Life is one big gamble, risk and reward is part of the process of living for all things. The difference with humans is we do it for fun. Games of chance started life as part of religious rites, shamans and the like trying to divine the will of the gods. Pretty soon the fun element came to the fore and gambling items of value on the output of a throw of the dice part of human behavior. Ancient Egyptian dice have been recovered and there are many recorded scenes of Egyptians partaking of gambling games.
The business of gambling has been with us for a few hundred years and casinos have been around a fair while now. Unfortunately for a lot of us there isn’t a casino just around the corner they are expensive to start up and run so you are only likely to find them in major cities. Unless of course you live in the Las Vegas area then you could probably throw a stone in any direction and hit one. Never fear the internet is here. Thanks to the web we can now play any of our favourite casino games in the comfort of our own homes.
There is such a thing as too much of a good thing however and the best internet casinos can be lost in the crowd. One quick search and you will see that there are thousands to choose from. Choosing where to play can be a bit daunting even for the experienced. If you are new to the scene it is enough to drive you mad. There are a few things that you can do that will help you choose which ones are the best online casinos for you. We have put together this online casino guide to give you some ammunition for the seemingly impossible choice.
Where Do You Start?
A good place to start is where not to go. Not long after the first casino came online there followed the player forum. These forums were started by gamers that wanted to chat with one another about their experiences. These morphed and grew into review sites and industry watchdogs independent of the industry run by players.
Now this became a business in its own right through affiliate marketing but there are some well-respected sites out there that are impartial. These sites have comprehensive blacklists that are actually quite long. The reasons for being on these lists are stated and range from poor customer service right up to outright criminal activity. There have been cases where the authorities have been alerted by administrators of forums and rogue casinos have been shut down as a result. These lists are not gospel and are only other people’s experience, but they are a useful tool and can save a lot of time by ruling out the really bad apples first. The top online casinos have cultivated good working relationships with the forum sites and you will often see a casino’s agent involved in dialog within a thread.
An Online Casino Must Be Licensed
Back in 1994 the government of Antigua and Barbuda passed The Free Trade and Processing Zone Act. This act set up a commission that granted offshore companies business licenses to trade from Antigua and Barbuda. American bookmakers jumped at the chance to circumvent US law. When the online casino industry got underway the Caribbean jurisdiction was the only choice. This was quickly followed by the Kahnawake Territories in Canada and a host of other Caribbean Islands followed suit. As the industry developed the rest of the world opened up their own jurisdictions. At one point there were 42 regulatory bodies issuing licenses to operate remote gambling businesses. This is an area that needs some explanation as not all licenses carry the same worth.
The Oldest Is Not Necessarily The Best
Unfortunately the Caribbean regulatory bodies are mostly just tax havens and issue licenses to just about anyone. Curacao (formally of the Dutch Antilles) is a case in point. Over the years they have gained a very poor reputation with no real oversight and they have had some very bad casinos on their books. They have recently overhauled their operation to address this but only time will tell if they have succeeded. The Kahnawake Territories have also had a few miss-steps and have far less license holders now. It is a sad thing but Antigua and Barbuda have also lost their way in recent years. They were the groundbreakers and once were held in high esteem but not so recently. A few high profile cases and their crown slipped.
Relative Newcomers Take Over The Reins
The authorities with the best reputations are almost exclusively European. The UK revamped their legislation in 2005 to meet the changing requirements of remote gambling. The UK Gambling Commission was born and since its inception has gained top spot. Strong regulations and requirements backed up with regular audits of both gameplay and business practice give them sharp teeth. The only problem is that they only deal with UK residents. However if a brand accepts clients from around the world as well as the UK they will have more than one license so they are covered by default.
Gibraltar has its own Gambling Commission created at the same time as the UK basically to cover overseas operations and has an excellent reputation also. Then we have the MGA from Malta although many see this as another tax haven situation they do have a good regulatory system in place. Malta were the first EU member to regulate remote gambling in 2004 and some of the top casino sites are overseen by them. They have an excellent reputation and their website is very informative they are easy to contact and they take complaints seriously and investigate issues. Two smaller authorities the Isle of Man and Alderney may not have as many on their books but they do a good job never the less. Easy to approach they have teeth and do use them.
