As with nearly every other aspect of our lives, the Internet has changed gambling, taking this pursuit from the hubs of Las Vegas and Atlantic City to the personal comfort of any spot with an online connection. For years, online gambling was mostly isolated to online card games and sports betting, but in certain states, you can indulge in all of the wares offered at a brick-and-mortar casino — minus, perhaps, the bar tab, the hubbub, and other distractions. This young industry is changing every day, and its story continues to evolve.
Online casinos tend to come in two forms: either Web-based (accessed through the browser) or download-based (via a casino client or app). As mobile use through smartphones and tablets continues to grow, many online casinos offer both options. Please note that download-based casinos carry the threat of malware, which applies to any software you download to your computer.
However, one big question lingers for anyone interested in online gambling: Is it legal where you live? The laws vary widely from municipality to municipality. For example, online casinos are generally legal in Brussels and the United Kingdom. Canadian laws are harder to discern, though the Kahnawake First Nation in Quebec has taken the position that it is a sovereign nation and, in turn, has licensed and hosted nearly 350 gambling websites without repercussion.
In the United States, Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey have legalized online gambling. More states are expected to follow suit, but opposition is strong too. To enforce these laws, online casinos have implemented technology that detects whether a user is within the state’s borders, and overall, the software has worked.
The transfer of money was also an early problem since many credit card companies didn’t want to tangle with a law forbidding banks from funding illegal Internet. That appears to be changing. In fact, MasterCard, Visa, and PayPal are all now approving Internet gambling transactions.
Cheating and fraud — particularly on the part of the casinos — were big questions, but the use of pseudorandom number generator (PRNG) eliminated most of those concerns. PRNGs use algorithms to create long, random strings of numbers, and when implemented correctly, they ensure games are fair and arbitrary. When under proper regulation, online casinos are audited independently to make sure their players’ win percentages match the expected odds.
Another early concern regarding online gambling and casinos was the combined effect of the addictive qualities of both the Internet and of gambling. Certainly, addictive personalities could be drawn into the trap of compulsive online slots and card games, but overall, the numbers have been positive, if not overwhelming. Online gambling in New Jersey fell far short of initial forecasts, but it seems to have settled into a comfortable range, where it can make the difference between a good month or a bad month for a casino.
Among the online options, online poker is probably the most popular game, and some players have gone on to net multi-million-dollar annual earnings. Some of these expert players have even branched out to daily fantasy sports, according to some reports.
Slot machines have always been a favorite spot for non-skills players, and the online equivalent is especially appealing to the generations who grew up on video games. Online slots translate especially well to smartphones and tablets; touchscreens seem to be made for the quick action of slots.
Online casinos are still new to the scene, and much of their history remains to be written. Right now, the industry is navigating and setting laws to establish its base, leaving many questions unanswered. But with the inevitable march toward online everything, it’s only a matter of time before gambling carves out its own corner of the Internet. Stay tuned as online casinos establish themselves in our habits and customs.
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Written by Jane Emery