A post explaining how to set up your first online casino account seems like a no-brainer for an online gambling blog, right?
I’m not sure why I haven’t covered the subject before now.
Most of the step-by-step guide below applies to almost anyone from the United States who’s signing up for an online casino account for the first time. The section about doing your due diligence applies less to gamblers in the 3 states with legal, regulated online casinos: Delaware, Nevada, and New Jersey.
That’s because players in most other states are dealing mostly with offshore companies who are willing to ignore local laws and regulations. This doesn’t automatically mean that such companies are cheaters or unethical. It just means they have a different mindset when it comes to United States laws regarding online gambling.
Offshore gambling companies operate from the legal premise that the bets are being placed in the jurisdiction where the site operates—NOT in the jurisdiction where the player is located. The United States federal government and most state governments operate from the opposite perspective.
If you’re okay with the risk level (which is honestly minimal), setting up an online casino account is easy. I doubt you’ll get rich gambling online.
But you can have a lot of fun once you’ve gotten started. Here are the steps:
1 – Assessing Your Tolerance for Risk as It Relates to Online Gambling
When I talk about risk as it relates to online gambling, I mean 2 things:
- How comfortable you are risking your money with companies that are largely unregulated,
- How comfortable you are with your own impulse control issues.
Most online casinos operate in foreign countries. The exceptions are the companies doing business in Delaware, Nevada, and New Jersey. If you live in one of those states, the legal risks related to online gambling are nonexistent.
But if you live in another state, online casino gambling might easily be considered illegal by the state authorities. This might or might not matter much to you. It’s not unreasonable to consider the risk of being prosecuted and/or convicted when talking about such issues.
The good news is that no one in the United States has EVER been arrested or prosecuted for playing online casino games for real money. This doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen. But it’s incredibly unlikely.
Law enforcement traditionally prefers to go after the providers of illegal activities. They’d much rather arrest a drug dealer than a drug user, for example. The same holds true for online gambling.
Even so, it’s rare for executives of online casino companies to face any kind of legal action. It’s just not a priority for law enforcement in the United States. And it shouldn’t be.
But if you’re a stickler about obeying the law, this risk factor might be too much for you, minimal though it may be.
You also need to consider the possibility that an offshore company might make it harder for you to withdraw your funds. They might go out of business. Even if the owners and management of the company are doing a great job, they might sell their company to less ethical operators.
You’re far more likely to deal with a casino making it harder to withdraw your money than it should be than you are to deal with a casino rigging games.
Finally, you need to be aware of your own tendencies as they relate to impulse control. Gambling addiction is a real problem for some people. It can ruin your life.
If you have a history of drug abuse or alcohol abuse, online gambling might present more of a risk for you than for other people. Slot machine games, especially, are designed to create specific brain activity that leads to addiction.
Only you can make that decision for yourself.
If you’re comfortable with the risk, it’s time to move on to the next step:
2 – Doing Some Due Diligence About the Online Casinos You’re Considering
Due diligence refers to the taking of reasonable steps to learn what you need to know about something before putting money into it. In the case of online casinos, due diligence is more important than elsewhere.
You don’t have to investigate your local grocery store before buying groceries there. But you’d probably want to read some reviews of a doctor before making your first appointment. You might also investigate the reputation of a car dealership before buying a car there.
With online casinos, due diligence is more important than with other companies. You’re dealing with companies whose ownership and management often keep their identities secret to avoid attention from the authorities. Reputation is more important than ever in this kind of industry.
The relative lack of regulation in other countries where these casinos operate is another reason to carefully consider where you want to gamble online.
Your first stop when investigating a company is probably the internet. Unfortunately, the online gambling industry is so lucrative that a lot of the information about these companies on the web is suspect.
Here’s an example:
You search for the phrase “online casino reviews”. You find a site which lists the “top ten online casinos in 2017”. At first glance, this looks like a helpful page.
The table listing the casino includes star ratings. It also lists the signup bonus for each of the properties. There’s even a convenient signup link for each property, too.
If you click on the name of the casino, you’re taken to a page that offers a review of the website. But the review has no byline. In other words, you have no way of knowing who wrote this review. Any piece of writing on the internet that doesn’t clearly identify its author is more suspect than a page that does.
