Online Casinos: A Definitive Guide
Online casinos have been around since the earliest days of the Internet and grown to what is nowadays a massive global industry worth an estimated $60 billion annually. While that’s great news for the millions of punters seeking online gambling thrills, knowing which casino site you can trust and play on can be overwhelming—after all, there are literally thousands to choose from. And, with the number of online lottery sites that offer players access to casino games increasing, it’s getting harder and harder to separate the good from the bad.
Luckily, our small team here at Lotto Analyst has over two decades of combined research and first-hand experience with both online casinos and lotteries, and our aim is to make this task as easy for you as possible so that you can make your own well-informed decisions. Having been burned by a few unscrupulous casinos many years ago ourselves, we have learned the hard way which sites are worth signing up with and trusting with our money, and which we should absolutely avoid at all costs. As a result, if we recommend a casino and say it’s trustworthy, reliable, and secure, that’s because it is.
In the Ultimate Guide to Online Casinos below, we’ll take a look at the wide range of criteria that we consider when writing our unbiased casino reviews. Whether you’re new to the scene or an experienced player looking to try something new, make sure that the site you’re considering joining checks out in these departments:
Reputation / Experience / Credibility
The reputation that a casino website or service has online speaks volumes about how it actually is. Among the thousands of professional and amateur casino reviews that exist out there, a pattern will generally emerge about each company once you’ve read enough of them. While fake reviews—both positive and negative ones—are an unfortunate reality in today’s world, if enough independent reviewers agree on certain points, that’s generally because those are accurate reflections of how things really are.
Most online casinos that have been around for many years have managed to survive in this incredibly competitive industry because they are providing the kinds of products and services that people are seeking. In other words, their customers are satisfied, and the companies’ reputations grow as a result of that. While this doesn’t mean that new(er) casinos can’t be trusted—after all, many emerging casino sites are owned and operated by the biggest casino companies—they do warrant closer inspection to make sure they can actually be trusted and that they are what they say they are. Wherever there are enthusiastic customers willing to part with their money, there are also scammers lurking in the shadows looking to make a quick buck before disappearing into the ether.
If a casino wants to operate legally, it must be completely transparent about its methods of operation and earnings, and to achieve this it needs a license from an approved governing body that conducts regular casino audits. Some of the strictest casino licensing organizations are the UK Gambling Commission, the Malta Gambling Authority, and the Isle of Man Gambling Supervision Commission, but there are others such as the Curaçao Gaming Control Board that are still vigilant about the companies they license but perhaps not quite as strict. However, if you notice that the online casino you’re interested in playing at doesn’t have a license (or just doesn’t clearly present this information), then consider that a definite red flag.
Another widely respected organization that polices Internet casinos and keeps them in check is eCOGRA, an internationally approved and independent testing agency based in London that has been enforcing standards among gambling organisations and protecting players since 2003. If you see that a site is accredited by eCOGRA, you can rest assured that, at the very least, the fairness of the games it offers has been verified.
Online Casino Games / Software
The casino games that a website offers are an important factor to consider because, licensing and trustworthiness aside, the games are ultimately what you’ll be playing every time you log back into your account. While most popular sites have no shortage of amazing games, there a few things that are useful to know.
Software providers are the software companies that develop the games that online casinos feature (via licensing deals) on their websites. They have to make sure the games are not just exciting to play and of a high quality but also fair and secure. While some companies have predefined RTP values (more on this later) and odds, others allow the casinos to adjust them to their preferences. In either case, casino software providers must be licensed and regulated (by the same agencies that also license and regulate casinos).
There are quite a few great casino software providers around the world, and Microgaming, Playtech, NetEnt, Play’n GO, IGT Gaming, RTG, Novomatic, Evolution, Yggdrasil, and Cryptologic are among the leading ones. In addition to making excellent, high-quality games, these providers likewise generally associate with excellent, high-quality casino companies. While there are lesser-known companies that make also great games, always try to play a free demo (if available; otherwise, at least watch a YouTube video of the gameplay) to ensure you like the game and that it meets your expectations.
Types of Online Casino Games
While the types that you’ll personally enjoy might differ drastically from another player’s preferences, it’s good to know the basics of the types of real-money games that most online casinos tend to offer.
- Slot games: Slot games, also known as video slots, are the digital equivalent of the classic “One-Armed Bandit” and more complex games offered by traditional brick-and-mortar casinos. While simpler games generally have three reels and more popular ones tend to have five, the graphics, animations, SFX, and music in most modern slot games are fantastic. These games usually provide a lot of excitement due to their high payouts, rapid-fire action, fun wild symbols and scatter symbols, great themes (many of which are based on popular franchises such as movies or TV shows) and dozens of payline possibilities. They also have a minimal learning curve compared to most other types of casino games.
