All about Online Gambling

by Michael Bluejay • Last update: December 2022


Since this is a long article, let me summarize.

  1. Online gambling is legal in some states.  In most other states, the penalties are slight and enforcement is just about non-existent.
  2. Bovada takes players from most of the other states, if you decide to play anyway.  (Of course, I'm not encouraging you to break any laws.)
  3. Online casinos are generally honest, for a whole host of reasons, including that regulated casinos won't risk their license, and non-regulated casinos generally won't risk getting caught, outed, and having their business dry up.  Besides, they already have the edge, there's no reason to cheat.
  4. Sometimes you can deposit money with your credit card, but using Bitcoin or another cryptocurrency is more reliable.  Most unregulated casinos pay out with crypto, because banks won't handle their transactions.
  5. Use a separate, special email address for any online casino accounts you set up.  Many casinos sell customer addresses, and even some casinos which don't have had customer addresses hacked or stolen.
  6. Don't let multiple people in your household set up accounts, and don't let others play on their own accounts with your Internet connection.  The casino could accuse you of opening multiple accounts to claim their signup bonuses, and seize your winnings.

What is online casino gambling? How does it work?

My advertiser: Bovada Online Casino
Offers free-play with fake money, or true gambling
How to resolve disputes with casinos.
How to Play: Gambling Crash Course
Mac Users: How to run casino software

Online casinos have videogame-type representations of traditional casino games like blackjack, craps, roulette, slot machines, and even poker against other human players.  You can play for real money, though all casinos let you play their games with play money, hoping you'll decide to eventually gamble with real money.

At most casinos you can either download their special software to play the games, or play the instant 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.  If you see a registration box, you can close it and be able to play without registering.)  To play with real money, you make a deposit with a credit card or by doing a Bitcoin transfer.

Is it legal to gamble online?

It depends on your state.  Here's the summary:

  1. There's no federal law against gambling online.
  2. Most states prohibit gambling (online or offline), except at a regulated casino, in states that allow casinos.
  3. Even in states that outlaw gambling, penalties are often slight.  In eight states, jail isn't even possible.  In Arkansas, the penalty is a whopping $25.
  4. Even in states that have more serious penalties, prosecution is rare.  The last case I'm aware of for a player convicted of online gambling was way back in 2012, and that player got no jail time.  I actually offer a $100 reward for a report of any player going to jail for even one night for gambling online.
  5. Ten states (plus D.C.) have no law against online gambling.

See my article "Is online gambling legal?" for more details and the state-by-state rundown.

Are online casinos honest?

Rigged software is rare, for a number of reasons: 

  1. There's no point.  Casinos make their money on the house edge.  The odds are already in their favor, whether brick-and-mortar or online.  Casinos reliably make money on the games even when they're not fixed.  There's no point in cheating, they already have an edge.
  2. Cheating is counter-productive.  If players lose too quickly they won't return.  That's bad for business.  A casino wants players who lose slowly so they'll keep playing month after month.  Cleaning the players out rapidly ensures that the casino loses that player's business.  That would be stupid.  There's more money to be made by dealing an honest game.
  3. They could lose their license.  A licensed casino that was caught cheating could lose their license and be forced out of business.  As such, I'm unaware of any licensed online casino that's ever been caught cheating.
  4. Cheating is easy to detect.  It's trivial for mathematicians like the Wizard of Odds to discover cheating by analyzing the results of play, and the casinos know this.  They know they can't cheat secretly.
  5. Casinos that cheat go out of business.  The few casinos which cheat get outed by people like the Wizard, and get blacklisted at places like Casinomeister, and their business dries up.  The Wizard exposed Casino Bar for cheating over twenty years ago, resulting in their losing their existing customers and failing to attract new ones.  They had to close up shop.