Reading the actual content of the review is revealing, too. Other than some superficial criticism of the site’s design aesthetic, the review has nothing but positive and glowing things to say about the casino. This is a warning sign, too.
You see, online gambling information webmasters get commissions from these online casinos. Many of them publish reviews which are nothing more than thinly-disguised sales letters. Their goal is for you to click through to the casino and play so that the webmaster gets his commission.
What’s the solution for this?
The biggest part of the solution is to be aware of what you’re reading. Just because a website says that an online casino is trustworthy doesn’t make it so. On the other hand, just because you find a glowing review of a casino, doesn’t mean that the author is lying.
The trick is to use discernment. If you feel like you’re being sold something, do some more research. If you feel like you’re reading a sincere, reasonable, sober account of the pros and cons of a specific casino, you probably are.
Pay attention to complaints and compliments you see in online casino forums. Not all the people posting in such forums are real customers, though. Some of them are also shills for the casinos. Again, your discernment is critical in telling the wheat from the chaff.
Please consider the reviews on this site, too. Even though we have a financial relationship with many of the casinos we list, we think that the best way to make money is to take good care of the visitors to our website. As a result, we hire and train writers and researchers who put together some of the most thorough overviews of what you can expect at the various online casinos.
Another part of the due diligence process is investigating the online casino to make sure it offers what you need. If you’re interested in playing blackjack over a webcam with a live dealer, it would be a mistake to sign up for an account at an all-slots casino. (There are a surprisingly large number of these, by the way.)
If you’re a video poker player, ask about the pay tables on the games available from the casino. You shouldn’t settle for inferior pay tables. It’s a competitive environment.
Also, if you’re hoping to occasionally play poker with other people or bet on sports, make sure your prospective online casino offers those services too.
After you’ve been playing at a couple of online casinos for a while, you’ll learn that many casinos use the same software packages. Only a handful of software providers work in the industry, so once you’ve learned which ones offer your favorite games, you can steer your decisions toward those casinos using that software.
3 – Signing up by Filling Out Some Simple Forms
Filling out the forms is the simplest and most direct way to get started at an online casino. Some people are shy about sharing their personal information on the internet. I think too much caution in this area is silly.
Let’s think about the information you’re submitting. For the most part, you’re filling out a form that asks for:
- Your full name
- Your address
- Your phone number
- Your email address
None of these pieces of information are a big deal. Most of them are pieces of information you give away to companies every time you write a check to pay a bill of any kind.
The online casinos do ask for some other information that might make you less comfortable. For example, all online casinos I know of ask for your date of birth. This might seem scary at first, but think about why they need this information:
- They want to offer you a promotion or bonus on your birthday. Most companies do this when they can, not just online casinos.
- They want to make sure you’re legally old enough to gamble. This is the more important reason. You should, in fact, be wary of casinos which DON’T do this. If a casino is willing to let underage people gamble, they have no ethics.
You’ll also need to set up a username and password to use at the casino. Don’t use the same username and password at every site you sign up with, though. Use different ones. The reasons for this should be obvious.
Like most sites which require a login, the site will often ask you to set up a security question and an answer. They use this to verify your identity if you lose your password and need to request a new one.
4 – Making Your First Deposit
You don’t have to make a deposit when you first set up your account. In fact, at most online casinos, you can play free versions of their casino games as soon as you register an account. They give you a certain amount of “play money” in chips. This gives you a chance to try their games before risking any money.
I’m a fan of using play money games to evaluate an online casino experience before risking any real money there. I’m not, however, a fan of spending countless hours playing casino games for no reason other than watching a pile of what amounts to “Monopoly money” grow and shrink.
Real gamblers want to gamble for real money. That’s where the fun is. Gambling for play money chips is like drinking non-alcoholic beer—it misses the point.
But before you can place any wagers at an online casino, you need to put money into your account. Most online casinos offer you multiple options for doing this.
The easiest way to make a deposit at an online casino is by using a credit card. Visa and Mastercard are the most widely accepted options. Banks sometimes decline suspicious looking transactions that might be used at a gambling site, so keep in mind a couple of things:
When you make your deposit, don’t deposit an even amount like $1000. It’s better to try to run your credit card for $994.76. It’s less likely to trigger a flag from the banking system that you’re making a gambling deposit.
If you’re using a debit card instead of a credit card, it’s less likely to clear, even if you have money in your account. You can always take cash out and buy a prepaid credit card with those funds. These are often very effective in terms of being able to make a casino deposit.
