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How Does Online Gambling Work?

Betting online with real money is still new enough that I frequently find myself answering the question “How does online gambling work?”

Online gambling has been a going concern since the mid-90s, though the landscape of the industry has changed many times over the past quarter-century. This is especially true in America, where laws and regulations regarding online betting are still evolving.

This post is meant to clear the air about online gambling in all its forms. I cover the basics of the most popular ways to bet online, offering advice to online gambling newcomers along the way.                

What You Need to Gamble Online

Let’s start with the basics.

To gamble with real money online, you’ll need:


You can absolutely play casino games and make sports bets with pretend money, playing just for fun. Social casinos in which no real money is wagered are a growing segment of the industry.

But when you want to gamble for real money, you’ll need some cash to get started.

Internet access and a computer or smartphone

Obviously, the “online” part of online gambling requires Internet access. The computer or smartphone you use to do your online gambling is totally up to you. Modern online betting shops are designed for use on a wide array of Web-capable gadgets.

An account with a gambling site

Creating a player account at a gambling site is no different from opening any other online account. After you find an online casino you want to join, you’ll click a link that says “Sign Up” or something like that and be prompted to create your account.

Give them some basic details and you’ll be ready to add your funds and start gambling.

How to Fund Your Online Gambling Account

Americans have had issues funding online gambling accounts in the past. Some people are gun-shy about gambling online because they think you have to engage in some shadowy financial deals to send your money to online gambling sites.

That may have been the case once before the American gambling industry opened up to Internet betting. These days, Americans have legal and regulated access to online gambling, and that’s opened up the financial side of the industry in a big way.

Legal online sportsbooks, casinos, and poker rooms that operate in legitimate gambling jurisdictions offer a much wider variety of payment options than the old offshore casinos and sportsbooks of the 90s and 2000s.

Here’s a shortlist of commonly available funds transfer methods:

  • eWallet
  • eCheck
  • bank transfer
  • credit/debit card
  • prepaid card
  • bill-pay service
  • bank wire
  • check-by-courier

This is by no means a complete list. It’s meant to show the variety available to American online gamblers when they make deposits to their player accounts.

New methods of funding are proliferating as more customers gain legal access to online betting. For example, some online gambling sites in America allow customers to make deposits in person at casino cages.

How Online Casino Gambling Works

Online casino games offer a lot of the same options as traditional brick-and-mortar casinos. The selection of games is pretty much the same. Online casinos host blackjack, craps, roulette, slots, and video poker, no different from your friendly neighborhood casino.

Using webcams, online casinos now hire live dealers, offering online customers something even more like the casino games they’re familiar with.

Here’s the big difference between online casinos and the casino gambling you’re used to:

Online betting takes place on your computer or smartphone. You don’t have to leave your house to play slots when you open an online casino account.

It works like this:

The casino you choose offers a list of games broken down into categories. Typically, these are things like Slots, Table Games, Video Poker, Live Casino, etc. The number of games available depends on the casino where you play. Some have libraries of 700 or 800 different slot games and a few dozen table game varieties. Other sites have more humble collections.

The game you choose offers all the same features as games in a typical casino. It offers rules, a paytable, and options like game volume. The game will be designed to look like what you’re used to from the casino. A roulette game will have a graphical representation of a roulette wheel and betting surface, along with player options like bet size.

Random number generators and other technology determine the outcomes of the games. If you choose a reputable online casino, you don’t have to worry about the fairness of the games, as that’s checked out by a higher authority. The math behind the games is checked and regulated by the site’s licensing group and third-party testing services.

These games are point-and-click operations, with a simple user interface and lots of bright animations and sound effects to keep players interested.

How Online Poker Works

Online poker players looking for head-to-head competition have just as much choice in where they play as casino gamblers or sports bettors. Online poker works a lot like online casino games, but instead of roulette and slots, the sites offer poker cash games and tournaments online.

The most important feature of online poker is the lobby screen. This is the main screen you access after you open an account at an online poker site and add some real money to it. The lobby screen shows all available games. It’s like the games library at an online casino.

The lobby breaks down every game by its type, stakes, buy-in, and the number of tables. It allows players to filter the available games to help them find what they’re looking for. The variety of games and stakes available varies depending on which poker site you do business with. Some have large collections of games and tournaments with big numbers of players, while others are smaller.

Once you choose a game, you’ll be taken to a graphical representation of a poker table. You’ll see the other players in your game, represented by a name and an avatar. Other than the fact that you’re playing on a screen, the game works just as it would in real life, with all relevant rules and procedures intact.

How Online Sports Betting Works

Once you choose an online sportsbook, open a player account, and add money to it, placing sports bets online is simple. As with online casinos and poker rooms, it’s just a matter of pointing and clicking your mouse.

Online sportsbooks list their available markets much like online casinos list their available games. Sportsbooks that do business with Americans tend to feature US pro sports heavily, though they also offer lines less familiar to Americans. For example, you’ll absolutely find NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL bets at any US-facing online book. But you may also be able to find bets on Aussie Rules Football, Snooker, and Rugby.

Once you click the sports market you’re interested in, a new page displaying all available bets in that market appears. Typically, a game’s lines will appear all at the same time, allowing you to pick which one you’re interested in.

Odds are represented at online books exactly as they are at traditional brick-and-mortar ones. If you don’t understand how to read odds, check out our post on how football odds work before you place any online sports bets.

Creating a multi-bet such as a parlay is easy since once you’ve selected a single bet, you’ll be given the option to add other bets to it. As you select bets to make, you can input different amounts to see how much you’d win. Your online betting slip looks just like a real-world one, displaying the details of your bet, along with your total risk and your potential win.

You’ll get a chance to confirm your wager before the stake is deducted from your account. Should your bet win, the prize amount will be added to your account. If you lose, nothing happens, and you can move on to another bet.

How Daily Fantasy Sports Betting Works

Daily Fantasy Sports is an interesting case because, unlike the other forms of gambling in this post, it didn’t exist in a brick-and-mortar form before Internet gambling became a thing. It’s a new form of gambling that exists thanks to the Internet.

DFS is now a $19 billion a year business. It’s growing, and it’s on track to start supplanting other forms of betting in popularity.

The basic idea behind DFS is to create a fantasy sports team by drafting real-world players into your fantasy roster. Pitting this fantasy lineup against another for real money – that’s DFS. Fantasy teams score points based on the real-world performance of the players on the fantasy roster. Your point total, compared to the point totals of your opponent(s), determines your payout.

Playing DFS for real money means opening an account and adding money to it, the same as with casinos, poker rooms, and sportsbooks. You’ll interact with your chosen DFS service using your browser.

DFS contests come in many flavors and a wide variety of costs. Players pay entry fees to compete for different prize amounts, sometimes in a head-to-head format, sometimes in a tournament format.

Conclusion (How Does Online Gambling Work?)

Online gambling is no longer the backroom industry it once was. Today’s online casinos and sportsbooks are run by big names in the betting industry, backed by state governments, and licensed and regulated by legitimate operators.

This post is meant to be a complete and satisfactory answer to people’s questions about how online betting works. Hopefully, you won’t have to ask yourself ever again, “How does online gambling work?”