Online casinos, also known as virtual casinos or Internet casinos, are online versions of traditional (“brick and mortar”) casinos. Online casinos enable gamblers to play and wager on casino games through the Internet.
Online casinos generally offer odds and payback percentages that are comparable to land-based casinos. Some online casinos claim higher payback percentages for slot machine games, and some publish payout percentage audits on their websites. Assuming that the online casino is using an appropriately programmed random number generator, table games like blackjack have an established house edge. The payout percentage for these games are established by the rules of the game.
Many online casinos lease or purchase their software from companies like CryptoLogic Inc, International Game Technology, Microgaming, Playtech and Realtime Gaming.
Online casino types
Online casinos can be divided into two groups based on their interface: web-based and download-only casinos. Some casinos offer both interfaces.
Web-based online casinos
Web-based online casinos (also known as flash casinos) are websites where users may play casino games without downloading software to their local computer. Games are mainly represented in the browser plugins Macromedia Flash, Macromedia Shockwave, or Java and require browser support for these plugins. Also, bandwidth is needed since all graphics, sounds and animations are loaded through the web via the plugin. Some online casinos also allow gameplay through a HTML interface. Apple devices such as iPod, iPad and iPhone cannot play Flash games as the technology is not supported.
Download-based online casinos
Download-based online casinos require the download of the software client in order to play and wager on the casino games offered. The online casino software connects to the casino service provider and handles contact without browser support. Download-based online casinos generally run faster than web-based online casinos since the graphics and sound programs are cached by the software client, rather than having to be loaded from the Internet. On the other hand, the initial download and installation of a download-based online casino client does take time. As with any download from the Internet, the risk of the program containing malware exists.
Virtual casino games
In a virtual casino game, the outcome of each game is dependent on the data produced by a pseudorandom number generator (PRNG). This determines the order of the cards in card games, the outcome of a dice throw, or the results produced by the spinning of a slot machine or roulette wheel. PRNGs use a set of mathematical instructions known as an algorithm to generate a long stream of numbers that give the impression of true randomness. While this is not the same as true random number generation (computers are incapable of this without an external input source), it provides results that satisfy all but the most stringent requirements for true randomness.
When implemented correctly, a PRNG algorithm such as the Mersenne Twister will ensure that the games are both fair and unpredictable. However, the player ultimately has to trust that the software has not been rigged to increase the house edge, as its inner workings are invisible to the user. Properly regulated online casinos are audited externally by independent regulators such as eCOGRA to ensure that their win percentages are in line with the stated odds, and this can provide a degree of assurance to the player that the games are fair, assuming the player trusts the regulator.
Live dealer casino games
In a live casino game, a human dealer runs the game in real time from a casino gaming table, which can be seen via a live streaming video link. Players can make betting decisions via a console on their computer screen, and can communicate with the dealer using a text chat function.
The results of the physical transactions by the dealer, such as the outcome of the roulette wheel spin or the dealing of cards, are translated into data that can be utilized by the software by means of optical character recognition (OCR) technology. This enables the player to interact with the game in much the same way as they would with a virtual casino game, except for the fact that the results are determined by real-life actions rather than automated processes.
These games are a lot more expensive for websites to host than virtual games, as they involve a heavier investment in technology and staffing. A live casino studio typically employs one or more cameramen, several croupiers running the various games, an IT manager to ensure that any technical hitches are dealt with swiftly, and a pit boss that acts as an adjudicator in case of disputes between players and croupiers.
In most cases, this requires at least a three room setup, comprising a live studio, a server/software room, and an analyst’s room. The configuration of these rooms varies from casino to casino, with some having several gaming tables in one room, and some having a single table in each room.
The high running costs involved with operating live dealer games is the reason why online casinos only tend to offer a handful of the most popular games in this format, such as roulette, blackjack, sic bo, and baccarat. In comparison, the running costs associated with virtual games are very low, and it is not uncommon for online casinos to offer hundreds of different virtual casino games to players on their site.
Online casinos vary in their approach to the hosting of live games, with some providing live games via their own television channel, and others offering the games exclusively via their website. In the case of televised games, players can often use their mobile phone or television remote controls to place bets instead of doing so via a computer connected to the internet.
- A typical selection of gambling games offered at an online casino might include:
- Slot machines
- Sic bo
Many online casinos offer sign-up bonuses to new players making their first deposit, and often on subsequent play as well. These bonuses are a form of marketing that may incur a cost (potentially justifiable in order to attract a new player who may return and deposit many more times), since the casino is essentially giving away money in return for a commitment from the player to wager a certain minimum amount before they are allowed to withdraw. Since all casino games have a house edge, the wagering requirements ensure that the player cannot simply walk away with the casino’s money immediately after claiming the bonus. These wagering requirements are commonly set to be sufficiently high that the player has a negative expectation, exactly as if they had deposited and not claimed a bonus.
Casinos may choose to restrict certain games from fulfilling the wagering requirements, either to restrict players from playing low-edge games or to restrict ‘risk-free’ play (betting for instance both red and black on roulette), thereby completing the wagering requirement with a guaranteed profit after the bonus is taken into account.
The Welcome bonus is a deposit match bonus on the first deposit ever made in the casino or casino group. Welcome bonuses sometimes come in packages and may be given to match the first two or three deposits (First Deposit Welcome Bonus, Second Deposit Welcome Bonus, etc.). They can also be tied to specific games, such as the Welcome Slots Bonus or the Welcome Table Games Bonus. The casino may also offer Welcome bonuses for high rollers who make an initial deposit above the standard amount limit.
