If we were in London and I gave you a choice of playing some roulette at my buddy Dave’s house in Mayfair or heading over to the Hippodrome Casino, which would you choose? Sure, Dave’s a good guy, but can we trust him to pay off if we win a couple of thousand pounds? Good question.

It’s the same with sports wagers. Do you want to leave a £500 football bet with Dave, or pop around the corner to William Hill, a licensed bookmaker in London? Would the fact that William Hill is listed on the London Stock Exchange make a difference?

Good Casino Licensing

Listen, I’m probably just like you. I enjoy an occasional bet on a horserace. And I might bet American baseball from time to time, but I’m a little leery about making my bets online. I’m used to brick-and-mortar casinos and sportsbooks. Still, there are plenty of places to play online that seem to be fine. But who can you trust?

Gambling in the UK and the US was outlawed before the 1930s. And although William Hill was founded in 1934, they weren’t licensed. In the US, open gaming was only allowed in one state, Nevada, and local sheriff’s departments oversaw their licensing for years.

In fact, state legislators were so frustrated by casinos cheating customers at Lake Tahoe, Nevada, in the late 1940s that they told the operators they needed to stop cheating or it would impact the whole state. Some straightened up; others didn’t, so little changed until state legislators approved the Nevada Gaming Board in 1955. Then most of the early cheating casinos were shut down.

Thirty years later, regulations were still a bit lax, and when a pair of $25,000 keno jackpots were hit at the Riverside Casino in Reno, Nevada, the operators were unable to make immediate payment, and the casino closed shortly after that. Fortunately, financial, banking, and audit procedures are much more stringent in Nevada. The same is the case for gambling in the United Kingdom.

In the UK, gaming is regulated by the Gambling Commission, which is a part of the Department for Culture, Media, and Sport. In 2005, an Act of Parliament updated gaming laws and specifically addressed internet gaming. The US has taken the opposite action, declaring internet gaming to be unlawful except in certain situations left to the discretion of individual states, including Nevada and New Jersey (other states are adding online poker games at this time).

Why Casino Licensing Is Important

Based on the regulations set by the UK and the reputations of long-standing companies like Ladbrokes, William Hill, and Betfair, customers are much more likely to feel comfortable making wagers in person or even online with these established groups.

There will always be the occasional dispute at any gaming site or land-based casino, but having a reputable group of regulators like the UK Gambling Commission or the Nevada Gaming Control Board assures players of at least fair representation.

If I bring my buddy Dave back into the discussion, and he rents a postal box and offers gaming licenses for online operators, will you feel comfortable playing at an online site he oversees? Probably not if you’ve had your morning coffee.


Unfortunately, online casinos aren’t regulated unless they want to be. Some buy licenses without offering much more than a listed office and a bank reference. Based on that, certainly not all online casinos are safe. I can’t guarantee which sites are good or bad, but looking at casino reviews can be a very good start in finding a reputable site.

If you play some video poker and hit a royal flush, you’ll probably want to be able to cash out your winnings. A casino review will let you know how to do that and what the requirements are, but what if the site won’t pay you?

I already mentioned why land-based casino licensing was important to provide fair games and ensure payoffs, but what about getting the same assurances from online casinos? What if there’s a software malfunction or your deposit never shows up in your account? What if you can’t reach anyone at the site to talk to? Well, that’s a real problem.

When that happens, the best thing to do is file a notice of complaint with the regulating body that has issued the license to the online gaming site you have an issue dealing with. If you are sending a post to my friend Dave, you are in a lot of trouble.

You could also be in trouble if you are sending a letter, email, or calling a licensing authority that doesn’t audit and properly vet its possible licensures. Although improvements have been made in most countries, there have been issues in the past for gamers when requesting help from licensing authorities in places like Antigua and Costa Rica.

Even the Kahnawake Gaming Commission has had similar issues, but today they license more than 50 operators who run nearly 300 gaming sites. They also did a thorough financial and software investigation during the Ultimate Bet cheating scandal (inside operatives could see all player poker hands while playing) and instructed the site owners, Tokwiro Enterprises, to pay a fine of $1.5 million and refund nearly $22 million to players.

