Traditional casinos have been around for decades, centuries, even. Online casinos, though, are relatively new, having only become “a thing” during the last couple of decades.
What are the pros and cons of playing at online casinos vs. traditional casinos?
Some people prefer one experience over the other, but both types of casino gambling have their advantages and disadvantages. This post looks at both the pros and cons of each.
Money Spent Gambling
When you’re playing at an online casino, all you do is sit down in front of your computer and start playing. You don’t have to wander through a crowded casino floor, finding the right game with an open seat. This means you get more time playing the game.
On top of that, the games play faster on a computer. This is more true for the table games than the slot machines, for reasons which might not be obvious.
A real money slot machine game online works about the same as a slot machine game in a traditional casino. You just keep hitting the spin button. An average slots player gets in 600 spins per hour online or in a traditional casino.
But a blackjack player at a full table in a casino might only play 30 hands per hour, depending on how slow the other players are. If he can get heads up with the dealer, he can get in 200 hands per hour.
Playing online, though, this blackjack game becomes almost as fast as a slot machine game. You could get in 300 or 400 hands per hour at some online blackjack games if speed were your goal.
Even if that weren’t your goal, you’d certainly get in at least 200 to 250 hands per hour.
When You Make More Bets per Hour, You Lose More Money
There are three factors that affect how much money you lose on a casino game:
- The house edge
- The amount you bet
- The number of bets you make
You can use these three factors to estimate how much money you’ll lose, on average, during an hour of gambling.
Let’s say you’re a blackjack player who is also strictly a low roller. You play for $5 per hand, and you try to find tables with a couple of other players. You’re probably getting in 75 hands per hour, and you’ve mastered basic strategy, which means you’re facing a house edge of 0.5%.
Your expected loss per hour is just $5 x 75 x 0.5%, or $1.88 per hour. That’s cheap entertainment.
But if you play online, you’re probably going to double the number of hands you’re playing per hour. You might even triple that number.
What does that do to the cost of your blackjack play?
It doubles or triples the expected loss. You’re playing the same game, but it’s costing you two to three times as much.
Online casino gambling does offer other perks that can improve this.
Online Casinos Often Have Lower Betting Limits
I used a $5 per hand blackjack player as an example for a reason. In Las Vegas, that’s usually the best deal you can get on blackjack if you don’t have a lot of money. Good luck finding a game for lower stakes than that.
But online, you can find some casinos which offer blackjack games for just a dollar per hand. If you cut the amount you’re risking per hand by 80%, then doubling or tripling the number of hands you’re playing per hour is no big deal at all.
This holds true for slot machine games or video poker games, too. If you can find games where you play for a penny per spin instead of a nickel per spin, you’ve cut the average bet size by 80%, which saves you money in the long run.
Online Casinos Lack the Physical Amenities of a Land-Based Casino
For some gamblers, part of the fun of gambling is going to the casino and enjoying some of the perks like the restaurant meals and show tickets. You can get those meals for free and some of those show tickets for free, too, if you gamble enough.
Online casinos don’t have those kinds of perks, for obvious reasons… How do they make up for it? They don’t, not really. They sometimes send gifts to their players, but it’s not the same. A few years ago, I played at an online casino that sent me gourmet coffee in the mail.
That’s cool, but it’s not as cool as a free meal at the buffet. Online casinos also offer signup bonuses and ongoing deposit bonuses for their players. This is a perk they have that land-based casinos don’t really do, so I’ll cover that in the next section.
Online Casino Bonuses Aren’t Available at Land-Based Casinos
Online casinos are justifiably famous for giving gamblers free money to play with. This is something you don’t see land-based casinos doing, at least not in the same way.
One Online Casino Offers a Signup Bonus of up to $5,000 for Free
That might sound too good to be true. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that you’re right in thinking that, because this kind of offer comes up with several catches. This specific offer that I looked at involved getting bonus money on top of your deposit on your first nine deposits. On your first deposit, you get a 200% matching bonus of up to $1,000.
This means that when you make your first deposit of $500, you get an extra $1,000 to play with. On your subsequent eight deposits of $500, you get a 100% matching bonus of $500 per deposit. That’s $5,000 in bonuses just for signing up and making $4,500 in deposits.
That sounds like a lot of free money, and it seems like anyone ought to be able to make a profit when they get that much free money to gamble with. But you’re required to gamble that money a specific number of times before you can cash out. And that’s where they get you.
Online Casinos Have “Wagering Requirements”
They have different phrasing for this from one casino to another, but basically, most casinos call this clause the “playthrough requirement” or the “wagering requirement.”
The bonus offer in the last example was pretty average, and it has a pretty standard wagering requirement, too. You must wager the bonus and the deposit 35x before cashing out. Also, you must wager this money on the slot machines for those wagers to count.
That’s unfortunate, because you don’t KNOW what the house edge for the slot machines is. It’s not published in any kind of reliable manner.
Let’s be generous, though, and assume that the house edge on this casino’s slot machines is just 5%. How much money are you expected to lose fulfilling those wagering requirements?
First, you’re starting with $1,500 on your first deposit. To wager that 35x, you’d need to bet $52,500. And if you’re expected to lose 5% of that, you’re looking at an average expected loss of $2,625. Since you started with $1,500, the expected amount of your bankroll after fulfilling your wagering requirements is less than zero.
On the subsequent deposits, you face the same math, albeit with a different amount. Now, you have $1,000, which means you need to make $35,000 in wagers. The expected loss on that amount of action is $1,750, which is still significantly more than your starting amount.
The free bonus money can be a fun way to get more action and time playing the games, but it really just ensures that you’re going to lose your entire starting stake most of the time.
Why Do I Have to Play Slot Machines to Clear these Bonus Requirements?
Some smart gamblers figure that they’ll just play blackjack with perfect basic strategy and give themselves a mathematical edge over the casino. This worked for a long time in the early days of online casinos. I have a friend who bought a pool table by repeatedly taking advantage of casino bonuses.
After all, 0.5% of that action is only $175 in expected losses on that $1000, leaving you with a significant profit.
And this, of course, is the reason why the casino doesn’t allow you to play games other than slot machines. They don’t want you to figure out a way to get a mathematical edge over them. The wagering requirements and game restrictions ensure that.
Online casinos have their perks. You can play from home, you don’t have to travel, you can play unique games that aren’t available at your local land-based casino.
But they also can cost more money if you’re not careful. And you don’t get any of the other cool perks like show tickets and restaurant meals.
It’s up to you to decide whether the pros outweigh the cons.
Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for GamblingSites.org since early 2016. …