You’re thinking about signing up at an internet casino. You don’t know much about it, but it sounds like fun. And you have a little extra money. So the first thing you do is visit Bing or Google and search for “online casino reviews”.
What do you find?
Thousands of pages claiming to have done thorough research and written unbiased reviews of online casinos. These pages also often claim to know which gambling websites are the “best” online casinos.
Some of the information provided in these online casino reviews is undoubtedly helpful. You can learn which major gambling software providers power the games at the casino you’re considering. You can also often view screenshots of the casinos’ games in action.
Some sites even include comments and reviews from actual users.
But be cautious about any kind of independent website which claims to “certify” the online casinos they review. It’s a buyer-beware marketplace. Information sites often claim that they have insider knowledge about how fair the games are, how good the site’s reputation is, how fast their customer service team works, and how reliable their payouts are.
But these claims aren’t always accurate.
How Tables of Online Casino Reviews Are Usually Organized
At most sites offering online casino reviews, you’ll find a main page for those reviews. The big feature on that page will be a table listing 5-10 online casinos. This table usually includes the following information:
- Is the online casino USA-friendly?
- What does the online casino’s logo look like?
- What kind of signup bonus do they offer?
- Which software do they use?
- How well does the online casino rank on their star system or rating rubric?
I’ll cover what you need to know about each of those columns below:
Is the Online Casino USA-Friendly?
Before 2008, almost all online casinos accepted real money players from the United States and everywhere else in the world.
At the time, United States law was unclear about the legality of placing real money wagers at online casino sites. In fact, the law is still unclear about this in some respects.
But the United States passed a law called the Safe Port Act in 2006. This law included legislation called UIGEA–the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act.
UIGEA made it illegal to transfer funds to and from any business engaged in illegal online gambling.
The Federal Wire Act makes it illegal to place wagers on sports bets via phone lines from anywhere in the USA. UIGEA added another layer of legal repercussion to that existing law.
But whether the Federal Wire Act applied to games like blackjack or slot machines remained a question.
Some states, though, have specific laws about the legality of online gambling. If an online casino facilitates funds transfers from one of those states, they’re running afoul of this new federal law.
As a result, the 2 biggest online casino software providers–Microgaming and Playtech–pulled all their casinos out of the United States market.
This means that only a limited number of the almost 4000 casinos in the world accept real money players from the United States.
And not all of them are honest.
Online casino information sites want to make it easy for you to sign up for and choose an online casino, so they include this detail in their table listing their casino reviews.
What Does the Online Casino’s Logo Look Like?
These tables always include a logo for the casino. As a practical matter, this doesn’t mean much to most players. I guess if you don’t like the look of an online casino logo, you probably won’t like the look and feel of their casino games, either.
The main reason for including the logo is to make the online casino reviews hub page more appealing to the reader.
What Kind of Signup Bonus Do They Offer?
Online casinos, as part of their marketing efforts, always offer some kind of signup bonus to first-time depositors. This is usually listed in a form that resembles the following:
100% up to $100
The percentage is the amount of your deposit that the casino matches. The dollar amount is the maximum amount of bonus you can claim.
In the example above, if you deposit $100, you get 100% of that as a bonus. You deposit $100, but your account has $200 in it to play with. (The extra $100 is the signup bonus.)
Here’s another example:
250% up to $2500
In this example, you deposit $1000. The casino adds $2500 to your account in bonus money to play with.
What these tables don’t explain (usually) is the wagering requirement attached to this bonus offer. That is usually explained in the full review of the casino, though.
The wagering requirement is the number of times you’re required to wager the deposit plus the bonus before being allowed to cash out. It prevents the casino from being abused by advantage players.
Which Software Do They Use?
Most online casinos lease their software from one of the major providers. I’ve already mentioned 2 of them–Microgaming and Playtech.
Other online casino software providers of note include:
- Makitone Gaming
- RealTime Gaming
- Wager Gaming
That’s just a sampling, by the way. A large number of software providers operate in the space.
This is included for people who have some experience playing at online casinos already. If you like the games at Casino A, which uses Makitone Gaming, you’ll probably also enjoy the same games at Casino B.
This information can also help you choose a casino with different software, ensuring that you get a different gaming experience.
How Well Does the Online Casino Rank on Their Star System or Rating Rubric?
On many sites, this is displayed as a star rating. You’ll notice that most sites use either a 4 or 5 star rating, which isn’t unusual for any kind of product.
You’ll also notice that on most sites, all the casinos on the list have a star rating of at least 4 stars.
Some sites provide a numerical rating. I looked at one page which rated sites at 4.3/5, for example. Some sites use a scale from 1 to 10. (You’ll notice all the casinos on such lists always have a numerical rating of at least 9.0.)
The funny thing about these ratings is that they’re always really high. None of the casinos listed on these tables have low ratings.
You’ll also notice that the numbers seem arbitrary. I looked at a page which listed about 10 casinos as having a 4.4 rating, then listed 10 more casinos with a 4.3 rating. The lowest rating on the list was 4.1.
Wouldn’t it have been more honest and accurate to rate those casinos at 5 stars, 4 stars, 3 stars, and 2 stars?