Full Of Eastern Promise
The stand out non-European licensing jurisdiction is the Master Licensor and Regulator for Cagayan Economic Zone Authority in the Philippines. A rather large title they have shortened to First Cagayan. Asia’s first gaming jurisdiction is really very good and has strict rules that are enforced. Rapidly gaining many brands into their fold over the years they looked set to be major players in the East. Then there was a bit of a spanner in the works, along came Rodrigo Duterte the new president of the Philippines. In his first address to the government he had a few interesting things to say. This rather colourful character ordered that no new licenses be issued and that eventually all foreign licenses would be rescinded. So it is all up in the air. Just when it looked good.
However that changes nothing at the moment whichever of the reputable authorities license the casino you choose, make sure you check the validity on the corresponding website. There are cases all the time of online casinos fraudulently claiming they hold a license with one of the respected authorities. The MGA have a statement regarding one casino at the moment that claims to be overseen by them. The MGA deny all association with them.
Security Is A Top Priority
All of the trusted casino sites have sate of the art security systems in place. This is a no brainer. With so many hackers and thieves online it is a foolish person that ignores security. Real cash deposits and your personal details are given over you have to be sure they will be safe.
Modern online security for safe cash transfer was the brainchild of an Isle of Man company called CryptoLogic way back in 1995. They devised encrypted communication protocols that are the mainstay of online interactions. They work kind of like the scrambler phones in spy films. The sender of information has its own code that the recipient has to decipher. Nobody else has that cipher if the information is intercepted it is just gibberish. These codes are unique and based on 128-bit Secure Socket Layer Encryption, this is a huge cipher and very strong, online banks use the same protocols as the best casino sites. Financial transactions are as safe as any online bank. Look for the padlock icon and an https prefix in the address bar if it is not there don’t deposit or give any sensitive information away.
Vetted And Tested By Experts
The visitor has no way of knowing just how strong or weak security is on a site. Trust is earned and not a given. The top rated online casinos know this and as a sign of integrity they engage independent online security experts to test the strength of their site’s security protocols. These companies have found a niche market and for some it is all they do. Certificates are issued by them and are easily verifiable. The particular company issuing the certificate will have a logo on the casino website usually on the footer. Others will list which company has issued the certificate in the help section. A couple of examples would be Thawte and TST (Technical Systems Testing).
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Privacy Is Precious Too
When you sign up to an online casino you will be required to submit a fair bit of personal information. This information is needed by casinos to make sure you are who you say you are, and also to be able to process financial transactions for your account. Certain verification methods will be undertaken using the information supplied. All jurisdictions require verification to take place to ensure underage gambling doesn’t take place along with money laundering. This is part of international law so don’t be offended.
This information is closely guarded and is only divulged when legally required to do so. All top rated online casinos restrict access to these details to a select few in high management positions. These personnel go through vetting procedures when the license is applied for. Very high end security protocols are in place with multiple firewalls, malware and other software that is constantly upgraded.
Fair Games – Lab Testing And Audits
All the best gambling sites want to create a transparent and fair atmosphere for their clients. After all a well-run, popular, straight casino will make a profit the games, are structured for a house edge. Audits on the games are regularly undertaken as part of the licensing regulations from reputable jurisdictions. Checks are made to make sure there has been no tampering to change the original percentage payout.
Top rated online casinos go one step further and commission independent testing labs to produce payout tables every month. These third party auditors can vary from leading accountancy firms with reputations decades old a lot are floated on stock exchanges and have records that can be checked way back. Others have come about to fill this niche market. Whomever is used they will have histories and reputations that can be verified. The tables published are an excellent tool for the punter when choosing where to play. You can compare the different percentage tables and pick the best one for a particular game. Honest online casinos play a fair game and have nothing to hide it is a short time strategy trying to con the punter.
Are They Truly Random?
