The Way Online Gambling Works
Online gambling still feels like a relatively "new" thing to us. We can clearly remember the time when betting and gaming for real money on the internet became possible. It actually seems incredible that this was now over 20 years ago, although gambling is certainly different today than it was when it first started.
Since the very first gambling sites there have been many changes to the industry, perhaps most notably in terms of the relevant laws and the way it's regulated. There have also been major improvements in terms of the quality and standard of what's available. The early sites are almost unrecognizable when compared to the leading gambling sites of today.
Fundamentally, though, everything works in largely the same way as it did all the way back in the mid-1990s. It's still all rather straightforward, despite the fact that many people are reluctant to gamble online because they think it's really complicated or difficult. On this page we can hopefully put that misconception to rest. We explain some of the basics that apply to online gambling in general, and then look specifically at how each of the following four forms of gambling work in the online environment.
- Sports Betting
- Casino Games
- Daily Fantasy Sports
Online gambling is facilitated by gambling sites. These are websites that can be accessed like any other, by clicking on a link or typing the relevant address into a browser. Some sites offer a variety of different forms of gambling, while others specialize in just one.
These sites all feature advanced software that make it possible to gamble for real money online. This software is built into the site in some cases, and in some cases you have to download a software client. Either way, this software is essentially the main component of any gambling site. Sports betting sites use software that enable you to find and place your chosen wagers, online casinos and poker rooms use software that enables you to play the relevant games, and daily fantasy sports use software that enables you to draft teams and enter them in contests.
There are three things required to be able to use these gambling sites and bet or play for real money. These are as follows.
The first item on this list is rather obvious of course, as you can't access any site on the web without a device with internet access. The only way to use gambling sites in the early days was with a PC running Windows, as they simply weren't compatible with anything else. Slowly but surely more and more sites started introducing Mac capability. Nowadays you can use these sites with any computer or laptop, and even with smartphones and tablets.
To get an account at a gambling site you have to go through a short signing up process. When visiting a site for the first time, you'll usually see a button or link with the text "Join Now" or something similar. Clicking on that will either take you to another page with a form to complete, or open a pop-up with a form. You then have to complete that form by providing a few personal details. With that process out the way, it's time to make a deposit.
Deposits are how you get real money into your account, so that you can start betting and gaming. There are usually several different options for doing this. Using a credit card or debit card is the most popular method, and it's also the easiest. You just have to enter the details of the relevant card, and then how much you wish to deposit. Funds will be transferred into your account, and you'll be ready to go.
There are lot of different gambling sites on the web today, and it's important to choose carefully when deciding which one to use. For anyone who doesn't know where to start, please read our article explaining how to pick the right site.
How Online Sports Betting Works
Sports betting is perhaps the simplest of all forms of online gambling, in terms of how it all works. There's no software to download, and viewing the available betting markets and then placing your chosen wagers is really easy to do.
A typical sports betting site will have a section that lists all the different sports covered. Here's an example of how this list might look.
Clicking on the sport you want to bet on will then bring up a new page, displaying the various upcoming events for that sport. Click on football, for example, and you'll see lists of games that may look similar to the following.
The odds and lines for each game displayed are clearly visible. These are subject to regular change, as the odds compilers working for betting sites are constantly being adjusted based on various factors. These changes are done in the back-end software of the site, that we as customers don't get to see. All we see are the odds and lines as they are displayed.
From a screen like the one shown above, there are two primary choices. The first is to make a betting selection from the options on display by simply clicking on the relevant spot on the page. If you wanted to bet on the Steelers to cover the -3 spread at odds of -110, for example, you'd click where we've highlighted. The selection will then be added to a betting slip, which we'll explain later.
The second choice is to look at additional betting options for a specific game. We've also highlighted how this can be accomplished. Clicking this button will take you to a page showing the full range of bets available for that game, including props such as the one shown below.
Again, clicking on the relevant selection (hence the one we highlighted) will add that selection to a betting slip.
Having made your desired selection, or selections, you need to go to the betting slip. At some betting sites this remains visible at all times, on all pages, while at others you have to navigate to a specific page to find it. It will always look something like this though.
In this screenshot, we've added a moneyline wager on the Kansas City Chiefs to win their game against the Houston Texans. The betting slip is displaying our selection, and the odds, at the top. This is followed by details of the game in question. There are then two boxes, one of which we've highlighted. This is where we need to enter our stake, which is $100 in this case. The box to the immediate right hand side of this shows us the potential win from this stake. The wager is then summarized below this, with another button at the bottom of the slip. This is what we need to click to first review our wager, and then confirm it.
At the point of confirming our wager, the staked amount will be deducted from our account. If the Chiefs go on to win the game, the stake will be returned to our account along with any winnings. If they don't, nothing further happens and our stake is lost.
That's pretty much all there is to how online sports betting works. It could hardly be any simpler than that.
How Online Casinos Work
Online casinos are more complex than sports betting sites, but not by much. We can start off by choosing between these two options. You can either download a software client and install it on your computer, or you can choose to play from a selection of "instant" games which are accessed via your web browser. The overall experience is pretty much the same in either case. Some casinos only offer one option or the other, but most offer both.
If you choose to download the software client and install it, to access the games you'll have to start up the client and login using your username and password. There are lots of different types of casino software, but they all work in pretty much the same way. After logging in, you'll see the games lobby such as the one pictured below.
You can then choose from the list of game categories on the left hand side, which will open up a new list of all the available games in that category. All that's left to do is to select the game you want to play and start playing. We'll explain more about the actual games shortly.
If you choose to play the instant games, you just need to log in to the casino's website and go to the games page. Here's an example of what that page may look like.