You’d have the same “point spread”, so to speak, but the difference in casinos would be clearer.
This is where you need to start considering the goals of the sites which publish these lists of online casino reviews.
The Goal of Most Online Casino Reviews
The online casino industry is obviously very lucrative. An online casino gambler is worth, on average, at least $1000 to the casino. The online casinos are willing to pay publishers of informational sites big commissions for referring players to them.
Sometimes these commissions are paid on a per depositor basis. This is called a “CPA” arrangement–cost per action. You visit my site, sign up for Online Casino A, and make your first deposit. Online Casino A then pays me $50 or $100 or whatever the CPA deal stipulates.
I’ve heard of publishers who’ve gotten CPA’s of $500 or more.
More often, these commissions are paid as a percentage of net revenue. This is called a “revshare” deal. The way it works is that you visit the information site, sign up at the online casino, make a deposit, and start gambling.
The casino then pays ongoing commissions to the referrer as a percentage of your losses. If the deal stipulates 20% commission, the publisher who referred you gets $200 if you lose $1000.
Do you smell what I’m stepping in, here?
Does This Mean All Online Casino Reviews Are Bad?
This does NOT mean that all online casino reviews are bad. Many online casino information site publishers take a lot of pride in referring their readers to reputable, safe online casinos.
It DOES mean you should be aware of the financial relationship information sites like this have with the online casinos they promote. These publishers usually have a financial incentive to refer you to the casino.
This means that the online casino reviews you’re reading are probably not “unbiased”–even on a reputable information site.
Many (not all) online casino reviews are literally nothing more than sales letters designed to win your trust and get you to hand over your money to an online casino.
One of the newer marketing techniques is to present reviews from actual customers. If you had doubts as to the veracity of all those user reviews, well–who could blame you?
Some of them are probably real, and some of them are probably written by shills.
What Can You Expect to Read in these Actual Online Casino Reviews, Though?
Depending on which site you’re reading, the online casino reviews themselves will cover different aspects of the user experience you can expect at the site. They’ll often cover these aspects in an order and using a phrase that’s more or less unique to their site.
Most often, they’ll cover the following:
- Banking Methods Available
- Customer Service
- Games and Software
- Signup Bonus Details
Banking Methods Available
Any online casino review worth its salt include a section about how to get money to and from the casino. In the United States, post-UIGEA, getting money to and from an online casino can be hard.
Most online casinos accept Mastercard and Visa, but Mastercard and Visa are often less flexible. They’ll often decline transactions from online casinos if they’re coded accurately.
A variety of online wallet services are available which specialize in online gambling. These options are included, too.
Electronic checks, wire transfers, and cash transfer services (like Moneygram) are often options, too.
Bitcoin has become a popular means of funding an online casino account.
The review you’re reading will usually list and explain which options are available for both deposits and withdrawals.
This is one of the useful aspects of an online casino review.
But that information is also available on the casino’s website, so it doesn’t add much unique value to the user experience. Sometimes the information is presented in a more clear manner on a review website, though.
You’ll find the factual details about the customer service department at the casino in this section. It will often include the hours of operation and means of contacting the casino’s customer service department.
You’ll often see some glowing reviews of the writer’s experience with the customer service department at the casino. I’d tend to be skeptical about this.
A good strategy to use when considering an online casino is to contact their customer service department with a question yourself before signing up. You’ll get a real experience to evaluate.
Maybe you’ll call their toll free number and reach someone with a thick accent who seems impatient. Or maybe you’ll send a chat message and get an instant, friendly, helpful, informative reply.
But either way, you’ll be getting a real experience to judge from.
Games and Software
These sections include listings of the games available at the property along with some analysis (usually not very deep) of the software used.
This can be helpful in the extreme on some sites. I’ve seen sites that go into great detail about the house edge and payback percentages for the available games, for example.
I’ve even seen online casino reviews that include the appropriate strategies for playing that casino’s specific games.
Signup Bonus Details
One of the biggest sections of most online casino reviews is the one devoted to the signup bonus that’s available. After all, this is the biggest incentive for most players to sign up. So why wouldn’t the reviewer include detailed information about this.
The biggest factor that should be covered in an online casino review is the requirements for using the bonus. Most online casinos have a wagering requirement. They also have a limited number of games you can play to fulfill those wagering requirements.
For example, you might be required to wager your bonus plus deposit 35 times before cashing out. And the only wagers that count toward this might be wagers on slot machines.
How does this work in practice?
You deposit $100 and get a 100% bonus, so you have $200 to play with. The casino requires you to wager $7000 before cashing out.
You’ll win some of those bets and lose others. The house edge on most slot machine games, though, is at least 5%.
Your expected loss is $350.
The casino has the math in their favor. You can’t make easy money by taking advantage of bonuses.
You can, however, get more play for your money at an online casino.
Online casino reviews are often just sales letters for online casinos. Some are better and more useful than others.
But you should eye any “review” with some skepticism. Don’t gamble with money you can’t afford to lose, especially not online.
Do some independent thinking and a little research before deciding on an online casino. You should be able to get an idea of how reliable the information you’re reading is based on the tone used in the writing on that page.