We play casino games because they are exciting. They are exciting because you just don’t know what is going to happen next. The random nature is what keeps us coming back to what would otherwise be a repetitive boring pastime. Watching spinning reels is hardly fun but the anticipation of how those wheels are going to stop and reveal their sequence is riveting. Waiting for the ball to stop bouncing and land in a pocket of the god’s choice, priceless. Add the dimension of monetary gain or loss and you have a very exciting pastime. In a land based venue it is obvious how these acts are random. Shuffling cards, spinning wheels and balls throw, dice rolled etc. But how can a machine be random? A piece of software called the RNG is where it all starts without which no virtual casino game would be viable. Who would play a casino game that wasn’t run on chance? Nobody.
What Is An RNG?
A random number generator that’s what it is. It is basically a very complicated algorithm, the maths of which are beyond comprehension for mere mortals like us. In layman’s terms the game software needs an input number for each game that is played. This number determines the outcome of the game. Be it order of the cards, which pocket the ball lands or how the dice falls etc. This number obviously needs to be random and secret. The only part of the process that is a known variable is the seed number that is fed into the algorithm. This original number is only used once and is known to only a few top level executives. The seed is entered, the algorithm does its thing and the resulting number is used in the game then becomes the next seed fed in and so it goes.
The system is so complex it can’t be deciphered without knowing the original seed number. The number is never going to be guessed most RNGs use unbelievably large numbers we are talking over two hundred thousand digits! Some casinos are going one step further and asking the customer to provide a secret number that is part of the seed and then fed direct into the software. There is a lot of nonsense talked about RNGs by a few that refuse to believe they are random. Well they are as random as you are ever likely to see.
Software Makes It All Happen
Most of the best internet casinos have integrated software platforms to run the backend day to day stuff and the front end game play. Some go for a package from one supplier others mix and match. When it comes to finances, transparency is all important knowing how your money is handled which software is used and how it is secured has to be high up the priority list.
There are more online casinos farming out the money handling to third party companies these need to be known so you can check out reputations yourself. The software used to run the back end is seldom apparent to the player. It covers all the mundane data collection and daily management of the casino. It directly comes into play however if a dispute arises. Even the best online casinos have issues that need to be resolved and the quality of data stored helps get to the bottom of any problems. A quality database has every single game ever played and can be called upon to replay all of the action.
It is another test of character for the casino if they have comprehensive history available they have nothing to hide. This is another area to test the customer service team they should freely give the information. If there is no data backup don’t use them. In fact it is a requirement of some jurisdictions that there is a feature available for the player to re-run games.
Playing The Games
Up until now we have talked about things that need to be in place to make a safe, secure and fair place to gamble. Now comes the subjective bit personal choice comes into play here. Choosing which software platform to go for is mainly about gameplay but there is one other factor to be considered first. Most don’t appreciate that the house percentage and the payout levels are written into the software platform that runs the actual games and it can vary greatly between providers. The top online casinos have full payout tables for all of their games. You can see in black and white and thus do a direct comparison between sites.
Getting onto the actual gameplay a lot of the top online casinos use a mixed platform so you get the best of all worlds. Using more than one software package for the games gives a real custom feel to a site and the games list will be very eclectic. There are some, and some of them are big players too, that use a standalone platform. The games on standalone platform will have a distinct difference from each other. For example Microgaming is well known for its slots and has some of the all-time biggest names. But Playtech have had a great success with their Marvel™ themed slots so they are catching up Microgaming. The biggest difference between the two is Microgaming have many more on their books. But this is simplifying the differences they come at things from other angles.
Playtech have recently developed some great 3D games. It all becomes a bit like the car scene in Australia your either a Ford or a Holden fan. A lot stick with casinos running their favourite platform. There are of course way more than two choices last count it was over three hundred and to write a description about each would need a lot more space.
Have A Tester Game
The good news is that the best casino sites have free play modes on all of their games. This play money will let you try the games before committing to join the casino. An excellent way to try out everything without any risk to your pocket. It also gives you a feel for the site. You get to navigate the site see how some of the format works. For example how you use the betting table on the roulette games.
