Gambling has been enjoyed in almost every society in history, but the first recorded casino in the west was the Ridotto which opened in Italy in 1638. Since then glamorous casinos across the world have given you the chance to pit yourself against the house in a number of games of chance. Casinos were outlawed in America in the early 20th century but legalised across the state of Nevada in 1931, giving rise to Las Vegas, one of the world’s top tourist spots and until recently the world’s number one gambling destination. In 2007 the Chinese region of Macau overtook Vegas, with giants like The Venetian and Wynn Resorts opening casinos there.
It’s no surprise that casinos are so popular. They provide you with a safe environment to play in and there’s nothing that matches the adrenaline rush of hitting the jackpot or going on a hot run in blackjack. It’s also one of the only nights out you can have with your mates where you can go home with more money than when you set off!
Today though, you don’t even have to travel to experience the thrill of playing for high stakes. Online casinos give you the chance to play all of your favourite games, like slots, blackjack and roulette, from the comfort of your own home.
The very first online casino software was developed by a company called Microgaming in 1994, and the first online casino allowing real-money action opened in 1995. Since then, the number of online casinos, the choice of games and the quality of software has increased dramatically.
In the UK, online gambling has been embraced and made even safer with the introduction of the Gambling Act 2005. This came fully into force on September 1 2007 and provided stricter regulation to give you an even safer online gaming environment. All of the online casinos that we feature on our site have been white-listed by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. This means you can play safe in the knowledge that your money is secure and that the games you’re playing are fair.
Online casinos are a great place to gamble. They give you the opportunity to play games at your own pace and learn the rules without risking real cash. There’s no waiting in line for a table to become free, no need to feel intimidated if you’re a beginner and there’s a far wider choice of games available. The thrill is the same though and progressive jackpots (linked across a number of different sites) mean that it’s possible to win millions on the spin of a reel. That’s what happened to a slots player in Finland who wagered €0.25 online and won an incredible €17,861,813 on January 20 2013. This was officially recognised as the biggest online slots win by the Guinness World Records, but multi-million pound jackpots are won each and every month. The next one to drop could be yours!
How to prepare to play online
Playing online casino games is easy. You can find reviews of all the top online casinos here, with details of exclusive bonuses that give you free cash to play with when you make your first deposit.
Make sure you know the rules of the games you’re going to play. You can read our winning strategy guides to the most popular casino games here and you can also practise for free. As soon as you’re confident that you know what you’re doing you can switch to real-money play and experience the excitement of your favourite casino games in your house, or wherever you are on your mobile.
Played the world over, roulette is an extremely simple game that consists of a wheel with pockets and a ball. The wheel is spun one way, the ball the other, and the winning pocket is the one the ball settles in. On all roulette tables you can bet on single numbers from one to 36. These pay out at 35/1, which would lead to a zero house edge. Where the house gains an edge is from the addition of either a single zero (European roulette) or a zero and double zero (American roulette). If you get the choice, you should always play on tables with a single zero. These offer much better odds, with a house edge of 2.7% compared to 5.26%.
In addition you can place bets on groups of numbers or ‘outside’ bets, which give you a better chance of winning with smaller odds. Outside bets include bets on red or black and odd or even numbers, which both pay out at evens.
Lots of people have claimed they’ve discovered winning roulette systems. The most infamous of these is the Martingale system, which involves doubling your bet after every losing bet (the idea being that if you lose you will eventually break even). The truth is that none of these actually work and that roulette is a pure game of chance.
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If you’ve ever visited a real-life casino you’ll have noticed the craps tables. Always the busiest and rowdiest tables in the casino, craps pits the players against the house. Players take it in turn to roll the dice and you can make various bets on the outcome of each roll.
For a lot of people, watching is as far as it goes. Craps is an intimidating game for a beginner, with a complicated table layout and confusing jargon. It’s a lot of fun though and, as with most casino games, it’s possible to learn how to play in a few minutes. Read our guide to craps and we’ll take you through the basics, before teaching you the advanced bets and the best bets you can make to reduce the house edge.