There are two types of Referral bonuses: one for the Referee and one for the Referrer. The Referee gets a bonus when he or she registers an account at the casino and mentions the Referrer. The Referrer gets a bonus when the Referee completes all the requirements, such as making the deposit and wagering it a certain number of times.
Cashback or Insurance bonuses
Cashback or Insurance bonuses are offered as a percentage of all losses in the player’s previous gaming activity. Typically, only deposits that were not matched with bonuses count towards this bonus.
No deposit bonuses
The most popular form of bonus is one that can be claimed without the need to deposit any of the player’s own money – known as a no deposit bonus. These bonuses are used as acquisition tools by casinos wishing to attract new players. No deposit bonuses don’t always take the form of real cash, as exemplified below.
Non-cashable bonuses may be called “sticky” or “phantom” bonuses. In both cases, the bonus forms a part of the player’s balance, but cannot be cashed out. The difference comes at cashout time. A phantom bonus disappears when the player cashes out, while the sticky bonus ‘sticks’ to the player’s account until it is lost.
Comps are commonly available at land-based casinos, but also exist online. Comp points can usually be exchanged for cash, prizes, or other comps. The amount of cash given per wager is usually very small and often varies with game selection. A casino might offer three comp points for each $10 wagered on slots and one comp point for each $10 wagered on blackjack. The casino might give $1 for each 100 comp points. This example is equivalent to returning 0.3% of wagers on slots and 0.1% of wagers on blackjack. In addition online casinos may offer comps such as free tickets to online tournaments, tickets to other special events, extra bonuses, souvenirs and pay back.
Bonus hunting (also known as bonus bagging or bonus whoring) is a type of advantage gambling where turning a profit from casino, sportsbook and poker room bonus situations is mathematically possible. For example, the house edge in blackjack is roughly 0.5%. If a player is offered a $100 cashable bonus requiring $5000 in wagering on blackjack with a house edge of 0.5%, the expected loss is $25. Therefore the player has an expected gain of $75 after claiming the $100 bonus.
A large portion of online casino disputes relate to bonuses. Casinos may label players who win using bonuses as “bonus abusers.” Both players and casinos may commit fraud. An example of player fraud is creating multiple accounts and using the accounts to claim a sign-up bonus several times. An example of casino fraud is changing terms of a bonus after a player has completed the wagering requirements, then requiring the player to meet the new bonus terms.
Fraudulent online casino operator behaviour
Fraudulent behaviour on the part of online casinos has been documented, almost exclusively by player advocacy websites and forums. The most commonly reported behaviour is a refusal to pay withdrawals to legitimate winners. An online casino with multiple confirmed cases of fraudulent behavior is often called a rogue casino by the online casino player community.
Some casino software has been mathematically proven to cheat, such as Elka System/Oyster Gaming and Casino Bar. Other examples of cheating software have been proven by leaked screenshots of the back-end administrative interface available only to the casino operator.
Many casino gambling portals and player forums maintain blacklists of rogue casinos. While some carry more authority than others, all blacklists constitute individual webmaster and player opinions rather than an official list from any type of regulating body.
Online gambling legislation often has loopholes that result from the rapid development of the technology underpinning the development of the industry. Such countries as Belgium, Canada, Finland, Sweden have state gambling monopolies and do not grant licenses to foreign casino operators. According to their law, operators licensed on the territory of these countries can only be considered legal. At the same time, they can’t prosecute foreign casino operators and only block their sites. Players in these countries can’t be punished and can gamble at any site they can access.
The Australian Interactive Gambling Act 2001 (IGA) criminalises the supply of online casino games by an operator anywhere in the world to persons located in Australia. It only targets operators of online gambling sites, resulting in the curious situation that it is not illegal for a player in Australia to access and gamble at an online casino. No operator has even been charged with an offence under the IGA and many online casinos accept Australian customers.
The Belgian Gaming Act allows online gambling, but only under very strict conditions and surveillance.
The Canadian criminal code states that only provincial governments and charitable organizations licensed by provincial governments may operate a casino in Canada. It also prohibits residents from participating in any lottery scheme, game of chance, or gambling activity not licensed or operated by a provincial government. In 2010, the British Columbia Lottery Corporation (“BCLC”) launched Canada’s first legal online casino, PlayNow, which is available to residents of British Columbia. The province of Quebec also operates a legal online casino through Loto-Quebec.
Despite this legislation, the Kahnawake First Nation in Quebec has taken the position that it is a sovereign nation, able to enact its own gambling legislation, and has licensed and hosted nearly 350 gambling websites, without ever being prosecuted.
In the United States, the legality of online gambling is debated and can vary from state to state. The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA) limits the ability of banks and payment processors to transact with internet gambling sites that are unlawful under any federal or state law. However it does not define the legality or otherwise of an internet based gambling site. It was commonly assumed that the Federal Wire Act prohibited all forms of online gambling. However in December 2011, the United States Department of Justice released a statement clarifying that the Wire Act applied only to sports betting sites and not to online casinos, poker, or lottery sites, leaving the definition of legality up to individual states. Certain states such as Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey have started the process of legalising and regulating online gambling and it is expected that regulation will continue on a state by state basis.
Stringent laws in Italy outlined gambling as game based solely on luck rather than skill initially deeming it as illegal by the Italian government. However a later ruling determined Sports Betting as a game of skill and soon became legal but was limited to only a few operators in this region. In 2006 a major change in legislation took place allowing sports books a license that extended beyond its strict borders extending across countries within the EU. In 2007 Poker Tournaments were introduced and by 2010 Italy Gambling laws were revised to include Video Poker and fixed odds Casino games. It also marked the year that foreign online gambling sites were allowed to enter the Italy market. A vast profit in Casino games mainly from online Slots has greatly increased revenue and player retention.