There are also tips and strategies that you can use the free play to test on. If you are new to online casinos then it is almost a must do thing. There are so many things going on with some games that a bit of a practice makes a lot of sense. There are also sites online that have every software developer’s platform available just for free play. There are some and maybe you will be one of them that never deposit and just partake of the play money varieties.
There Are More Games Than You Can Poke A Stick At
Online casinos have come a long way when it comes to game selection. Gone are the days when you only had access to a few choices. Now top casino sites have hundreds of games to choose from. All of the old favorites from land based casinos are in the lineup. Roulette, Blackjack, Craps, Baccarat, Keno, Slots, Video Poker and Bingo. The difference now is that there are several versions of each with slightly differing gameplay.
Blackjack for example has a multitude of different betting options and Slots well there are so many that you would be hard pushed to play them all. The one thing that never changes is the house always has a bias. Casinos don’t like games with an equal chance they have to have a house edge. Betting structure always tips toward the casino and the games are always played against the house. Poker for example is only ever found as a video version on the actual casino site. Many will however have a standalone poker site where you can play real time against other players. These sites work on a rake of each pot for ring games and a buy in for sit and go’s and larger tourneys. The huge popularity of poker in recent years make these sites profitable. Back in the good old days of poker you would only see a few tables for high rollers usually in the private rooms out back. The beauty of online casinos is that floor space is not an issue. Games are added to a lineup on a constant basis.
The global gambling scene has added new variants of old favorites and some totally different games. Pai Gow poker is a westernized version of an Asian dice game. SicBo is an Asian dice game that is growing in popularity. Then you have Caribbean Stud, 3 card poker and casino hold ‘em all poker based games that you play against the house. If a culture has a gambling game that is card or dice based there’s a good chance a version will end up online.
Can’t Afford A Visit To Monte Carlo? Want To Be Dealt To By A Pretty Dealer?
There are a few of us out there that are a bit jaded by the whole virtual world. We miss the action and the personal touch from a live dealer. There are some, as mentioned earlier, that just don’t trust the RNGs. Then you have those that have no chance to visit a brick and mortar venue and want to experience the unique atmosphere. Well the online world has come up with a very cool solution to fill this gap.
The live dealer online casino has given a breath of fresh air to the scene. Using some very trick software interfaces and live streaming technology we can now play with a live dealer with a real roulette wheel or be dealt real cards. We are magically transported to the venue and can still sit in our underwear and play if we like. You can even interact with the dealer and other players at the table. Although the fact that the dealers are almost exclusively very attractive, both male and female means they may put you of a bit!
This format is expensive to run needing studios, dealers, pit bosses, IT managers and techs, camera operators and even cleaners. So it takes a big investment to start up, all the top trusted casino sites now have a live dealer version but you will not find as many games played. That said there are more coming as the format takes off and one or two sites have a multi tables with a wide range of limits. If you want to partake of this format you will need a very good internet connection. It is a very good marriage of the real and virtual worlds, bravo.
Bonuses And Other Promotions
Let’s talk a bit about a subject that gets regular airtime in forums. Casino bonuses. From the start some people have got the wrong idea about bonuses. It is not free cash. A business would very soon collapse if it gave free cash out. No a casino bonus is a marketing tool to draw in new customers and to keep existing ones. The terms and conditions surrounding bonuses are the main area that gets moaned about. People don’t read them properly and then when they don’t get what they perceive they were promised merry hell breaks out.
Wagering conditions are attached to all online casino bonuses. The particular levels set is an area for distinction between casinos. But let’s make it abundantly clear, you stand a very slim chance of actually meeting those wagering requirements and getting the chance to withdraw winnings made using bonus cash. These bonuses are designed to look really good and keep you playing. Read all terms and conditions very carefully before accepting any bonus. There are some unscrupulous casinos that write T&Cs in such a way that you can come unstuck if you accept a bonus. Even the very best gambling sites use bonuses in such a way that looks like you are getting free cash but it works out you just really get some free games. Remember there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
One area where you definitely will get something back are the loyalty schemes. It doesn’t amount to much for most of us that only gamble occasionally but it has a real value. Some work it that you get invited to private tourneys with higher cash prizes. Most it is simply a cash back scheme but some actually put you in prize draws for holidays or cars. The bottom line is read very carefully but sometimes marketing promotions really do give something away. If you don’t understand or like the terms and conditions you don’t have to accept the bonus. It can vary between sites on how you opt out but there has to be that option.
