Online casinos first emerged back at the dawn of the Internet, somewhere around 1994. A niche interest at best, online casino gaming quickly found its audience amongst those earliest of web users. Fast forward to today, and it’s a whole different story. The online gambling sector is now a multi-billion dollar industry, enjoyed by players from across the world.
Casinos online have come a long way since their earlier days, with the improvement in graphics and game technology perhaps the most immediately obvious improvements. In this beginner’s guide, we’ll lead you through everything you need to know about casino gambling online - even if you’re a total newbie - so you get the best possible gaming experience, and hopefully win some money along the way.
At its most basic level, an online casino is simply a virtual version of the real thing. Like any land-based casino, you can choose to play a range of traditional and contemporary games for real money, ranging from the likes of roulette and blackjack to slots and video poker.
Modern day online casinos are usually also set up for mobile play too, so you can have a flutter whenever the mood strikes. You simply sign up for an account, load up your funds through one of the available payment methods, and get your game face on. Whether you prefer games of chance or games of skill, there’s real money to be won when Lady Luck is on your side.
Whether you’re gambling online, offline, in a back alley, or at the Bellagio, you’re never guaranteed to win every single bet. In fact, you’re at a slight disadvantage in every game, before you even get started.
This is known as house edge. It’s the percentage the casino builds into every game to ensure statistically they always profit over time. There’s nothing you can do to counteract house edge, because it’s a fixed factor. In some games, you can play the optimum strategy to reduce the house edge as much as possible, but it always exists - it’s how the casinos keep the lights on.
This doesn’t mean you’ll always lose, though. In fact, millions are won on a regular basis at casinos worldwide, and individual players can and certainly are heavily in the black from their gambling. Whether it’s skill, luck or a combination of the two, there’s no guarantee you’ll definitely lose either.
Win or lose, the casinos make their money from the pooled effect of all their players. Your mission is to fall into the ‘winners’ camp.
Think of it like this. Two land-based casinos sit side by side. One is a palatial building, perhaps with distinctive architecture, a grand entrance and doorman ready to welcome you inside. The other is a run down shack, with a sign on the front that says ‘Win £££ Here!’. Which would you trust with your money?
The same logic applies to online casinos, but it’s a tad more difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff. Worse still, some casinos aren’t regulated at all, and fly below the radar of the authorities, effectively giving them carte blanche to do what they like - and that sometimes includes cheating their players.
That means it’s important to take your time when you’re choosing an online casino - trust me, no-one wants the hassle of being scammed.
Your best bet when it comes to working out where you should play lies in independent reviews from trusted sources online. These can help point you in the direction of casinos that are trustworthy, licensed by an approved gambling authority (like the Gambling Commission in the UK, or the Malta Gaming Authority), and secured to the latest industry standards for maximum protection of your account and personal details.
Today, there are more options than ever before when it comes to choosing how to play. Generally, the most common method is to play in-browser, with most casinos allowing you to play directly from their website. Some casinos also offer download platforms, which allow you to run games remotely from your desktop, while connecting to their game servers.
On the mobile side, similar options remain, with in-browser and in-app the two dominant methods of accessing leading mobile casinos.
Downloadable platforms give you a more immersive experience on both desktop and mobile. There’s no distractions from playing in your browser, and you don’t necessarily need a great connection speed to enjoy the full quality of the gaming experience. In contrast, in-browser gaming is much more convenience, making use of Flash based games for instant play. You simply sign into your account and get started.
Downloading casino software is pretty straightforward, even if you’re not exactly a technical whizz.
Step 1. Find the right online casino. Check out our reviews and write-ups if you’re looking for good recommendations and the best bonuses.
Step 2. Download the installation file. Check your minimum system requirements and specification before downloading.
Step 3. Run the installation file. Continue through the installation menu to setup your desktop casino lobby.
Step 4. Restart your computer if required. You should now be ready to launch the casino lobby.
Step 5. Load funds. Once you’re all set up, it’s time to load your funds and get started.
If you choose to go for app over in-browser, the installation process is similarly pretty simple.
Step 1. Find the right casino for you. Is it mobile compatible?
Step 2. Find the app. This may be in the App Store if you’re downloading to iOS. If you’re playing on Android, you will need a direct link to the app, available from the casino’s website.
Step 3. Click to download and install the app. This should take a few moments, and you’ll be prompted for your password in most cases to confirm the installation.
Step 4. Open the app. You may be prompted to create an account, or to login with your existing details.
Step 5. Top up your funds and enjoy. Find a compatible payment method and add some bankroll to your casino account to get started.
Signing up for an online casino account is pretty easy, somewhere between registering for a social media profile and setting up an online banking account. There’s usually a short form to fill-out, which will ask for basic details about you - your name, contact information, date of birth, address, and anything else the casino may need to know.
Don’t be tempted to obscure your contact details or use any fake information - this is a no go area, and it will come back to haunt you later down the line. Casinos will almost always look to verify player accounts before processing any withdrawals, which they are often required to do by law.
Your passport, driving license or government issued ID are amongst things typically required before you can get your hands on your winnings. You’ll be informed by the casino when you need to verify your account, and you should only need to do this once. However, policies do vary between different online casinos, and some may require more verification than others.
Once you’ve created an account, you’re going to need to make a deposit to your bankroll, so you can get started playing for real money.
