Online Slots For 1st-Timers

I know this article looks long – but seriously, if you are a “first-timer” when it comes to online casinos, I seriously suggest you read this before you play anywhere. I’ve been there – I know! If you are really impatient and just want to know where to get playing, then you can check out my online slots page which details my recommendations.

As a newbie to online casinos, you’re probably thinking “hmmm…is it safe” and “hmmm…where should I play” or even “hmmm…where the hell do I start”. Well, that’s how I started out about 4 years ago anyway, so assuming human kind hasn’t evolved, I’ll take a punt it’s at least one of those.

The purpose of this literary masterpiece is therefore to try and point you in the right direction. I’ll tell you what you should look for, what sends out red flags, stuff you really should know and I’ll even throw in some recommendations based on my experience, ‘cos I’m nice like that! Bear in mind, I live in the UK (we called it England until Tim Berners-Lee popped his head round the door!), but I’m pretty up on the state of play for Americans too, so I’ll lean that way when I think it’s relevant.

If you still have questions after reading this, I’ll try to help if you want to shoot me questions (use the email addy webmaster@ this domain) and assuming you’re at least half-polite, I’ll respond as quick as I can.

I think the easiest way to appraoch this is in bullet points – that way you can skim-read a bit better and pick out the bits of interest…so here goes, contacts in, Thunderbirds are GO!

1) Where should you play? How do you spot a good casino? Leaving the games aside (I’ll be back!) there are two main criteria I look for, hmmm…make that 3 if you live in the UK. Firstly the software the casino uses. Most online casinos use one of around 6 software providers and some carry the logos at the foot of the homepage. Starting out, I’d look for a “Microgaming” logo or a “Wagerworks” logo. The reason I say that is because they licence strictly: any casino using that software will have it’s ship in order. What’s more, if they do ever flail, the software providers will ensure players get paid. It’s rare, but it’s a nice safety net.

Secondly, I look for where the casino is licenced (again this appears at the bottom of the homepage). If you see Gibraltar, Alderney or the Isle Of Man, they are excellent, strict licensors. If it says Malta, you’re not too far behind. Kahnawake is popular, but lacks backup. The rest – not so good. Avoid Costa Rica for now. Worth mentioning that all casinos licenced in the above jurisdictions will have had to have gained a TST certificate stating the games are fair.

Thirdly – more applicably for UK players, you won’t go far wrong with a “big brand” like [Virgin], Ladbrokes or 32Red. If it’s a highstreet bookmaker, you can pretty much ignore the above criteria – you’re in safe hands. Plus the bookies pay out quicker than most too. Incidentally, none of them accept players from the USA, but if you go to Jackpot City, River Belle or All Jackpots you’ll be starting off on the right foot.

2) How do I play? Most casinos offer a “download”, some offer an “Instant Play” version. Invariably the latter runs in a browser and has less games, although the popular ones are always there. I’d go for the download where there is an option. They are easy to install – just follow the prompts. MAC users will have to use the Instant Play versions. Incidenattly, casinos displaying the “Microgaming” logo will have large downloads and need at least 800Meg of disk space to install the games suite!! You don’t get that problem with Instant Play (Flash) casinos.

Once installing, you will be prompted to sign up an account – you can opt for a “fun money” account, or to “play for real”. When signing up:

A) Always use real information. If you don’t, they may not be able to pay you out when you win. You will be required to provide ID at some stage (see next section).

B) Select your local currency. Tempting though it is to play in another currency, you are likely to find that one or more of your credit cards won’t work and you can’t play.

C) Make a note of your account number – spam filters can be over-zealous at times!

Once downloaded, the casino will start to install the games one-by-one. You may find initially that this takes a little while and slows down the casino…don’t worry – it’s not always that slow! Once installed, you’ll have no problems but the large number of games can mean it takes a while (Microgaming for example give their casinos 350+ games – that can take a while).