Absolute Poker was another poker site where inside cheating was suspected and later proven. For the record, I have played at 48 different poker sites over the years. I have a winning record at all but four. Two of those were Absolute and Ultimate Bet. I stopped playing at both after reviewing my records for more than 20,000 hands.

A third site I couldn’t beat was Games Grid, which is also closed. It is possible my results at that site were poor because I was playing short-handed games, so I make no claims against the software. I only state my results.

A poor run of luck is never an indication of cheating, but sustained results below your average should always be considered. This also means that keeping records of sites, the games you play, and the results you see can be a helpful tool when considering whether to continue playing at a casino or poker room or moving on.

Other well-established regulation bodies like the Gibraltar Gambling Commission and the Alderney Gambling Control Commission have solid reputations for diligent licensing formats and provide several ways to contact them should problems ever arise.

Obtaining a Casino License

Every jurisdiction has its own set of rules and regulations for obtaining a gaming license. Getting a land-based license in the UK or the US can take several years. Background checks, financial background, and known associates have stalled even well-known companies. Harrah’s, one of the largest US gaming groups, was denied licensing in Australia and stalled in New Jersey in the 1980s.

The more thorough the background, the less likely there will be problems for players. It is rare that players are cheated in any UK or US casinos. That’s the good news. The bad news is that not all casinos in other countries are fair. Most are, but like online sites, problems do arise from time to time.

Online gaming sites require less taxing background checks to obtain licensing. Although each governing body requires financials, key-employee background checks, and healthy fees (about $40,000 to start), not every regulating body is the same.

In Curacao, a master license holder can grant sub-licenses to other parties. Some of these master holders offer packages to casino operators, and only one license is needed for a gaming site, whether it runs table games, slots, or a sportsbook.

Gaming licenses obtained through Alderney, Gibralter, Isle of Man, and Malta can be much more stringent and expensive. Some offer a master license, while others allow different categories such as business to business and business to customer be licensed separately. Each commission charges either a VAT or Gaming Duty on gross wins each year.

Initial fees start at £17,500 to £35,000 or include a minimum Gaming Duty of £70,000. No, this isn’t for the fainthearted or undercapitalized. That alone doesn’t guarantee gaming fairness, but it’s a start. The background and financial checks are strenuous.

Also, good licensing commissions require ongoing financial and software testing by independent groups such as eCOGRA (eCommerce Online Gaming Regulation and Assurance). eCOGRA is a London-based internationally-approved testing agency established in 2003 in the UK.

The group specializes in the certification of online gaming software as well as auditing of internal controls and IT. What that means is that they test and audit gaming software, so if they approve a casino’s software and games, there is an extra layer of protection for the player.

Do Your Homework

Ultimately, only you are truly responsible for protecting yourself from rogue casinos. You probably won’t be risking your money at my friend Dave’s place, but what assurances are there that your money is safe at other casinos?

In the end, playing at an online casino that doesn’t protect your deposit via a net wallet or 128-bit encryption is a bad start. You don’t know where this casino group’s owners are located, and you don’t know their reputation. So, do some homework before you risk your cash.

A good place to start is a casino review. That will give you some background information and a general sense of what the casino offers. If you like what you see, move on to the site itself. Check the licensing. If it’s proud of being licensed by Dave’s Online Casino Group, move on. If it lists a known and respected gaming commission, especially those listed above like in the UK, you’re on the right track.

You should also check for an outside auditing group like Price-Waterhouse Coopers, eCOGRA, Gaming Laboratories International, Gaming Associates, and others. Rouge casinos are unlikely to have these groups or trusted gaming commissions listed.

Some Final Thoughts to Consider

Nobody is immune from making a mistake choosing a casino to entertain themselves. What you are immune from is making the same mistake twice. Doing your homework is the best way to protect yourself.

That includes choosing only casinos that have good licensing, good auditing, and good word of mouth. Several deposit and certainly numerous withdrawal options are also important. Using a net wallet isn’t a guarantee, but any site that has multiple issues will find themselves dropped by providers like Neteller and Skrill.

And finally, keep in mind that there are many choices out there; why choose a site nobody has ever heard of? Don’t be enticed by a monster bonus, cash back, or rebates. Quality sites do offer deals, but they don’t need to solicit play with offers that are too good to be true. And learn the difference between cashable and non-cashable (sticky bonuses). The more you know, the better decisions you will make.

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