- Table games: Online table games are digital recreations of the traditional casino games that started it all, including poker, blackjack, baccarat, roulette, craps, Pai Gow, and more. Many people prefer table games over slot games because the house edge is generally lower and they involve significantly more strategy. For most gamblers, playing against computer opponents is fine when they love a particular game and just want to try their luck, but purists will likely enjoy live casino, discussed below, the most.
- Live casino: Live casino is the perfect marriage of the online casino experience and the traditional real-world experience because it allows people to play their favourite table games with a live dealer who they interact with in real-time via video streaming. Since the dealer (who is usually attractive, another bonus) uses real equipment, the entire experience is the closest thing you can get to being in a real casino—and just as fair. Some live casino games allow you to interact with other players, making them even more social and fun.
- Scratchcards: While scratchcards traditionally have little to do with casinos, they are becoming increasingly common on various casino sites, as their gameplay sometimes closely resembles that of simple slot games. Online scratchcards are very similar to real-world paper-based scratch cards—but without the mess—and are extremely straightforward to play. Some games are basic with no audio and little animations, while others have great music, engaging SFX, super-smooth animations, and excellent prizes and payout percentages that make playing them a thrilling form of entertainment.
If you prefer to play casino games that offer the chance to win massive prizes paralleling those offered by some of the best lotteries, then you’ll definitely appreciate progressive jackpots. Found among certain slot games, table games, and video poker, progressive jackpots increase in value every time people play a certain game (e.g. Mega Moolah or Iron Man) but don’t win its jackpot. This happens because a small percentage of every wager goes to the progressive jackpot, and if no one wins it for weeks or months at a time, it can reach astounding heights. In fact, the biggest progressive jackpot ever was £13.2 million, and it was won by Afghanistan war vet Jon Heywood on a single online Mega Moolah wager. Now that is some mega moolah indeed.
Random Number Generators (RNGs):
A random number generator (RNG) is a complex mathematical algorithm that simulates the conditions for random results to occur. It’s what all computer-controlled casino games like slots and table games without human dealers use, and their efficacy (or lack thereof) is ultimately what ensures the fairness and honesty of the game. Knowing that an online casino is certified RNG-compliant by a third party such as eCOGRA (mentioned earlier) means the odds are truly up to chance—the hallmark of traditional casinos—and haven’t been intentionally skewed via programming or any other means. While different games give the house different advantages, they should always be fair, and such transparency goes a long way in terms of putting players at ease.
RTP/ Payout Percentage
The return-to-player percentage (RTP), or payout percentage, determines how “loose” or “tight” a particular game is in terms of the total money wagered that it gives back to players over the long term. The higher the percentage, the more money it pays out to its players, meaning the game is on the looser side. If a game has an RTP of 95% (which is considered very good), that means 95% of all wagers are eventually paid out as prizes, and the house only keeps 5%. In contrast, if a game has a lower RTP, let’s say 60%, then it’s considered a tight game because only 60% of all wagers are paid out as prizes and the house keeps 40%. While it’s generally best to find loose games with high RTPs if the prospect of winning prizes is important to you, those with lower RTPs might actually offer bigger and better prizes (see the Volatility/Variance section below).
House Edge / House Advantage
Closely related to the RTP is the “house edge”, which refers to the advantage that the house has over the player. Essentially, it is the amount left over of the 100% once the RTP has been removed. However, just because a game has a low house edge doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a game that’s easy to win. Remember that casinos are designed to earn profits, so the probability of the house winning most games from round to round is still quite high even if the house edge is low and the RTP is high. A lot of this has to do with what is discussed below.
Volatility and variance are very closely related concepts that are often used interchangeably, but volatility refers to the frequency and size of the prizes that a game, especially a slot, pays out. Therefore, games with high volatility are considered high-risk games because they generally pay out prizes infrequently, but when they do, they tend to be bigger, more impressive prizes that can really get players’ adrenaline flowing. In contrast, games with low volatility are considered low-risk games because they award prizes more often; however, the prizes usually aren’t that exciting. Volatility is programmed into a game by the developer.
Variance, on the other hand, is dependent on the sizes of the bets that players are making (in games that allow players to do so) and is closely linked to the RTP of a game. If players make big bets, then the variance (aka difference) between payouts will be high because the big bets/losses will occasionally be balanced by correspondingly big prizes. Meanwhile, if players are making small bets, then the variance between the payouts will be low because they will be distributed over a higher volume of smaller prizes.
