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Guide to Online Gaming
New to online gambling? Here you'll find the info you need to make a safe, informed decision on where to play.

8 Tips for Online Gambling Newbies

PIN numbers, bonus chips, hidden banking fees and more
by Max Drayman, WINNERonline
16 Jan 2001

So you've read about gambling online, or maybe heard it mentioned in the media, and you're gonna give it a try. Okay, on your mark, get set -- wait!

Before you venture forth it's time for a quick reality check because the road to online gambling riches is not without its potholes. Here are a few caveats to illuminate the path ahead.

1. What's a download? Why do I care?

One of the first questions you'll be faced with if you decide to gamble online is whether you want to play games that require you to download and install software -- these are called "download" games -- or perhaps you'd prefer games that simply run over the web -- called "no download" games.

This is not a small question and we recommend our own To Download or Not for further guidance on this tricky subject.

2. So now I've downloaded. What now?

With no-download games it's pretty obvious what you need to do to start the action but with download games it may not be so obvious. You could go back to the casino's website and read their instructions, they all have them, but if you're impatient like me you just want to get to it!

The first step after downloading is to install the software and reboot your machine. I know, it shouldn't be necessary, but the bottom line is that computers -- especially those running Windows -- behave best if you reboot after an install. Once you're back up, click on the casino's icon that was placeded on your desktop. If there's no icon, check your Start menu under "Programs" and it will be at the bottom of the list.

Once you fire up the software it will probably connect to the casino's home site, verify your install, and ask you whether you want to play for Real or Fun. That's it, pick your poison!

3. I want my winnings!

So you've won big and you're ready to hit the mall. All you need to do is cash out, right? Wrong! All casinos have policies about how much you can cash out and when. In most cases you can only withdraw as much to your credit card as you deposited in the first place. So what about the rest?

Casinos vary widely on this, but the short answer is that you'll need to be patient. Even if the casino lets you withdraw right away it could take weeks to receive your check. Some casinos won't let you withdraw until you receive a PIN number from them through the mail. Still others require numerous pieces of identification be faxed to them so they can verify that you are who you say you are.

There are a few casinos that seem to want everything including your Social Insurance number and a fax of your fingerprints (no kidding!). It's up to you to decide if you can live with this invasion of privacy but in any case it's best to know what they're gonna want from the get-go: read the casino's info on withdrawals, it should all be spelled out pretty clearly there. If you don't like what you see, try another casino.

4. PIN number? What's that?

In most cases the casino's cash-out policies are reasonable, albeit a little inconvenient. Many of them issue the user a unique identification number, a PIN, that you need in order to initiate a cash-out.

Often your PIN number comes via regular postal mail which can be annoyingly slow. The theory is that it's for your own good since receiving it confirms that you actually live at the address they have in their database. It also helps the casino avoid fraud. Whatever, it's become part of the way many online casinos do business so you're probably just going to have to get used to it.

5. How much is it going to cost me?

Another bitter pill is that many casinos will charge you a fee for your withdrawal. Some charge a flat rate, a few charge a percentage, and almost all will charge you more if you want your money "right now thank you very much".

It's well worth your time to read your casino's website page of "Banking" or "Withdrawals". The vast majority of casinos are quite reasonable in their withdrawal charges, but you never know until you know. If it's not clear, email or phone them and find out what the deal is.

6. Hidden banking fees

So the check is in the mail and that means you're home free, yes? Maybe, but again, it depends on the details. For example, receiving a check on a Swiss bank in US dollars may not be money straight in your pocket.

We've known people to be hit with stiff transaction fees when they ask their bank to process a check drawn on a foreign bank. Direct deposit and bank wires may be alternatives, but you'd best check into it before hand because not all casinos offer these services at attractive rates.

7. Will the software run on my computer?

Good question. The answer in the vast majority of cases is "Yes, beautifully!". Unless your machine is really old, or you're running out of system resources (read: disk space) there's really not much to worry about.

I've installed casino software well over a hundred times on a variety of machines and have only encountered a major problem once or twice. On the off chance that you do encounter a problem -- you guessed it -- contact the casino's Customer Support people. That's what they're there for.

8. Bonus rules

Bonuses are a big deal these days -- literally and figuratively -- and you've no doubt encountered one that sounds really attractive. By all means, go for it but not before you've read the fine print.

Bonuses come in a bewildering variety and it's hard to keep track of what's a great deal and what's so-so. All casinos will require that you play the bonus before you can withdraw it. Some require you to play 2-times or 3-times the bonus, and on and on it goes. No one can offer advice that will apply to all the bonuses you'll find out there, other than the one we all know: caveat emptor.

Unfortunately we can't leave the bonuses issue without a few cautionary words. First and foremost don't abuse the bonus offers. In particular don't re-register using another name in order to get the bonus again. That's "bonus abuse" and the casinos can get pretty hostile over such attempts at subterfuge.

Finally, there's the issue of fair-play on the casino's part. Some casino managers have a tough time with the fact that a player can deposit $100, get a $50 bonus, hit a winning streak at the Craps table and cash out for $2200.