Gambling is an activity that is both enjoyable and fraught with danger to the unwary player. In fact, the danger is, in itself, part of the fun. With money involved, the game becomes meaningful and a boon to adrenaline junkies of all stripes.
But the dangers involved, especially the possibility of compulsive behavior, make it a controversial enterprise. With all the inherent dangers of bankruptcy and addiction, it’s no surprise that gambling activity is illegal in many jurisdictions. The alternative, a compromise of sorts, is to highly regulate the industry in order to make it safer for players.
The days of “fixed” roulette wheels and loaded dice are mostly a thing of the past. Mostly.
If you play in a brick-and-mortar casino, it’s relatively easy to verify (in person) the legitimacy of a casino. But when you’re playing at casinos online, with their limited interfaces (all interactions proceed through the online sites), you face a unique challenge.
Here are some tips for keeping your online gaming activities safe.
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Dangers of Online Play vs Physical Casinos
One aspect involved in the honesty of an online casino is whether or not the software has been programmed to reflect the true odds of the casino game you’re playing. In a physical casino, you have physical objects: 6-sided dice, roulette wheels, decks of cards.
Software programs obscure this. It’s hard to be sure that your chances of rolling snake eyes in a game of virtual craps are the same as the chances with physical, non-weighted dice. Fortunately, many reputable casino gaming software manufacturers have foreseen this problem and work to make certain their games are fair.
But if casinos exist to make money off of gambling, why would they have any interest in fair play?
The Casino’s Point of View
Most online casinos are actually interested in making the games fair. They welcome regulation. Casinos make their money based on the sheer volume of customers. A player may hit the jackpot occasionally on a virtual slot machine, but most players don’t, and when the odds are set within a regulatory framework, casinos make huge profits overall.
But if gamblers believe a casino to be crooked and the games to be rigged then they will steer clear. Fewer customers mean fewer profits. Consequently, Internet casino operators usually prefer to operate above board.
Some casino software manufacturers, such as Microgaming and Real Time Gaming, use companies that audit and rate their products in order to make sure they function appropriately. These companies then leverage their high audit ratings to establish a reputation as trusted and secure software manufacturers.
Another way in which online casinos strive to keep their gaming fair is to subject themselves to a regulatory body, one usually located in the country where the casino’s physical servers reside. This allows them to have a legal framework within which to operate. Additionally, reputable online casinos will offer easily accessible customer service for players to address any concerns that might come up.
Beware of Rogue Casinos
Despite the obvious upside to running a well-regulated and audited online casino, not all operators approach the industry this way. For some casino operators, their reputation for legitimacy is a minor concern.
If an online casino gains a reputation for questionable results or not paying out your winnings, it can simply fold up shop and reopen again under a different name. These rogue casinos operate from a fly by night principle where immediate profits trump all other considerations.
Online casinos are not the only culprits engaged in questionable practices. Beware of casinos that operate on cruise ships, for example. Often they do not have any legal regulatory body that has jurisdiction over them. While stumbling across rogue casinos, whether the online or physical variety, is a real danger, most casinos strive to provide safe and fair gaming for their customers.
Steps to a Safe Online Gaming Experience
Fortunately, online gamers have recourse to certain practices to make sure that their gaming experience is safe and fair. Before signing up to play at an online casino, take these steps, and you will be okay:
• Determine which software manufacturer powers the casino. If you’ve never heard of the software provider, do some research before signing up and make sure you can answer the following questions. Do other casinos use this software? How long has the company been providing software? Does the software manufacturer use a separate company to audit its software?
Many online casinos use the same software manufacturers because they have a well established reputation. Some software manufacturers with sterling reputations are Microgaming, Net Ent, Playtech, Real Time Gaming (aka RTG) and BetSoft.
• Learn what regulatory body oversees the casino. This information should be readily available including which country the online casino operates from. One jurisdiction that has been questionable in the past due to lax gambling regulations is Costa Rica. However, there has recently been a push there to strengthen regulations for online gaming.
• Check to see what customer service options are available. It has become an industry standard to provide 24/7 customer service with either a 1-800 hotline or an online chat option, or both. If you can’t easily locate the customer service options, beware.
• Confirm what payment options the casino offers for both deposits and, more importantly, withdrawals. In addition to making sure the payment options are compatible with your available means, also determine what kind of turnaround the casino offers for withdrawals of winnings.
• Read the fine print regarding introductory bonuses. It’s a common practice to offer perks for customers signing up with an online casino. But the bonuses offered usually, even in the most legitimate online casinos, come with a set of requirements in order to earn those bonuses. Be sure that the way to earn your bonus is consistent with your playing style and needs.
• Make sure that any deposits and withdrawals you make involve encrypted software. You also want to make sure that your personal information is kept secure by the casino. While this is not the purview of the online casino, whether legitimate or not, you are also well advised to connect to the Internet using a secure network. Logging on from publicly provided Wi-Fi spots is not a good idea when doing any kind of financial transactions over the Internet.
A Special Note for Gamers in the United States
Even if a casino is operating honestly, there are unique issues for players inside the US. Currently, online gambling is only regulated in a few states–New Jersey, Delaware, and, to a limited extent, Nevada. As a result, many Internet casinos do not allow players from inside the US. Those who do may offer only the most convoluted ways to cash in your winnings.
The federal government in the US is more concerned with stopping illegal online gambling on the casino and financial end and not so much on the player’s end. But even if you’re in no danger of prosecution, the government can (and has) frozen accounts for players in the US–making it impossible to cash in their winnings.
Remember, gambling safely online does not mean you have to avoid making risky plays, such as betting on doubles at virtual craps or putting all of your money on black at a roulette table. It does mean becoming aware of the environment you are entering into and making sure you have some recourse to a gaming authority if problems arise.
The world of Internet gaming has been going strong for the past couple of decades, so it isn’t as much like the Wild West as it may once have been, but rogue casinos still lurk in the darkest corners of the Internet. Follow these steps, and you should have a safe and secure gambling experience.