Minimum Bets and Betting Limits
Some games are cheap to play because the minimum bets they allow people to make are very low (as low as 1 cent for slots and 10 cents for table games), while others might require bets of $5 or more. On the flipside, betting limits refer to the caps that are set on certain games, particularly table games, so that players can’t get in too deep and so that the house doesn’t lose too much money if a customer does happen to win. While in the real world some games intended for high-rollers (aka “whales”) have no limits, in online casinos this is extremely uncommon.
Responsible Gambling Policies
While the primary reason that online casinos exist is to make companies money, responsible companies will care about their customers’ wellbeing and implement policies to ensure their gambling habits don’t get the best of them. For some this simply means providing guides on the site to help players understand the signs of problem gambling and how they can seek help, while other casinos might go as far as to ask certain regular players to provide proof of their incomes to make sure that the huge amounts they are wagering are actually within their limits.
Terms and Conditions (T&C)
The terms and conditions of any site that you want to play on should be original and watertight, meaning nothing in them should seem ambiguous, unfair, or irrelevant to what the site actually offers. If they mention unreasonable restrictions that make you uncomfortable or long cashout durations, the site might be more hassle than it’s worth. Luckily, there are many sites to choose from, so feel free to shop around a bit before you commit to anything. Even worse, if the T&C don’t make sense or appear to be about another website rather than the one you’re looking at, that might be because they are—scammy casinos do such things all the time without much conscience or thought. Therefore, spending a few minutes skimming the terms early on, before you’ve signed up with a site and started paying and playing through it, can save you a lot of frustration and suffering later on. Trust us on this one.
User Experience / Site Design / Mobile Experience
Any reputable, modern online casino company should immediately impress you with the design/interface (UI) and overall user experience (UX) of its website, desktop application, or mobile app. As we’ve mentioned earlier, this is an incredibly competitive industry after all. Therefore, there’s no point in settling for a lacklustre experience when you could be playing something that looks beautiful and plays super smoothly. Since all of the top online casinos will have high standards, why not have them as a player too?
Security / Encryption
As a customer of any online casino, you’ll need to provide personal details about yourself, including your full name, address, date of birth, and payment details. And, since the web has no shortage of hackers and cybercriminals, you’ll definitely want to make sure that whatever site you sign up with and play through will keep all these details completely confidential and secure. All reputable sites and merchants will do this by using Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encryption—meaning the data you send is encrypted so that no third party can intercept it along the way—but if you do somehow come across an online casino that doesn’t use SSL, then avoid it at all costs. The easiest way to tell if a site is secure or not is by looking at the address bar at the top of your browser and checking if there is an icon of a locked padlock to the left of the URL; the URL will also say https:// (the additional ‘s’ is for ‘secure’) rather than just http://.
Online Casino Welcome Offers / Bonuses
In an attempt to sweeten the deal and make themselves as enticing to new players as possible, most online casinos offer various welcome offers, promotions, and bonuses that are often hard to resist. Common offers include the following:
- Match bonus: Most casinos will offer players free money once they’ve signed up and made their first deposit called a “deposit match bonus”. These can vary in terms of percentage, but those that fall between 50% and 200% are the most common. A cash match of 50% would mean that if you deposited $100 into your account, the casino would match 50% of that amount and deposit an extra $50 into your account, while a 200% cash match would get you an extra $200. There’s always a limit on the maximum deposits (usually preceded by the words “up to”) that people can make with these kinds of deals. Many casinos will also offer match bonuses on second, third, and even fourth deposits, but these tend to be subsequently smaller percentages.
- No deposit bonus: Unlike the match bonuses discussed above, no deposit bonuses are typically offered to new players just for signing up—meaning no deposit is necessary—so you can start playing certain games on the site immediately. However, if you ever wish to withdraw the money from your account, you’ll have to meet specific wagering requirements (more on this below).
- Free slot spins and bets: Some promos don’t offer any monetary deposits but instead give you a certain amount of spins on a specific video slot or bets for a particular table game. You can think of these as free tokens that are only compatible with specific games.
- Prizes: Certain casinos might offer non-gaming-related prizes such as smartphones, tables, TVs, and even free cash. These types of prizes could be accessible to new players or regular players.
- Refer-a-friend bonus: All businesses appreciate getting more business, so many casinos will reward customers whose friends sign up with the site and make a deposit. These rewards may include free cash, spins, bets, or credits—for both the referrer and the referee—and some have no limits on the number of friends you can refer.
