casino.

The Pros

  1. Online gambling is a competitive business and many casinos will offer a lot to get and keep your business. Many will offer sign-up bonuses to new customers, adding 10 to 50% of their initial deposit to their bankroll (see below for more on this subject). Some will randomly deposit money in customer accounts and others will give away vacations for specified levels of total money bet.
  2. The rules are usually better than in physical casinos.
  3. You don't have to travel long distances. The casino is in your own home.
  4. You don't have to suffer real casino annoyances, like smokers.
  5. You don't have to feel obligated to tip.

The Cons

  1. You have to be patient about getting your money after you cash out. In addition to waiting periods on the casino end there are also delays on the credit card end. Two to four weeks is the norm for the time between cashing out and your credit appearing back on your credit card. Debit cards are much faster taking only about 3 to 5 business days.
  2. Customer service can be spotty depending on where you play. Some places offer great service via e-mail and a toll-free number. Others take several days to reply to an e-mail, have no known telephone number, and generally seem like they just don't want to be bothered aside from taking your money.
  3. The player has no power or authority to turn to in the event of a dispute. Usually in the player agreement it says the casino can make up the rules as they go and in the event of a dispute the casino's word is final.
  4. If you play at a lot of places your credit/debit card statement will be a nightmare to balance. Transactions seldom indicate the name of the casino you played at but instead specify the merchant bank.

What is Expected of the Player

One of the biggest problems facing the online gambling business is abuse by players. At the annual industry meeting in Montreal there was just as much, if not more, discussion about this issue than the future legality of online gambling. This is a very legitimate concern because there are a lot of people seeking to defraud the industry.

Although online gambling is a very competitive business when it comes to player abuse the industry feels so strongly that the online casinos help to protect each other. Specifically negative databases, or blacklists, of players suspected of fraud or abuse are shared among the online casinos. According to Julie Sidwell of Gambling Grumbles the typical reasons for being blacklisted are:

  1. Disputing charges
  2. Threatening to dispute charges
  3. Using someone else's credit card
  4. Manipulation of gaming software
  5. Opening more than one account per household or computer

Of these disputing and threatening to dispute charges are the biggest problem the industry faces. The industry term for this is a charge back. This will get a player blacklisted very quickly. Multiple accounts per household or computer I believe is only frowned on if multiple bonuses are given to the same household or same e-mail address. In addition Julie Sidwell says that at least two negative databases track bonus abusers, or player who only play during bonus promotions.

Once the player is on the blacklist they will likely be unwelcome at every casino that the list is shared with. It is like a bad credit rating or a police record, it follows you wherever you go. Placement on a blacklist is not always justified and once on it there is no authority to appeal to for removal.

Doing business in the unregulated world of the Internet is risky for both player and casino. For this reason there seems to be an unwritten code of honor expected of players. Players do not have the liberty of parsing the rules in a legalistic manner and doing whatever they please that is not listed as prohibited behavior. In the absence of a higher authority to regulate the business, players are held accountable to an implied good faith contract. Remaining above reproach and avoiding any appearance of questionable behavior is important for longevity as a player.

Playing for Bonuses

To attract your business many casinos will add a bonus to your initial deposit, usually 10% but I have seen it go as high as 100%. When you accept a bonus you are usually required to meet a certain level of betting action to cash out the bonus. I have seen the total amount bet required range from three times the deposit (Pinnacle Sportsbook) to 40 times the sum of the deposit plus the bonus (Connecto Casino). Read the rules carefully before you start playing. After opening an account wait at least 15 minutes for any welcome e-mail to come in. Sometimes this e-mail will indicate different rules than what the web site says about earning a bonus. Assume that you have to meet the more stringent of the conditions. Regardless of what the rules are you should more than exceed them. If pressed for specifics I would say play at least 50% more than required but 100% or more is better. Some online casinos claim, and exercise, the right to deny bonuses to customers they feel are in it only for the bonus, as opposed to the enjoyment of the casino. Finally I would be suspicious of casinos that you have never opened an account with who send unsolicited bonus offers.

Choosing Where to Play

There are a lot of online casinos to choose from, about 400 they say, and to the beginner it may seem confusing telling them apart. Some important things to consider are:

  1. Is there a sign-up bonus? If so how much?
  2. How are the rules? This can vary a lot in games like blackjack and video poker.
  3. Are there transaction fees? If so how much?
  4. Is there a phone number you can call? Is it toll free? If you call, is the line busy?
  5. Is the casino licensed?
  6. Is there information available about who owns and operates the casino?
  7. Who provides the software? Is it a reliable name, or some mystery no-name company?

Do not expect any casino to score an A+ in all these categories. Consider the total package and use your best judgement.

Legality

On October 13th, 2006 the Unlawful Internet Gambling and Enforcement Act was signed into law by George W. Bush as an unrelated add-on to the SAFE Port Act of 2006 . Since then many Internet casinos have closed the accounts of American players, as well as Neteller, the main payment processor for U.S. players.

A good source for following news regarding Internet gambling in the U.S. is at CasinoListings.com .