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

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

  • Sports Betting
  • Poker
  • Casino Games
  • Daily Fantasy Sports

The Basics

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

  1. A computer or other device with internet access.
  2. An account.
  3. Money.

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.

Top Tip

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.

List of Sports at Gambling Site

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.

Shot of Football Games to Bet On

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

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.

List of Prop Bets at Gambling Site

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.

Online Betting Slip

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.

Online Lobby of Casino Games

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.

Page of Casino Games

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.

Screenshot of 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.

Screenshot of Online Roulette

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

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

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.

Shot of an Online Poker Lobby

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.

Shot of an Online Poker Table

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.

Scrennshot of Making a DFS Lineup

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
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.