While these types of promos can get you very excited—they are deliberately designed to do just that, after all—make sure you always read the fine print and terms and conditions so that you aren’t disappointed later on. For example, many deposit match bonuses have specific wagering requirements that must be met before you’re ever allowed to withdraw that money from your account to use in the real world. In other words, until you’ve spent a certain amount of your own money at the casino, the matched deposits you receive will only be good for playing on the site. Some deposit matches are also only good for certain games or types of games (e.g. slots), so that’s another important detail to be aware of.
Online Casino Loyalty / Rewards / VIP Programs
Most quality casinos will have solid loyalty programs and schemes through which they reward regular and/or long-time players. These rewards might be in the form of no-deposit bonus codes, free spins, free bets, cash rewards, reload bonuses, bonus rounds, exclusive games and events, and more. Players can usually also earn loyalty points for the deposits they make and then exchange those points for prizes and bonuses. As you spend more money at a casino, your ranking and membership level will get upgraded, and the higher you go the more rewards and offers will come your way. These types of casino VIP programs are a way for the casino to say “thank you” to players for their ongoing business, and for players they are an excellent way to crank up the fun—and earnings.
The type and number of deposit methods that a casino offers to players says a lot about the casino. Generally, some of the most commonly found options include PayPal, credit card (VISA, MasterCard, AMEX, Diner’s Club, etc.), Neteller, Zimpler, Skrill, EcoPayz, cryptocurrency (Bitcoin, Ethereum, etc.), cheque, and bank transfer. If an extremely popular and common payment method is missing from the site, see if you can find out why that is. This could mean that the payment company has refused to work with the casino for one reason or another, and if that’s the case, you shouldn’t either.
The number of withdrawal methods that a casino will offer will usually be fewer than the number of payment methods. Therefore, never assume that whatever option you used to pay with will be available to you when you’re ready to cash out your winnings. Double-checking this in advance before you sign up with a casino can save you a lot of headache and time later on.
Regarding withdrawals, there are two terms that are important to know and understand:
- Pending time: The pending time refers to how long the casino will wait before processing your request to withdraw funds from your account. Anything below 48 hours is generally within reason, but the lower the number the better. If you change your mind during this time, you can easily cancel your request, and the funds should immediately be available in your account again. Pending periods provide a way for casinos to stay on top of fraud by checking players’ accounts, gameplay history, and other important details.
- Withdrawal timeframes: Once your withdrawal request has been processed and approved, you should receive the money in your preferred account within a few days. Therefore, the withdrawal timeframe refers to how long it takes for the payment processor (Skrill, PayPal, credit card, etc.) to process your payment and make the funds available to you. Compared to credit cards and bank transfers, e-wallets are by far the fastest method to get your money.
Like in any business, a solid company will offer good customer service and make sure it is easily reachable via a clearly visible phone number, email address, and/or live chat support (that’s hopefully accessible 24/7). This basic Business 101 principle extends to online casinos as well: if the casino readily replies to queries from its users, then it’s a pretty safe bet it exists not just to screw people. On the flip side, if you’ve scoured the entire site and can’t find any contact info, or if the contact info you’ve found doesn’t seem to work (e.g. incorrect phone number or dead links), then you can bet that something shady is going on. The same goes for customer service responses that are irrelevant or even completely useless.
If you’re on the fence about signing up with a casino, try out one of their customer support options and see first-hand how knowledgeable they are and how they treat their customers. If anything about the experience raises red flags for you, then move on. There are far too many great casinos out there for you to waste your time on sketchy or even mediocre ones.
How to Sign Up With an Online Casino
Now that you know what to look for in an online casino, all that’s left to do is actually sign up with one. Luckily, the process is almost identical to signing up with an online lottery site.
Usually, what you’ll be asked to provide is your full name, a username, a password, your mailing address (sometimes just the postcode is enough), email address, date of birth, and preferred deposit method. Once you do that, you’ll need to confirm your email address, and you’ll do that by clicking on a link that appears in the email that the online casino will send you.
Transferring money into your freshly made account is usually just as easy as registering: You go to the casino’s Deposit page, find the payment method that you want to use, choose the amount that you’d like to deposit, and confirm the transaction. If the funds have cleared, you should be able to start playing right away.
If you’ve been playing for a while and would like to withdraw your winnings or remaining funds, there’s usually one additional step involved before you can do so. This step entails sending in a digital version of your photo identification (driver’s license, passport, etc.) and a proof of your address. While this step of the process might annoy some players, it allows casinos to verify players’ identities and therefore protect both themselves and regular people from fraud. It also enables players to withdraw their funds faster and enjoy higher transaction limits.