There are a few commonly used payment methods that are available for adding funds to your account, including:
To deposit to your account, you usually need to find the Deposit & Withdrawal page, or the Banking page, depending on the terminology used at your casino. From there, it’s typically a case of choosing your preferred payment method, and the amount you want to top up, before clicking through to complete the transaction.
If you’re using an intermediate payment partner like Skrill or PayPal, you’ll be logged in to your account as you progress through making the payment. Or if you’re paying by credit/debit card, just enter the numbers as usual and off you go.
You won’t have to look too far before you see some casino or another falling over itself to offer you a fantastic bonus, often running into the hundreds of pounds, to encourage you to sign up. This is one of the key marketing strategies deployed by casinos, and generally takes the form of a welcome bonus - the most common type of bonus, often paid as a percentage of your first deposit.
There are some restrictions, namely wagering requirements and maximum wins, to be aware of. But you’ll find these bonuses offered as an enticement to create an account, or in recognition of loyal, ongoing play. You’ll also often see variations on this theme, like free spins and other bonus rewards.
To obtain these bonuses, you need to use a bonus code, or sign up through an approved offer or partner. Your best bet is to check out our reviews and recommended casino bonuses, for the latest and greatest deals going.
If you do want to use a bonus code, be sure to enter it when you’re creating your account, or when you’re depositing money, depending on the bonus type. If you don’t use it, you could lose it - and nobody wants that, so be warned!
So you’re all set up and ready to go. Your bonus is fully loaded, and you’re dying to get started. But which games should you play?
By far the most commonly played games at online casinos are video slots, or online slots. These are games modelled on the physical slot machines you’ve probably played or at least seen dotted around. You spin the reels and get paid for winning combinations. Except rather than physical machines, which are of quite limited appeal, the online counterparts are interactive games with impressive graphics, exciting bonus features, and sometimes absolutely huge jackpots - developed by third party software developers like NetEnt and Microgaming.
Progressive jackpots are one of the biggest draws in slots, giving players the chance to win multiple millions on a single spin. In winnings that are comparable to scooping a National Lottery jackpot, these games are unsurprisingly hugely popular.
For the purists, traditional casino games like roulette, blackjack, video poker and craps are also available, including in live-action format through live casino games. These mainly skill-based casino games allow players to compete in table and tournament formats, echoing play in their offline counterparts.
Check out our ranking table for a closer look at where to play your favourite games online.
Depending on the game you’re playing, having the right strategy can make all the difference. In slots, your strategy is more likely to revolve around betting, or playing for certain bonus features. In blackjack, it might be more about playing the perfect game, so that you’re mathematically reducing the odds against you for more profitable long-term play. Whatever the game, work on identifying and honing your approach, so you can hopefully become more successful with time.
Slots: Use strategies based around sizing your bets, or choosing multiplier/free spins bonus rounds.
Roulette: Use betting patterns to cover more of the board, including low-paying, steady and high paying 35-1 odds shots. For the brave/deep-pocketed, Martingale (double up) strategies can also be deployed, but they do come with a serious health warning!
Blackjack: Study basic strategy, so you can eliminate the extra house edge you give away by making mistakes. Know how to play different card combinations, so you can choose when to bet and when to fold.
Craps: Explore different types of bets, with a particular focus on those with the lower house edge.
Video Poker: Always play for maximum coins on any video poker machine. This gives you a boost relative to the house edge, by paying out enhanced wins on the higher value combinations.
If you enjoy hitting the online casino environment for a bit of entertainment and don’t want to fall into these losing traps, then you should read the following casino mistakes, so you can play with some sort of online casino strategy.
This is a surefire way to drain your bankroll and a mistake that many players make. With a huge variety of casino games available it’s not uncommon for players to click their way to a game and give in to the temptation of it’s promising jackpots. It may look like fun, but if you’re risking your bankroll on a game you don’t understand, then you will swiftly see your account balance plummet.
If you do not understand the rules of the game, then you should get to know the rules before you risk your money on it. You can find tips to almost any casino game online, so get to know the game first!
Online casino gaming is so accessible it has allowed players to play whenever and wherever they want. This can lead to players gaming for too many hours, leading them to tire, lose focus, make mistakes, take bigger risks, and eventually decimate their bankroll.
Gambling at online casinos is great fun, and the vast majority of people enjoy gambling responsibly, as a form of entertainment. While some win and some lose, gambling is about the thrill and the excitement of getting involved. Unfortunately, for some, this can get out of hand. It’s important to maintain self-control as you gamble, and only ever bet what you can afford to lose.
If you feel like you’re betting too much, too frequently, or you think you may be developing signs of a gambling problem, it’s important to reach out. Help is available, and as well as support groups like GamCare, there are also mechanisms like self-exclusion that can help you limit the damage, if you feel your gambling is becoming destructive.
Sometimes it’s better to quit when you’re ahead, and online casinos aren’t always the most forgiving of the greedy. If you’re winning, don’t plough it all back in on a final spin - take your winnings as they come, in your stride. If you’re still having fun and you lose, no big deal - just don’t get too far in if you start to see negatives from your play.
So that’s pretty much everything you need to know to play online casinos and hopefully bag yourself some real money wins along the way. If there’s still something you need cleared up, refer to our Casino FAQs page for more information.