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Poker is a unique casino game in that you’re not playing against the house. Instead, it’s a game of skill and luck that pits you against other players. There are lots of poker variants but by far the most popular is no-limit hold’em – the game that you might have seen on TV.
The poker world changed dramatically in 2003 when an accountant called Chris Moneymaker paid $86 and played an online tournament that won him an entry into the World Series of Poker Main Event in Las Vegas (the unofficial world championship). He went on to beat 838 players, including old-school pro Sammy Farha heads-up, to claim the $2.5m first prize.
After Moneymaker’s win, the game exploded. Online poker swept the US and Europe and the World Series saw record entries which peaked in 2006 when an incredible 8,773 players filled the Rio Casino in Las Vegas and played for a first prize of $12m. Today, millions of dollars are won and lost online every day, either in tournaments or on cash tables. By reading our winning strategies and putting the time in at the tables, you could find yourself playing to be the next world champion in the gambling capital of the world.
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The classic casino card game, blackjack is so simple that you can pick it up in seconds. Played between you and the dealer, the aim is to make a hand closest to 21 without busting. At the start of each hand, two cards are dealt to each player and the dealer, and you then get the option to hit (take another card) until you decide to stand (end your turn). The value of a hand is the sum of all the cards’ face values (Aces are one or 11, cards two to nine are valued by pips, and tens and face cards all count as ten). The very best hand is a ‘blackjack’, a hand made up of an Ace and any ten-point card. A winning blackjack pays higher than any other winning hand – generally three to two.
It’s not just its simplicity that makes blackjack popular though. Using a system of playing known as perfect strategy you can reduce the house edge well below 1%, the best of all online casino games.
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Baccarat, also known as punto banco, is a game that’s steeped in glamour and intrigue. Once played almost exclusively by aristocrats and James Bond (in the original Casino Royale film), it’s now the casino game of choice for superstar high-rollers like Phil Ivey. It might look complicated but it’s actually a pure gambling game akin to betting on the flip of a coin.
Normally played with a shoe of eight decks, each baccarat hand, or coup, is played between the player (punto) and the dealer (banco), with the aim of getting a total card value closest to nine. Two cards are dealt to each and, depending on the values, a third card may be drawn for each player. You can bet on the player, the banker or the tie. Odds favour the banker and a commission (normally 5%) is taken from winning banker bets. Winning tie bets generally pay out at 8/1.
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Slots are the most popular casino game for a reason. You don’t need to learn any rules before playing – just hit a button and hope that lady luck shines on you. Slots have come a long way since Charles Fey developed the first, the Liberty Bell, in the late 1800s. The Liberty Bell consisted of three reels and five symbols, and paid out 50c for the jackpot. Today’s slots boast top-end graphics and give you the opportunity to bet on multiple lines for varying stakes, play bonus sub-games and try to hit progressive jackpots of millions of dollars. You might not be able to influence the spinning reels, but by knowing the game you’re playing you can put yourself in line for the biggest possible wins.
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Online Casino Tips
Playing online casino games is a lot of fun, but it’s a lot better when you’re winning! Some games, like slots and roulette, are pure games of chance, but by making sure you know the game – and the bets – inside out you can maximise your chances of winning. Games like roulette and poker have a skill edge as well, and by reading our comprehensive strategy guides you can either reduce the house edge or even stack the deck in your favour. Whatever game you play, understanding the odds is a great way to give yourself the best chance of winning. In addition, make sure you follow these six simple rules:
- Only play with money you can afford to lose.
- Try to avoid playing when you’re tired or drunk.
- Have a plan: play for a certain amount of time or until you’ve won or lost a certain amount of money.
- Make sure you understand the rules of the game you’re playing and try to reduce the house edge as much as possible.
- Play on the practise tables if you’re not sure of the rules before progressing to real-money play.
- Enjoy yourself!