Whether you’re a lotto player who’s looking for something different or a skilled real-world gambler curious to try the experience in digital form, online casinos offer an incredible variety of games, prizes, and thrills that you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere else. Regardless of where you fall along this spectrum, make sure you understand what to look for in an online casino so that your experience is as enjoyable and hassle-free as possible.
Still not sure about something even after reading this guide? Then drop us a line and we’ll get you sorted faster than you can say “hit me”. Best of luck, stranger!
FAQ - frequently asked questions
No, most online casinos are definitely not a scam. While it’s true that there are some out there that are dishonest and designed only to rip people off, the majority are legitimate businesses that offer an excellent service and experience to many people all around the world. As long as the casino you’re considering signing up with is licensed by a gambling authority, such as the UK Gambling Commission or the Malta Gaming Authority, then there’s absolutely no reason to be suspicious. That being said, we recommend you read our casino reviews so that you know exactly what you’ll be getting with each site.
This is a pretty subjective question, as different players value different aspects of online casinos. Aside from the fact that all players want casinos to be legit and trustworthy, some players might make their choice based on the types of games and software providers that a casino offers, while others will be more concerned with fast payouts, great customer service, attractive welcome bonuses, and/or loyalty programs. That being said, in our reviews we try to take a wholistic view of each casino we review, so the ones at the top of the list are not just our personal favourites but ones we believe our readers will love as well.
- Yes, most online casinos make it super easy to sign up with them. They will usually ask new players just to provide their first and last name, address, date of birth, payment details, and an email address (which has to be confirmed). This entire process usually just takes a few minutes to complete, and once it’s done you can usually start playing immediately.
- While some people find this step a nuisance, it is anything but because it protects both players and the casinos from fraudulent activity, which happens on the Internet with stolen credit cards and hacked accounts far too often. Luckily, verifying an account, which you might need to do shortly after registering with an online casino or when you want to make your first (but sometimes a later) withdrawal, is fairly straightforward. It usually involves submitting a digital copy of your photo ID (such as your driver’s license or passport), a copy of a document such as a bank statement or utility bill that shows your name and address, and a photo of the payment method that you made your first deposit with.
- Yes, many casinos offer free casino bonuses that don’t require players to deposit any money upfront. However, the catch with these types of bonuses is that they often have the highest wagering requirements, meaning that you won’t be able to withdraw any funds from your account until you’ve spent a specified amount of your own money in the casino first. And sometimes that amount can be quite high—much higher than you might be comfortable spending. Therefore, always read the fine print of any deal before you sign up to avoid disappointment later on.
- The best casino depends on what you are looking for and how much you are willing to spend. The main things to consider are how much the casino will match your bonus by, how much you will have to deposit upfront, and what the wagering requirements are. Remember that the offers that often seem the cheapest (or free) upfront usually have the highest wagering requirements, meaning you’ll actually have to spend much more over the long term before you’re able to withdraw any of those funds.
- The legal gambling age varies from country to country, but in most countries it is between 18 and 21. Some countries, however, have different rules for online casinos than they do for brick-and-mortar casinos, so make sure you double check your country’s regulations before you register with a casino if you’re a young(er) player.
- Yes and no. While it’s true that games with high RTPs will pay out prizes more often and over the long term pay out more money compared to low-RTP games, the prizes that the majority of people win won’t be all that exciting. Therefore, playing games with low RTPs might make it harder to win a prize, but if you do win something, it might be a lot more exhilarating than it would be in a high-RTP game.
- While the duration of payouts will vary from casino to casino regardless of the payment method that is used, e-wallets such as Neteller, Skrill, and PayPal and cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin offer significantly faster payouts than credit cards or bank transfers.
- Withdrawal times are dependent on each online casino, as different casinos impose different withdrawal and pending periods. Some casinos process winnings, especially for long-time players, in minutes or hours, while others might force players to wait a full day or two. If getting your winnings ASAP is important to you, we recommend you play in casinos that have short or non-existent pending periods (which put a hold on your money) in case you change your mind and want to use your funds to keep playing.
- This depends on the player and what he or she wants out of their online casino experience. If you just want to play for fun and excitement and don’t want to think too much, then slots (and scratchcards) are probably the types of games you’ll enjoy the most. If, however, you prefer strategy and skill development instead of straight-up luck, then table games such as poker, blackjack, and poker will definitely give you plenty of that in spades. Table games also tend to have a lower house edge, so you could walk away with considerably more winnings if you know what you’re doing.