How Can I Tell Which Online Casinos are Trustworthy?
Most online casinos are trusted, legitimate operations. The question I have tackled here is how to tell, and (more importantly) how to tell which casinos are not trustworthy?
There is a simple answer, and then a more complex one!
The simple answer is this. If you want to stay safe, stick to the biggest and best-known brands – those which have a track record of more than 5 years, and are ‘scandal free’.
Once you look at the more complex answer, factors like licensing, game fairness testing, payment processing, responsible gambling and even listing of shares on stock exchanges come into play. Individually, these factors can contribute ‘red flags’, any single red flag will stop me from playing at (or recommending) a casino.
This page starts with an overview of these factors. This is for readers who prefer the quick version. For readers who are interested, I have gone into detail about the factors affecting whether an online casino can be trusted below. This section covers all the ‘flag’ issues, then flips things around at the end. There you will find why the biggest and best casinos can be considered legitimate – and why you should be playing there.
Trusted Online Casinos: How to Spot a Legitimate Casino (The Quick Version)
Online casinos trade on their reputation. A well-loved brand, with a track record of looking after players fairly and paying out promptly is a goldmine for the owners. With the huge number of players attracted to their games, that small house edge will make them rich over time.
This is why I recommend choosing trustworthy casinos that have been operating for at least 5 years. Once a casino has a clean reputation for that long, it becomes valuable in its own right.
There are still other factors to consider. Though for me, once a casino has ‘skin in the game’ as far as being trusted goes – you are almost always safe.
If any of the following are missing or uncertain, then you need to move on and find yourself a trusted operator. These are explained in more depth below:
- All Trusted Casinos Have a License: Operating licenses are given at government level. There are different licensing jurisdictions for US friendly (offshore) casinos and international brands. Some countries award their own specific licenses. Never, ever, deposit your money at a casino without a license!
- Auditing of Game / Deal Fairness: Good, trustworthy casinos make a huge effort to show you that their games are fair. To do this, they employ specialist auditing companies, who themselves trade on their reputation. Look for certification, and cross check with the testing companies before you play.
- Legitimate Casinos Voluntarily Follow Responsible Gambling Guidelines: This is a broad area, and starts with protection for problem gamblers and controls against underage gambling. There are also elements of fairness in terms and conditions (in particular for bonuses).
- Can You Trust Payments? One area where safe online casinos work hard on is prompt payments. Delays in letting players cash out is a danger signal. Note that many legitimate casinos ask for back-up documents. Check for payment scandals, and avoid any slow / no playing operators. You should also be cautious if your casino only has one minor / unknown payment option available. This means that their payment processing capabilities might not be effective.
- Contact Information / Ownership: If you can’t work out who owns an online casino, it can be difficult to fully trust them. I also like to see address, phone numbers and e-mail addresses. If a casino only has a web form, and no contact info, then this can be sign to be wary.
Any one of these factors is enough to send me back to the drawing board. If a casino has multiple issues from this list – then you should absolutely avoid them!
Table: Trusted Casinos That Tick all the Right Boxes!
Online Casinos You Can Trust: The Long Version
This section covers the 5 ‘flags’ above in a lot more detail. You’ll find info on licensing jurisdictions, game fairness testing, responsible gaming, legitimate payment processing options and ownership below. If you want to see more about safe and fair online casinos, skip the very bottom of this page now!
Casino Licensing 101: Can You Trust the Licensing Process?
The quick answer is: A license is not enough on its own, though lack of a license is a definite red flag.
Looking into the topic deeper, the big difference between legitimate casinos and shady ones is where they are licensed. There are different jurisdictions which handle licensing for the USA, for international casinos – and for individual regulated countries.
USA Casino Licensing: Most of the casinos offering real money gaming for US based players are licensed in nearby small nations. Countries like Antigua and Barbuda, Curacao and Panama issue gaming licenses to some of the biggest and most trustworthy US online casinos. Some casinos are also licensed by the Mohawk Indians from the sovereign Kahnawake territory – which is situated in modern-day Canada.
International Casino Licensing: Some of the oldest gambling licensing jurisdictions are small island states and territories around Europe. These are among the most reputable places for an online casino to be licensed. Gibraltar, Malta, the Isle of Man and Alderney all belong to this group. These territories do not license operators for US traffic (and are generally strict on any ‘grey market’ activity.