There's a selection of games shown in the main part of the screen. Typically, these will be the most popular games available. You can click on any one of them to start playing. Alternatively, you can take a look at wider selection of games. In the example we've shown above, the casino has listed some alternatives at the bottom of the screen. These are divided into categories, and there are options (as per our highlights) to see all the games in each category. Clicking on one of the "view all" links will take you to another screen where you can then pick which games you want to play.
Playing the games is usually a very simple process. The following is a screenshot from a slot game.
We've highlighted the two important parts of this screen, in terms of what you have to do. The two buttons on the left are how you adjust the amount you want to stake per spin. There's typically a wide range of stakes available. The button on the right is how you spin the reels. Simply click on that, or press it if using a touchscreen, and the reels will start spinning. The amount staked per spin will be deducted from your account at that point. If a winning combination comes in, the relevant payout will be added instantly to your account.
The following is a screenshot from a roulette game.
Here, the software is displaying a graphical representation of a roulette table. The main part of the screen is the betting board, and this is where you place your bets. First you have to click on the size of chip you wish to use, and then clicking on the relevant spot on the board will add chips to your chosen wager. Clicking on the "spin" button will start the roulette wheel. Once the wheel has stopped, the screen will show what number has been spun. All bets will be settled at this point; the relevant sums will be added to or deducted from your account balance.
All the different games at online casinos work on the same basic principle. There's some form of graphical representation of how the game would look in a real casino, an option for adjusting stakes, options for the different types of wager allowed if relevant, and an option for starting a new round of the game. Online casinos typically publish instructions for how to play each game, so you can always read these when you're not sure what to do.
This is all you really need to know about how online casinos work, but you can read more in our online casino basics section. This article explains how casinos use a random number generator to ensure that their games are fair. It also covers the various different software providers that online casinos use to power their games, while touching upon other topics as well.
How Online Poker Works
Online poker is the most complicated of all forms of online gambling in terms of the mechanics of how it works. Again, though, it's still easy enough to learn everything you need to know to participate. We provide a fairly brief overview here, but for more details you might like to study our guide to online poker.
As with online casinos, at poker sites there's often the choice to either download a software client or play instant games. Generally speaking, the better option is to download the software if possible. Instant play poker has improved a lot recently, but the downloadable software is usually higher quality and more functional.
Regardless of whether you download the software or play the instant games, there are two screens that are particularly important to understand. The first of these is the lobby screen, which looks very similar at pretty much all poker sites. Here's an example.
The lobby screen is where you see all the available games. You can usually apply filters so that only certain games apply. For example, you could choose to see only shorthanded Texas No Limit tables with stakes below $1/$2. Or you could choose to see all sit and go tournaments with a $10 entry fee. Or you could choose to see all upcoming scheduled tournaments. Basically, there are plenty of options for finding whatever game you're looking for.
When entering a tournament, the relevant entry fee is deducted immediately from your account. When sitting at a cash table, the amount you choose to buy in for is deducted from your account. At both cash games and tournaments, the game screen will look something like this.
This is where all the serious action takes place. Each avatar around the table represents a real person who is also playing online at the same table. Play follows the same rules as a game of poker would in "real life". Whenever it's your turn to act at the table, the available actions will be shown on screen. Clicking on the relevant button will mean you take that action.
Where appropriate, you'll also have to enter how many chips you want to bet. All of your actions, and those of the other players, are communicated to the poker site's servers, which processes them and displays the appropriate information on screen. So it's easy to keep track of what the other players are doing and act accordingly.
It's not too different from playing in real life. You're just placed in front of a virtual poker table instead of a real one. Plus, all the cards are dealt automatically rather than by a human dealer. Cards are dealt randomly, as poker sites use random number generators in the same way as online casinos. The chips are handled instantly, and the winner of each hand is determined automatically too. All of this stuff is processed by the poker site's servers.
How Daily Fantasy Sports Works
If you've played in traditional fantasy sport leagues, then daily fantasy sports contests will make perfect sense to you. Even if this isn't the case, they're still easy enough to understand. The basic idea is that you create "fantasy" teams by drafting players from real life sports, and then put your teams up against teams created by others. Teams are awarded points based on how their players perform in actual games. Unlike traditional leagues though, daily fantasy sports contests don't last a whole season. They are based on a single round of games.
Here's a quick rundown of what's involved.
As with sports betting, there's no software to download with daily fantasy sports (DFS). Everything takes place directly on the site via your web browser. You need an account at a suitable DFS sites, with funds deposited in order to enter contests. There are a variety of different types of contests to enter, similarly to how there are different types of tournaments at poker sites. All the entry fees collected for each contest form the prize pool.
Let's say you decide to enter a football based contest. First you'd pay the relevant entry fees, and the next step would be to create a lineup. The following is a screenshot from a daily fantasy sports site, showing how this is done.
On the right are the positions you need to fill. On the left are the players you can choose to fill those positions. There will be certain drafting rules in place, such as only being able to select a certain number of players from each real life team. Lineups are subject to salary caps too. Each available player is given a hypothetical salary value, and the total value of all players' salaries in a lineup must not exceed a fixed limit.
Once the lineup is created, it will be submitted into the contest you've chosen to enter. All points earned will be calculated automatically by the site based on whatever criteria is used, and then the teams will be ranked based on how many points have been earned. The prize pool is then distributed to the "owners" of the team who scored the most points.
We provide a more detailed look at how this all works in our guide to daily fantasy sports. This includes information on how the drafting rules and scoring systems work, in addition to all the different types of leagues and contest. One interesting part of this article is our comparison between daily fantasy sports and traditional sports betting. This isn't the only topic we cover either.
Author: Brad Johnson
Updated: January 2016