All about online gambling
My recommended casino: Bodog
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. To play with real money, you make a deposit with a service like eWalletXpress, which is kind of like PayPal for online casinos. At most casinos you can either download their special software to play the games, or play the Flash versions right in your web browser. (Bodog has a good selection of play-in-browser games, and you can play for free without risking any actual money.)
There are hundreds of online casinos, but almost all of them are based on one of a dozen or so software platforms (e.g., Microgaming, Playtech, Real Time Gaming), which is why you may notice striking similarities if you play at more than one casino. Most casino software won't run on Macs, but Bodog's play-in-browser games run fine under MacOS. There's more on this on our page about playing online with a Mac.
Are online casinos legal?
As Homer Simpson once said, "That's for the courts to decide." The short answer is that gambling online is perfectly legal for most U.S. players. What's not legal is for your bank to process online gaming transactions, but that's their problem, not yours. Our favorite writeup of this matter is from Casino Player magazine:
The bottom line, as we've been writing since 1997, is that if a U.S. resident wants to gamble online, he or she will be able to, despite any laws that Congress passes to prohibit the activity. It's clear the end user (the player) will not be prosecuted, and since most online gambling companies are located offshore and overseas, many by non-U.S. companies, the action will always be there for U.S. gamblers. [CP, Dec. 2002, p. 48]
Yes, that's dated 2002, and yes, there was a new law passed in 2006, but that law governs banks, not players. It does nothing to criminalize actually playing the games. So far as we know, nobody has ever been prosecuted under U.S. law for simply gambling at an online casino or poker room. The government's efforts so far have been directed at the businesses involved and not the individual players. In the press release for its "60 Minutes" Nov. 20, 2005 program on Internet gambling, CBS said, "U.S. authorities have never prosecuted individual bettors and don't plan to start."
Note that while federal law doesn't prohibit online gambling, your state law might. Gambling-Law-US.com examines the gambling laws in all the U.S. states. The Las Vegas Advisor has info about that too.
In any event, online gambling is already so common that it's unlikely that U.S. or state governments can do much to stop individuals from doing it. Online casinos are doing a brisk business with U.S. customers for this reason. For more on the legality of gambling online, see my longer article on the subject. Also, please note that I'm a layperson, not a lawyer, so god help you if you rely on this article as the final word on gambling law, rather than checking the laws in your jurisdiction or consulting an attorney.
Are online casinos honest?
Most casinos don't cheat because they'd make less money that way, because they'd never get any repeat business -- not to mention that getting a bad reputation in this business can easily kill an online operation. There's way more money to be made by dealing an honest game. A casino winds up making less money if it cheats, so cheating is rare. It's also hard to get away with, since watchdog mathematicians like the Wizard of Odds don't hesitate to call out casinos which don't deal a fair game.
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 so loophole to avoid paying he player at all. 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.
Fortunately there's an easy way to avoid getting burned online: Just play at a reputable casino. I recommend Bodog, 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. I also met with key Bodog staff in person, and they promised that if anyone who clicks over to Bodog from my site has a problem they can't resolve with Bodog, Bodog 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.
Please understand that I can try to help you if you ever have problems with Bodog, but if you play anywhere else, 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 in January 2007 and was able to successfully deposit at Bodog with several of them, but several were also rejected. Here are the results of my tests:
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, there are many services similar to PayPal that let you deposit money from a bank account or credit card. Not every casino accepts every service, though. Here's a list of the most popular service, with the ones accepted by Bodog listed in bold. For example, Bodog accepts eWalletXpress. They also take Western Union, though the process is a little more cumbersome. For more about all of this, see my separate page about how to get money into an online casino.
Okay, that's how you get money in. How do you get money out when you win big? Some casinos will pay out using one of those money-moving services listed above, or they'll send you a check in the mail. They might 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 or the Download version?
If you have a broadband connection and you generally play the same few games, Play-In-Browser is more convenient. (Here's a link to Bodog's play-in-browser games.) But if you have a slow connection then go for the download version, because then you only have to download the games once (rather than every time you play).
Auditing of Log Files
Online casinos know that many folks are distrustful of them, so many casinos have contracted with independent accounting or actuary firms to perform monthly reviews of their log files to verify their fairness. The best list we've found of casinos whose files are professionally reviewed is available at WinnerOnline While the fact that a casino's files is reviewed is not a guarantee that the casino is honest, we feel it's still a pretty good indicator.
It used to be that I'd only recommend casinos whose logfiles were audited, but I made an exception for Bodog. Basically, Bodog's reputation is already so good that they don't have to convince most prospective players that they're a legitimate outfit. Having logfiles audited is expensive, and Bodog probably feels, with good reason, that auditing would be a waste of money since their reputation is already well established. However, if you're playing for real money and you're not playing at Bodog, then I strongly recommend you go with a casino that has audited logfiles.
Online gambling is big business, and many casinos think nothing of selling your email address to other casinos. There are two ways to protect yourself here: The first is to simply pick a casino that doesn't sell you out to spammers. (Obviously Bodog doesn't share your address or I wouldn't have recommended them.) The other is to open a separate email account 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.
Casinomeister has a page about fighting casino spam.
Playing with a Macintosh
Here's a list of online casinos or software providers I recommend against:
Other sites which identify bad online casinos:
I hate to sound like a broken record, but I've spent a lot of time looking for the best place to play online for free, and that's Bodog. They're the only outfit I could find on the whole Internet that lets you play for free right away without having to register or give up your email address. All the other places force you to sign up so they can start badgering you by email to try to get you to deposit money. At Bodog you can play for free without any such nonsense.
And if you do want to play for real money, then Bodog is a safe place to do so. If you ever have a problem getting paid, Bodog has agreed to let me mediate -- though none of my readers has ever reported a problem in getting paid.
Of course I won't begrudge you if you want to do some more searching and test play at other online casinos on your own. Just remember that if you play somewhere else and then don't get paid, there's nothing I can do for you.
Call the 800-522-4700 hotline, and read this.
Also, know that Parkinson's drugs encourage gambling.