Several online wallet services specialize in getting cash to and from casinos. Some of them are US-player friendly, but others only accept business from players in countries with less Puritanical laws about gambling. The casino where you’re signing up should be able to help you choose an option if you go this route.
You can also use electronic checks from your bank account. Most online casinos are set up to accept deposits this way, too. It’s as safe as writing a paper check to someone, and it’s faster.
The single most effective way to make a deposit with no problem at an online casino is to send them funds via a service like Western Union or MoneyGram. The fees for cash transfers using these kinds of services are high, but it might be worth your while if you’re having trouble getting money to the casino using one of these other methods.
5 – Validating Your Identity
You usually won’t need to validate your identity with the casino right away (although sometimes you will). But once it comes time to withdraw some winnings, the casino will certainly want you to provide them with proof of your identity.
This can be disconcerting for customers who aren’t prepared for this to happen. But it’s part of the business, and all online casinos do this. For one thing, they want to make sure they’re dealing with you and not some impostor who has stolen your identity. For another, they want to make sure that you’re legally of age to make these kinds of financial decisions.
You usually only need to provide 2 documents:
- A picture ID
- Any kind of official letter you’ve received
A picture ID usually means a driver license, but a passport would work, too.
An official letter can be as simple as a utility bill sent to your address.
6 – Claiming Your Bonuses and Playing Your First Games
Most online casinos offer a signup bonus of some kind to new players. This bonus takes the form of additional credits/money in your account. These bonuses are awarded as percentage matches against the amount of your first deposit.
Here’s an example of how that works:
The example casino offers a 200% deposit bonus of up to $5000 on your first deposit. If you deposit $2500, you get an extra $5000 in credits to play with. You deposit $2500, but you have $7500 in your account to play with.
This probably sounds too good to be true.
These bonus offers come with a big catch. You’re required to wager the bonus plus your deposit a certain number of times before cashing out.
In this case, let’s assume you’re required to place 35X your deposit plus bonus in wagers before cashing out. You need to place wagers of $262,500 before you can make a withdrawal.
If you’re playing slots at $5/spin, it will take 52,500 spins to achieve your playthrough requirements. An average slots player makes 600 spins per hour, so that’s 87.5 hours of play.
The house edge for the game can be used to predict how much you’ll lose over that much wagering. But we don’t know what the house edge is for the slot machine games at this casino. Let’s assume the casino is extremely loose, and the payback percentage for their slots is 97%. The house edge is 3%.
Your expected loss on $262,500 when dealing with a 3% house edge is $7857. That’s more than you have in bankroll, even with the bonus.
Smart gamblers might think they can just play blackjack with perfect basic strategy. By reducing the house edge to 0.5%, they can guarantee themselves a profit using the bonus. The expected loss on that amount of wagering with a 0.5% edge is $1312.50. That leaves plenty of profit.
But there’s another catch:
The casino doesn’t count wagers from blackjack at full credit toward fulfilling your wagering requirement. In fact, they only count those wagers at 10%. Since you have to make 10X as many wagers, your expected loss on that action jumps to $13,125—which again leaves you with no money.
This doesn’t mean it’s impossible to walk away from the online casino a winner. People do it all the time. If they didn’t, no one would play.
What it means is that you can’t use a sign-up bonus as an advantage gambling method to get an edge over the casino.
7 – Cashing out Your Winnings for the First Time
This is where the rubber meets the road, and this is when you’re going to learn just what you can expect from the online casino customer service-wise.
When you cash out your winnings, most online casinos credit back the amount of your deposit to your credit card. The rest of your winnings get paid out in a manner consistent with your choices among the options available from the casino.
Some casinos send out paper checks. These can be hard to cash, especially if they’re drawn on foreign banks.
Other casinos prefer to send money directly to your bank account via wire transfer. For large amounts of money, this is the most efficient way to get your funds.
You can also use other money transfer services like MoneyGram or Western Union.
The online wallets I mentioned earlier are also useful withdrawal methods.
And that’s really all you need to know about how to set up your first online casino account. It might seem scary and complicated at first. But most reputable online casinos have gotten good fast at making their customers feel comfortable.
Now that you know exactly what to expect from the process, it should be even easier and less intimidating.