It's not impossible for online casinos to cheat, but it's pretty rare.  And it's easy to avoid cheating casinos:

  1. If you're in a state that licenses casinos, just play at any licensed casino.  Licensed casinos are honest, as none of them will risk losing their license by cheating.
  2. In other areas, play at a casino with the best reputation.  For U.S. players, that means my advertiser Bovada.  I'm confident that Bovada's games are fair.  (They did have a problem many years ago with a vendor's games that had a bug, which is different from being rigged, and Bovada pulled the affected games after I alerted them.)

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 (like Betsoft and  That's another reason to play only at licensed casinos if possible.  Note also that casinos will deny payouts if they think you have multiple accounts.  (More on this below.)

How do I get money in and how do I get paid?

You can often make a casino deposit simply by using a credit card, just by typing the number into the form on the casino site.  That's hit or miss, because U.S. banks will block the transaction if they figure out it's for an online casino, but they often don't know that and the transaction sails through just fine.  I tested over a dozen cards and some worked and some didn't.  (Don't ask which ones worked, because what works and what doesn't is constantly changing, and also depends on the casino in question.)

If your credit card doesn't work, most casinos now accept Bitcoin, using a service like Bitstamp.  If you're unfamiliar with Bitcoin, it's basically a currency like dollars or Euros, but it exists only electronically; you don't hold physical Bitcoins in your hand.  The way it usually works is:

  1. You open an account with a Bitcoin service like Bitstamp.
  2. You transfer money from your bank account to Bitstamp (or competing service) to purchase Bitcoin. Some services let you buy with ac credit card.
  3. You send your Bitcoin to online merchants who accept them (like online casinos), electronically, through a web form.

You can also use Bitstamp or similar service to receive Bitcoin from others, such as a payout of casino winnings:

  1. The casino sends Bitcoin to your Bitcoin account.
  2. The service lets you sell the Bitcoin to convert it to U.S. dollars.
  3. You transfer the U.S. dollars to your bank account.

Bitcoin accounts are sometimes a little trouble to set up, but once they're set up, moving money in and out is very easy.  Bitcoin has replaced older casino deposit/withdrawal methods like using Western Union, which has high fees and horrible customer service.  And PayPal won't handle casino transactions.

For payouts, some casinos will mail you a physical check, but they're increasingly moving to Bitcoin payouts, because it's easier for them and more reliable.  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.

Which casino should I pick?

  1. If you're in a state where online gaming is regulated, check the website of your state gaming commission to see which casinos are licensed there.  If you have a problem that you can't resolve with the casino, you can appeal to your state gaming commission.
  2. If you plan to play only with play money (as opposed to real money), then Bovada, because they're the only online casino I know of that lets you play for free without registering an account.  (If you see a registration box, you can close it and play without registering.)
  3. If you're in ANOTHER U.S. STATE, there's slim pickings.  Bovada seems to be the best, but that's not a ringing endorsement:  they're actually not that great, but their competition is even worse.  It's like if everyone failed a test and they got the highest grade of all the failures.  Like I said, slim pickings.  Of course, you need to first see whether gambling is legal in your state.
  4. If you're in another COUNTRY, then check out the list of accredited casinos at Casinomeister.

Blacklists are obsolete

Websites (like this one) used to compile "black lists" of bad casinos to warn players away from them.  But those lists were a nightmare to maintain, and they didn't prevent players from getting hurt by new, rogue casinos before those bad casinos could make it onto the blacklists.  The modern, better method is white lists, which are short lists of casinos known to be reputable, compiled by respected webmasters.

Casinomeister tests and validates casinos extensively and maintains a respected list of "accredited" online casinos, but none of them take players from most of the U.S., because none of the U.S.-facing casinos is regulated, because no decent regulating authority will touch U.S.-facing casinos until online gambling becomes explicitly legal.  (It's not explicitly illegal, either, but it's not black-and-white enough for U.S.-facing casinos to get regulated.)