Online casinos get a lot of bad press in the forums regarding bonuses a lot of it is unfair and to be honest very naïve. So much so that the Gibraltar Gambling Commissioner has written a guideline article for players about the issue of bonus abuse and the misconceptions the public have about casino bonuses.
In Summary Due Diligence Requires Research
An online casino guide is just that, a guide. When it comes to risking your own money a bit of time researching pays back in the end. This is a fast paced industry and reputations ebb and flow. There are some brands out there that have been in the top tier since they began and others that have fallen by the wayside.
Everything about a casino should be transparent. There really should be no grey areas. Customer service teams should be able to answer every reasonable question put to them to your satisfaction. If they don’t then simply don’t give them your money. You should be able to trace company background and if they belong to a group of casinos. This is important if you want to play at more than one site.
All online casinos have rules about only having one account to combat bonus abuse. They will close your accounts if you are found to have duplicates. They won’t tell you why and you could lose any money deposited. Some dubious casinos deliberately use similar urls or names very close to leading brands to piggy back reputations. Double check everything. Go to the websites for licensing jurisdictions they are very helpful. Find out your local laws surrounding online gambling casinos don’t consider it their responsibility it is up to you to adhere to local law. If you are a complete novice avoid playing at new casinos until you have a feel for how the industry works. Stick to the tried and tested one you gain confidence and understanding then maybe that new style flashy format can be given a go. Casinos come and go online, the best stick around for good reason, they work well.
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A Little Background To It All
So how did all this craziness start? The DNA of all online casino games link them back to the 70’s. Electromechanically operated slot machines were the darling of casinos for many years. They could be crammed into a smaller floor space than other games. They needed very little oversight, just a few camera’s watching the action. No dealers to run the games or pit bosses to watch them. They were simple yet very exciting to play.
The natural evolution for slots games was fully electronic versions and the first was debuted in 1976. Using a RNG in its software for the first time it can be seen as the direct ancestor to online casino games. The fact that slots were the bread and butter of casinos meant software companies went into overdrive. Suddenly there were hundreds of video slots. This also gave birth to Video Poker, poker hands had long been an element of slot machines and the next step was a video game based on poker.
These games kept their grip on popularity and the status quo was stable for two decades. Then along came a new idea the World Wide Web. It took a few years to really catch on but the internet was here to stay. Game developers toyed around with internet based games but it needed a couple of other factors for it to work with real money gambling.
A few investors saw the huge potential in the internet. Suddenly there was a global market for services that were normally very localized. But for a worldwide gambling venue to get off the ground it needed legitimacy. Nobody was going to trust an anonymous company with no legal standing or oversight to gamble with. After all casinos had taken years to rid themselves of their gangster run image. The Caribbean state of Antigua and Barbuda saw the need and the market niche and passed the Free Trade and Processing Act. They set up a commission to oversee applications for licenses and started to issue them. Suddenly there was an online gambling regulatory body in place the world’s first licensing jurisdiction. American bookmakers jumped on the band wagon early and saw this as a way around the Federal Wire Act. The ball was firmly in the court of software developers now to come up with a system to exploit the vastness of cyberspace.
Microgaming an Isle of Man software development company hold the presidios title of first to come up with a viable platform in 1995. The only problem was there was no secure way to make financial transactions. Nobody would play if they could not be sure their money was safe. The Irish company CryptoLogic solved this, developing a secure internet communication system that is the root for modern SSL Encryption. The final piece was in place and in 1996 the online casino revolution was started. Both Microgaming and CryptoLogic are still going strong and are leading software developers in the industry.