3) Depositing, Cashing Out and ID: Every casino takes credit and debit cards (US players may find these hard to use), and most also take “eWallets”. I would recommend using an eWallet like Neteller (No USA) or Moneybookers…it makes cashouts quicker and helps manage casino funds better, although you do incur small % charges on each transaction. Neteller also has a debit card for cashing out at ATMs and this is my preferred method of depositing and cashing out.

Maestro and Mastercard cards are notoriously difficult – they will work on UK Pound accounts, sometimes on Euro accounts and Mastercard will work on some USD accounts. But it’s a bit hit and miss. Visa is generally better…either a debit card, Visa credit card or a “prepaid” Visa card should work at most places.

Generally speaking you can cashout to the same method you deposit with. Not that many casinos allow you to cashout to a different card or eWallet because of money-laundering rules, although there are exceptions (32Red springs to mind). You will generally be asked to send ID at some stage when you request a withdrawl – sometimes the first time, other casinos wait until you hit a threshold ([Virgin] is at £3,000 for example). It will normally require a utilty bill and photo ID (passport, social security card etc), but the good news is you can scan or digitally photograph these and send them by email. The details must match the details you used when signing up though!

4) The Games. Every casino has the normal casino games…Blackjack, Roulette, Craps, Baccarat etc etc. Usually more than one version. All have video poker and slots too but this is where most vary. I prefer Microgaming software-based casinos as the choice is huge in both areas. Wagerworks casinos also have a good range of slots from IGT, but lack on the video poker front. However Microgaming and Wagerworks don’t accept US players – RTG is the only option (see below for casinos that accept players from your country).

To be honest I could be here all day recommending which games to play – it’s best to experiment. But for slots fans, Microgaming has the superb “Thunderstruck” and “Tomb Raider I and II” slots which are a great starting point. Wagerworks have “Cleopatra” and “Wolf Run” among others which are also my favourites. Play around – see what fits.

5) Payout Percentages – you’ll probably be wondering what the expected returns on games are at online casinos. Well, good news and not-quite-so-good news! The good news is that the lowest % return you’ll find on any game (Keno excepted) at a Microgaming or a Wagerworks casino is around 92%. Most slots fall in the 94% – 96% range, video pokers in the 96% – 99% range and table games like Blackjack etc in the 97% – 99% range depending on which variant you play. In fact casinos like [Paddy Power] and [Virgin] publish the expected percentage in their paytables on each game.

Now the not-quite-so-good news. Most of the higher paying games are what’s termed “high variance“. This means that the risks are greater. Essentially, the paytables are structured so that small wins are small while some combinations pay huge. This means you have to play longer to get the really big hits, but when they come, they are worth the wait. That doesn’t apply to all games, but slots and video poker players really need to understand variance, or else they will start thinking the games are rigged when they aren’t.

6) Signup Bonuses – What’s The Catch? Oh yes – there is a catch! You don’t get a free lunch. I don’t play with bonuses, but not all casinos give you the option. If in doubt, you can email them and ask not to have the bonus. Or you may want to. A bonus comes with terms and conditions: these will include having to wager a lot before you can cashout (usually 20-30 times the total of your deposit+the bonus) and they will also exclude games like Roulette, Blackjack and games with a low house-edge (the % the casino makes).

In the past, “advantage” players took the casinos for a lot of money playing bonuses, so now they have tightened right up. For a full run-down of why this makes signup bonuses bad news, check out my Casino Signup Bonus article!

My best advice: if you take a bonus, be prepared to lose your deposit. They are generally far too difficult these days to profit from. Use them to enjoy the games, do not expect to win, and if you do, it’s a bonus (sic!).

OK so that’s probably enough for now. Here’s my recommendations for online casinos to get you started. Download one and have a play. You won’t go far wrong with these if you follow the advice above.

32Red (Microgaming)

[All Jackpots] (Microgaming)

[Jackpot City] (Microgaming)

[Ladbrokes Casino] (Microgaming)

[Virgin] (Wagerworks Instant Play)


Bodog (RTG)

Club USA (RTG)

iNetBet (RTG)