I routinely get email from readers asking me to help them because some online casino won't pay them.  (This isn't a service I offer, but desperate players try anyway.)  And 99% of the time, the casino isn't on Casinomeister's "accredited" list, and is usually on Casinomester's "rogue" list.  This validates Casinomeister's work, that he's doing a great job of identifying which casinos are naughty and which are nice.

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.

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 handful of software makers who provide the games to the thousands of online casinos.

Avoiding spam

Online gambling is big business, and many casinos think nothing of selling your email address to other casinos.  And even if casino management doesn't have a policy of selling customer info, rogue employees sometimes do so.  (At Bovada, customer emails were leaked at least twice.)  So, if you play online, use a separate email account just for your online gaming.  If you start getting flooded with spam, just switch to another new email address for online gaming.  This way your primary email account never gets spammed.

Playing on Mac OS / iMac

Bovada has lots of Mac-compatible browser-based games.  They get kudos for being one of the first casinos to support the Mac (possibly the very first casino to do so).  Before they came along, Mac users had no good options for playing online.  Here's more on Macintosh casino games.

Bonuses:  A blessing and a curse

Online casinos offer free chips for making an initial deposit or subsequent deposits, like $250 to $1500.  Bovada is no exception, they offer initial-deposit bonuses, and often reload bonuses as well.  In exchange for this generosity, the casinos require that you give them a certain amount of wagering "action" (aka "play-through") before you can cash out the bonus, spelled out in the fine print.

But the bonus system fuels lots of player complaints.  Most casinos limit which games satisfy the playthrough requirement, and players who didn't read the fine print get angry when they learn that all their action didn't qualify.  And all online casinos (including Bovada) will cancel your winnings if they think you're trying to scam them on bonuses, like opening multiple accounts to claim multiple bonuses.  In fact, to thwart bonus scammers, most casinos have a rule that says only one account per household.  If two people in your household each have an account, expect your winnings (but not your initial deposit) to be seized if you win big.  So here's my advice on how to avoid this.

  1. Obviously, don't actually try to scam bonuses.
  2. Don't even try to maximize the benefit of the bonus mathematically.  Play normally, as if you weren't even getting a bonus, so the bonus is exactly that: a bonus.
  3. Don't open multiple accounts for yourself, and don't even let two people in your household have separate accounts at the same casino.  Also, make sure you don't open an account at a sister casino of one you've already got an account with.  For example, if you've already got an account with Bovada, don't sign up for a separate one at, Café Casino, or Ignition Casino (all owned by the same company).

Note that some casinos cancel your winnings even if you satisfied their terms and conditions.

There's no limit to how much you can lose

Just like with land casinos, there's no limit to how much you can lose.  The government doesn't make casinos let you set loss limits, and the casinos won't do it voluntarily, so you're on your own.  (See my list of suggested casino reforms.)

My related articles


  • I found a good article detailing the history of online gambling (through 2011).
  • Online Casino City has the most comprehensive directory of land and online casinos anywhere.
  • A sleazy industry. I don't generally hang with other gambling webmasters (the Wizard of Odds excepted), because other webmasters' single-minded devotion to profit at all costs is rather annoying, as is the fact that few of them produce websites that have any real value to the reader. Here's an example where the webmaster of another popular gambling site actually offered to sell the names and addresses of a player database to other webmasters. I figure in this story, where I pointed out the sleaziness of that offer on the website in question. Anyway, wherever you register or play online, I suggest you always use a non-important email address, since it's very likely it will be sold to others.

Practice gambling with play money

Before you throw down your hard-earned cash in a casino, PRACTICE FIRST!  Learn the games with play money where it doesn't cost you anything if you lose.  Seriously.

You can play Bovada's games (below) right away without registering for an account.  Most every other online casino makes you give up your email address just to play the fake-money games — ugh.  That's the main reason Bovada is the only online casino that gets advertising space on my site.  (When you see the registration box, you can cancel it and proceed to the game without registering.)

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