Regulated vs Unregulated
If you are interested in online gambling then you must understand the differences between regulated and unregulated gambling sites. Playing at a casino that is properly regulated is a completely different experience to playing at an unregulated casino, and it is very much in your interest as a player to make sure you know the differences and how to tell which site you are playing at and placing your deposits.
It is not just the site that you need to be aware of, as you also need to understand the online gambling laws in your jurisdiction. If you live in the United Kingdom then there are very clear and fair laws governing online gambling; however, in other countries this information are not quite so clear. For instance, Germany is currently in a legal grey area due to the way laws interact there between states, while in the United States, each state has its own laws governing online gambling and what is allowed in one state may not be allowed in another.
In places such as the UK or New Jersey in the US, there is an acceptance that online gambling is always going to happen. Therefore, lawmakers do their best to ensure that it is a fair industry with proper player protection, and of course, they also tax gambling revenues. This means that players who gamble at casinos licensed by those jurisdictions can be sure that they are safe and fair places to play. Conversely, those who live in countries where online gambling is banned, but play at casinos still willing to accept them as players, have no guarantees that the games are fair or that their money is safe. Despite this, there are still many people who choose to sign up and risk their money at these black-market casinos.
The answer to this question will vary slightly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. However, there are some commonalities that can be found and which as a player, you should certainly be on the aware of and on the lookout.
Any gambling operator that wants to offer services in a regulated jurisdiction will have to apply for a license. Operators will have to meet a range of criteria to receive the license and as part of the application process, they will have to prove that they comply with several regulations.
The first thing is that all respectable regulators will insist on independent testing of casino games to ensure that they are fair. There are a number of different agencies that carry out this testing, such as eCOGRA, and the results of these tests must be made available to players.
There will also be laws that ensure that players can freely access their money. This means that gambling sites will be obligated to process withdrawal requests in a reasonable amount of time and ensure that there are withdrawal methods available that allow players to access their money with ease. Similarly, there will be laws ensuring that all bonus terms and conditions are clearly explained to players so they are aware of any restrictions on withdrawals that may result from accepting a bonus. The laws will also guarantee players’ money, for instance, many jurisdictions insist that players’ money is kept in a separate account so that it will still be available if the casino goes bankrupt.
There will also be laws covering player protection. This means that adequate measures must be in place to help those with gambling addictions. These come in many forms and may include organisations to help those at risk, the ability to set self-imposed limits on gambling and the ability to self-exclude from gambling websites. Gambling sites will also be prevented from advertising to those who are at risk or underage. There may also be limits to the size of the maximum bet allowed on specific types of games or the amount that can be bet in a given time period.
In many jurisdictions, casinos are obligated to verify the identity of their customers with a process known as Know Your Customer. They will have to check the age and identity of all players and, in some jurisdictions (such as New Jersey), they will also have to verify players’ physical location.
These are just a few examples of the kind of laws you can expect to find in a well-regulated jurisdiction. A gambling site that is operating without any regulation will not have to follow any of these which means that games may not be fair, they may encourage problem gambling, there may be no guarantees that players’ money is kept safe, and so on.
The kind of laws explained above make it very obvious why it is always better to play at a regulated gambling site. If you don’t then you are opening yourself up to the risk of having your money stolen. The theft may not be blatant, but you will have no guarantee that the casino hasn’t rigged the games to simply ensure you can never come out ahead.
If you play at a regulated gambling site, it is just like making a purchase from a respectable business. The site will be accountable to the jurisdiction’s gambling authority, such as the UK Gambling Commission, the Malta Gaming Authority, or the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement. If you feel that you have been slighted then there is an organisation to which you can turn to receive help and advice. If the gambling site is found to be in the wrong then they will suffer severe consequences. These consequences may be a large fine or even the revocation of the license. As a result, it is very much in the gambling site’s interest to provide the best and most honest service possible.
To summarise, these are the main reasons why regulated sites are better:
There is a difference between unregulated and unlicensed and this is where things become more complicated for players. A casino may be licensed by a gambling authority but operate unregulated in a different jurisdiction. For example, a casino could be licensed by the Malta Gaming Authority and offer its services in the UK. It is illegal for players in the UK to play at an online casino that is not licensed by the UK Gambling Commission; therefore, that casino would be unregulated in the UK. In other words, if a player in the UK had a dispute with a casino licensed in Malta, then the player would have much fewer legal protections.
Many gambling sites are licensed and they offer their services in the US. However, this does not mean that they are legal to play at or that members of the sites have any form of protection. It is true that just because an authority from a different jurisdiction licenses a site, it does not automatically make the site dishonest, but players will be more at risk if they choose to use sites licensed elsewhere. Therefore, it is up to the individual to ensure that any gambling site that they join is not only licensed, but also licensed by an authority that is recognised in their jurisdiction, therefore making the site legal to play at.
Online gambling in the US operates in a legal minefield. Without going into too much history, the current situation is that individual states are able to create their own laws to license and regulate online gambling sites. So far, not many states have chosen to do so, just New Jersey, Nevada, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Indiana and West Virginia. However, not all forms of gambling are legal in all states. For example, online casino play is only legal in New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania, while West Virginia and Indiana only allow online sports betting.
This means that those based in the US who want full player protection will have to check what forms of online gambling is allowed in their state and who regulates it. Currently those in New Jersey are best positioned as all forms of online gambling are allowed (casino, poker and sports betting). The New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement has a strict licensing procedure and licenses many big-name gambling operators. Due to this, residents of the state (or visitors) can be sure of finding a safe and fair gambling site. Unfortunately, those in states without any form of legal online gambling will be significantly increasing their risk when they play.
The internet is a bit of a Wild West and those interested in gambling will see many sites offering them attractive welcome bonuses and all sorts of other membership benefits. However, all of this becomes irrelevant if the site is not properly regulated. Only at a regulated gambling site that is legal to play at in your jurisdiction will you receive the full range of player protection measures. If you choose to play at an unregulated gambling site, then you will have no guarantee that the games are fair or that your money is secured. Furthermore, even if you choose to play at a site licensed in a foreign jurisdiction, you will still not be fully protected. Therefore, it is vital when choosing an online gambling site, be it casino, sportsbook, poker room, bingo site, or anything else, that you first check if it is properly licensed and legal for you to register and play.