Country Specific Casino Licensing: A growing trend is for individual governments to regulate casinos. This is usually advertised as for the protection of players… only everyone knows that this is a way to tax the industry. For players, licenses from orgs like the UK Gambling Commission, ARJEL in France and many other countries are a good sign. A casino with one of these in addition to the international one has a strong chance of being completely legitimate.
I’ll sum up with the main take-aways:
- No License = No Deposit (and for your own safety, no exceptions!)
- Licenses are only as good as the jurisdiction; offshore US jurisdictions have lower oversight than the International / country specific ones. You need to look for other trust signals too.
- Country licensing bodies, particularly the UK, are strict. Casinos licensed there are likely to be very safe.
Game Fairness 101: Can You Trust that the Deal is Fair?
The quick answer: Yes, and for reasons you probably had not considered.
Again, let’s get into the details. As a requirement of licensing, all casinos need to submit to audits. These are carried out by independent companies, which specialize in testing. These companies include eCogra, iGaming Labs and Technical Systems Testing.
They put casinos through rigorous statistical tests. This involves millions of hands of card games and millions of spins of slots and roulette wheels. The outcomes are then compared to the published ‘Return to Player’ numbers before certification is given. There are also audits to ensure that the software contains no backdoors or elements which can be quickly changed by the owners.
Legitimate casinos have these audits regularly. They are happy to share the results, and will often have a link to their certification in their footer. You can follow up with the testing organization to find the proof if you wish.
An obvious question here is whether the auditing companies can be trusted?
This is a ‘yes’, these are very reputable organizations. Think of it this way. If they ever ‘cheated’, their entire business is gone…
Can Casinos Adjust Outcomes After I Win?
This common assumption is false. Not only would this be strange behaviour (you really think a multi-million dollar a day casino would fake a deal to win your $40?!), it would put a casino at serious risk.
What I keep in mind is this: Casinos make millions each year, 10’s and 100’s of millions in the case of the biggest one. Their primary means to do this is trust. The biggest brands got to where they are today because people trust them to be fair.
Big brands would be insane to risk their trusted name for a few extra bucks… especially when there is an edge built into their games already.
Anyone who thinks that a casino ‘lets them win’, then ‘cheats to take their money’ soon after is seeing patterns which simply do not exist. This would be a crazy way to kill what is essentially a cash cow!
I have gone into a lot more detail with this line of thinking in my article: Are Online Casino Rigged? The same logic applies to poker sites!
Summary / Take-Aways from Casino Deal Fairness:
- Trusted and legitimate casinos are audited for fairness regularly by independent 3rd parties. They usually display links to their fairness audits on their homepage.
- Casinos have a big interest in keeping the games fair. If they were ever caught cheating, their name would be ruined and their ‘cash cow’ would die.
- People have a tendency to see patterns in the outcome of casino games which are simply not there. This is a natural human behaviour.
Responsible Gambling 101: Looking After Customers Fairly
Problem gambling is only one aspect of a responsible gambling policy. While this is important (people have real issues with this), so is treating all customers in a transparent and fair manner.
Self-exclusion takes 2 forms, and is something I like to see from all casinos. You can exclude yourself from the games either for a set time, or forever. This should be reasonably easy to find, and not hidden away on inside pages.
There should also be a way to set limits on how much you can deposit. This works to stop gamblers from spending more than they can afford to lose. Sure, people can play at multiple casinos. Being stopped from your regular home can be helpful though – this will be enough to break the session for many players.
I also like to see links to groups like the Problem Gambling Helpline.
Responsible Gaming and Bonus Terms
Terms and conditions of bonus offers can be a minefield at less trustworthy operators. A legitimate casino will make these terms crystal clear for new players. I have heard tales of some casinos refusing withdrawals, as some obscure clause in the welcome bonus was triggered. Stay clear of any casino which acts like this. Sure, casinos will use game weightings and have play-through requirements – these should be transparent and simple to understand.
Know Your Customer
This is often abbreviated as ‘KYC’. There are two aspects which affect players at legit operators. The most common is that you’ll need to supply backup documents. This can be with your first deposit, or can be when you go to withdraw, depending on the casino. Second, there should be some protection for underage gamblers built in to this.
