Online casinos let you play for real money, and most of them let you play for free with fake money, hoping you’ll decide to eventually gamble with real money. They offer traditional casino games like blackjack, craps, baccarat, roulette, slot machines, and even poker against other human players. At most casinos you can either download their special software to play the games, or play the Flash versions right in your web browser. (Bovada has a good selection of play-in-browser games, and you can play for free without risking any actual money.) To play with real money, you make a deposit with a credit card or by sending money with Western Union.
Is it legal to gamble online?
Pretty much. Playing online doesn’t break any (U.S.) federal laws. You might run afoul of state laws, but even there prosecution is rare, and in most states simple gambling is only a misdemeanor anyway. Legality aside, online gambling is already so common that the government can’t do much to stop it. Internet casinos are doing a brisk business with U.S. customers for this reason.
See my article “Is online gambling legal?” for more details.
Are online casinos honest?
Pretty much. Most casinos don’t cheat because if players lost their money too quickly they’d never return. Like every other operation, casinos depend repeat business. Also, it’s pretty easy for watchdog mathematicians like the Wizard of Odds to discover cheating by analyzing the results, and casinos who get caught cheating usually go out of business. So in short, there’s more money to be made by dealing an honest game. Just like land casinos, online casinos make their money from the fact that the odds are in their favor. They don’t have to cheat, they already have an edge.
Of course there are exceptions, like Casino Bar which had a crooked blackjack game. (They were quickly outed by the Wizard, and their business quickly dried up.) But cheating casinos are the exception and not the rule. In fact, the bigger problem with online casinos is that sometimes they take a long time to pay out a player’s winnings — or in the case of a big win they might try to claim some loophole to avoid paying the player altogether. And if this happens to you then you’re usually out of luck, since online gaming is largely unregulated and there’s no one you can complain to.
For this reason, it’s crucial to choose a reputable poker online casino. I like Bovada, because they’ve never failed to pay me, and payout complaints about them from my readers are exceptionally rare (and usually quickly resolved). Most other gambling websites promote a bunch of different casinos, but my philosophy is to just pick the best one I can find and promote them exclusively. Bovada has promised that if anyone who clicks over to Bovada from my site has a problem they can’t resolve, Bovada will allow me to try to mediate. Believe me, I wouldn’t offer this mediation service if I were receiving a significant number of complaints.
Of course, if you play anywhere else (or if you didn’t sign up with Bovada after clicking through from my site), then you’re on your own.
How do I buy chips and how do I get paid?
In the some cases you can easily by chips with a credit card, just by typing the number into the form on the casino site. That’s if your bank doesn’t block online gaming transactions. I tested about a dozen credit cards from various banks and was able to successfully deposit with several of them, but several were also rejected. Here are the results of my tests:
Bank of America (Visa)
Capital One (Visa)
Chase (Visa check card attached to checking account)
First Equity Card (Visa)
Washington Mutual (Visa)
Citibank (MasterCard; all flavors — Citibank, AT&T, Sears)
Chase (Visa; various flavors: Chase, Amazon, First USA, PayPal)
Curiously, though, I tried to repeat my test on the same day and none of the six cards would work.
If your credit card doesn’t work, you’ll probably have to send money through Western Union. Your particular casino might have other deposit options. Just call or email them and ask how to deposit.
Okay, that’s how you get money in, but how do you get money out when you win big? Most will send you a check in the mail, with a business name other than the name of the casion. They might also require that you fax them a copy of your ID before your first withdrawal. Don’t freak out, that’s just standard security protocol at most online gaming sites.
Should I download the software or use the Play-In-Browser version?
Download is usually better, because there’s a larger game selection, and the games load faster. But download isn’t an option for Macs, so on a Mac you’ll be playing the browser-based games, like those at Bovada.
By the way, if you play at multiple casinos, you might notice the games look the same. That’s because there are only around a dozen major software makers who provide the games to the thousands of online casinos.
Online gambling is big business, and many casinos think nothing of selling your email address to other casinos. Bovada doesn’t, so they’re safe. If you play elsewhere, use a separate email account just for your online gaming. If you start getting flooded with spam, just switch to another new account. This way your primary email account never gets spammed.