Fairness in Payment Processing 101: Will My Casino Pay Out Winnings?
This should be number one on everyone’s list. Payment delays are the single quickest ways for a casino to lose the trust of their players. While the main question is key, there are some other questions to ask when it comes to casino payments. These include:
- Is there a minimum withdrawal amount in place?
- What about a maximum amount? If this is in place, how often does it reset, weekly? Monthly?
- Will I be charged an administration fee for processing a withdrawal for certain payment methods?
- If I cash out, how will this affect my bonuses?
Let’s start with the big question. Which online casinos can be trusted to pay your winnings quickly and smoothly – and which will delay you or try not to pay?
Back to the long-running brands again. Casinos that have a good track record are ‘bought in’ to maintaining this… it is their whole livelihood after all. If you check a lesser known brand and see search results complaining about delays, then this is a serious red flag. Almost all casinos which are on the rogue lists started off with payment ‘issues’.
As a side-note, you need to keep the ‘Know Your Customer’ rules separate when searching for issues. Some people love to complain about document requests. This is the mark of a trusted casino, not a scam one. They protect their legitimate players against fraud, by asking for back-up docs.
So, sticking with the best-known brands avoids a lot of payment related trust issues with the casinos. Here is a bigger explanation of the other key factors:
Minimum Withdrawal: Players with smaller bankrolls need to be careful. Some casinos have minimum withdrawal amounts which are on the high side. Sometimes as much as $100 or more. This means that if you have a smaller bankroll, it can become stuck at the casino.
Minimum withdrawals can be linked to certain deposit methods. For example, you might find a casino that allows $25 withdrawals via Bitcoin, though has a $100 minimum for other methods.
Maximum Withdrawal: This can become a problem if you hit a jackpot. For example, some PlayTech casinos limited a million-dollar winner to $3k per month maximum withdrawals. This means that the million will take more than 20 years to receive! If you are depositing larger amounts, a max withdrawal limit might be too small for comfort.
Once again, the payment method you use does have an effect on withdrawal limits, both for single lump sums, and for regular withdrawals.
Administration Fees: Admin fees are closely related to minimum withdrawals. For example, there might be a $40 admin fee for a check withdrawal. If your bankroll is small, this can swallow up half of it just to receive the cash. This effectively traps the money online.
Many casinos will let you have one withdrawal for free each month. They then charge for subsequent payments.
Withdrawing and Casino Bonuses: Even the best trusted online casinos will stop any current bonuses when you withdraw your winnings. The difference between a good casino and bad one is in how they manage this.
Normally, when you go to withdraw, you’ll see a message telling you that any current bonuses will expire if you proceed. You then get to choose whether to withdraw, or continue with the bonus. It makes a difference how the bonus money is handled. Some brands give you cash in increments. You earn points and get $10 chunks, which are now part of your real money balance. Others have separate bonus money accounts, which can never be withdrawn. If the moment you withdraw your bonus money goes, you can get ‘stuck’ with a difficult decision.
Read the terms of the welcome bonus before you start to avoid any traps. Once again, the bigger the brand and the longer they have been running, the more likely they are to play fair in this spot. Rogue casinos will often find clauses in their terms and conditions to void bonuses, these operators should be avoided!
Final Part: Turning Things Around – What Does a Legitimate, Clean and Trusted Casino Look Like?
If you have read all of the above sections, you’ll probably have the answer already. Here it is in simple terms:
Trust takes time to build. A casino needs to demonstrate a fair deal / spins, fast payments, clear terms and a commitment to service and responsible gambling. New casinos may have good intentions, though it is hard to spot the gems from the bad apples.
If you want to maximize your safety while enjoying online casino games, your best bet is to stick with the long-running and popular brands. It really is as simple as that!
I listed my favourites in a table at the top of this page. Now that you know the thinking behind those choices – you can look at the list with a new perspective.
Check out these trusted casinos, and go for that big win with extra peace of mind!
More Pages Covering the Biggest and Best Casino Brands Online:
- How the Casino House Edge Works
- Review of Bovada Casino (the biggest and best US friendly operator)