If you live in the United States, you have a limited number of online sportsbooks to choose from. After all, taking sports bets from the internet in the United States is illegal because of the Wire Act.
This means that any sportsbook you deal with on the internet is okay with ignoring U.S. federal law.
This might scare some people away, but probably doesn’t scare most of my readers.
I’ve never seen a single case where someone was arrested or convicted for placing a bet on the internet on a football game. Sure, some of the bookmakers who have accepted this kind of action have faced legal consequences.
But the party that faces these consequences is always the sportsbook, never the player.
This might change in the future, but I think that’s unlikely.
Given this situation, though, how do you choose an online sportsbook to do business with?
There are shady outfits out there willing to take your money.
This post explains how to avoid the bad guys and stick with the good guys. It also explains some of the factors to consider when choosing an online sportsbook.
1- Which Sports Do You Want to Bet On?
It goes without saying that the 1st thing you should look for when choosing an online sportsbook is whether they’ll accept action from a bettor in the United States.
Once you’ve done that, it’s time to look at which sports they take bets on.
Almost all online sportsbooks cover the most popular sports:
But what if you want to bet on golf tournaments?
Or mixed martial arts events?
Not all online sportsbooks accept bets on all events. You should find out whether you can bet on what you want to bet on before signing up for an account somewhere and depositing money.
Imagine how frustrated you’d be if you went through the signup process, went through the identity verification process, and deposited money—only to discover that you can’t bet on the big boxing match this weekend.
Luckily, most online sportsbooks advertise which sports they’re accepting wagers on. The best in the business post their lines and available bets on their site for anyone to see, whether they have an account with them or not.
2- What Kind of Signup Bonus Does the Book Offer?
There was a time when you could practically guarantee yourself a profit just by taking advantage of the signup bonuses offered by the various gambling companies on the internet.
Those days are past us.
Here’s how a signup bonus works at most sportsbooks:
You deposit a certain amount of money, and the book adds funds to your account in the amount of a percentage of that deposit.
Here’s an example:
One popular offshore sportsbook offers a 50% deposit bonus of up to $250 on your first deposit.
In other words, when you deposit $500, you get $750 in your account to gamble with.
If you’re unfamiliar with the industry and how it works, you might think that it’s a no-brainer to profit from such a situation.
But the sportsbooks know that there are savvy gamblers out there who would love to take advantage of such a situation.
So they’ve instituted wagering requirements as part of these offers.
In other words, before you can cash out, you must make a specific dollar amount in wagers.
With the offer above, the “rollover requirement”—which is another name for the wagering requirements—is 5X your deposit plus bonus.
Before you can cash out at this book, you must make $3750 in wagers.
You couldn’t possibly do that on a single wager, since you only have $750 to begin with.
And the sportsbook knows that because of the vig, most (90% or more) of their customers are going to lose at least the amount of the bonus before they’re able to cash out.
So when you’re comparing signup bonuses from one book to another, don’t just look at the dollar amount or the matching percentage.
Take into account the wagering requirements, too.
If you have trouble finding details about the rollover requirement, be cautious. You can ask customer service for details.
Don’t sign up and accept a bonus until you know the specifics about the terms and conditions.
3- What Kind of Reputation Does the Book Have?
I used to advise people to try to stick with sportsbooks who are licensed and regulated by a reputable regulatory body.
A friend of mine whom I consider and expert on such matters pointed out to me that most regulatory bodies—even the better ones—do a lousy job of advocating for players.
He suggested that a better idea would be to investigate the reputation of the company.
A sportsbook lives or dies by its reputation.
And you can find out a lot about any given sportsbook by searching for forums and message boards for complains about a specific company. It’s mostly just a matter of including appropriate terms in your search string when you’re researching the sportsbook.
Of course, you’ll start with the name of the sportsbook.
Then you’ll probably add the term “reviews” to the name of the book, but I don’t think you’ll find the best information about a sportsbook’s reputation by doing that. Mostly you’ll just find thinly-disguised sales letters for the book.
On the other hand, if you add the term “complaints,” you might find some more interesting details about your prospective sportsbook.
Even better is if you include the term “forums” in your search string.
Keep in mind, though, that you should take EVERYTHING you read on the internet with a grain of salt. Just because an informational site features a positive review of a sportsbook isn’t an indication that the information can’t be trusted.
And just because someone has complained about a sportsbook doesn’t mean they’re a bad company to do business with.
Use some discernment when reading about actual betting experiences with these companies. You should be able to tell something about the reliability of your source just based on how they conduct themselves online.
Some bettors are just plain unreasonable customers.
If you’ve ever worked in customer service ANYWHERE, you know what I mean.
4- How Does Their Website Look and Feel?
If you’re going to conduct business with an online sportsbook, the look and feel of their website matters a lot. After all, their site is where you’re going to be conducting business.
This doesn’t mean you should avoid any sportsbook website that’s ugly.
You should, however, avoid doing business with any sportsbook website where it’s hard to understand what you’re looking at.
If the user interface at a website is lousy, you’re liable to make a mistake when placing a bet. If you’re a smart bettor on a lousy website, and you accidentally bet on someone you didn’t intend to, you could lose money you shouldn’t have lost.
And that’s no good.
Some people do most of their research when choosing a sportsbook on their laptop or their desktop computer.
There’s nothing wrong with that.
But if you’re going to be placing your bets on a mobile device, you should probably evaluate how comfortable you are with the interface on your cell phone before signing up.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because their desktop site looks great that you’ll also like their mobile interface. Sometimes the difference can be huge.
Most importantly, everything should be clear and easy to understand on their site. If you’re confused, you should find a site with a better user interface.
5- What Do the Reviewers Say?
A lot of websites with sportsbook reviews get monetary compensation for referring customers.
How likely is it that their reviews are even-handed and objective?
From the perspective of a journalist, you can’t mix profits with editorial content in that way without interfering with objectivity.
This is why you should take any online sportsbook review with a grain of salt.
This doesn’t mean that reviews aren’t useful.
A good sportsbook review can help point out the pros and cons of using that sportsbook. It might be slanted more toward a recommendation, but it might still have some accurate information you can use to inform your decision.
You can also learn more from some reviews about the sportsbook’s operation than you can on their sites.
I’ve seen good sportsbook websites which made it hard to figure out what their bonus terms and conditions were. I’ve seen sites that made it hard to tell what kind of deposit and withdrawal options you have.
So take strong recommendations with a grain of salt, but don’t ignore the useful information you can glean from online sportsbook reviews.
6- What Kind of Vig Do They Charge?
If you’re new to sports betting, you might not be aware of the “vig” concept. That’s short for “vigorish,” and it’s the mathematical means by which the sportsbook makes a profit.
If you’re familiar with casino games, the comparable term is “house edge.” If you’re familiar with poker, the comparable term is “rake.”
The easiest way to explain the vig is to look at how a sportsbook handles a straight bet.
A straight bet is one that pays off at even money, but your team has to “cover the spread” to win. The point spread is there to compensate for one team being stronger than the other. The goal is to get the probability of winning as close to 50% as possible.
But straight bets at online sportsbooks don’t really pay off at even money. They usually ask you to risk one of the following amounts to win $100:
That extra $20, $10, or $5 that you lose the 50% of the time you suffer a loss is where the book makes its profit.
THAT is the vig.
You don’t have to bet in increments of $100, either. You just have to risk a proportional amount.
For example, at a sportsbook where you have to risk $120 to win $100, you could also bet $60 and win $50. If the book wants you to risk $110 to win $100, you’d only have to risk $55.
The higher the vig, the better your winning percentage must be to break even. If you only win 50% of the time, you’ll lose money over time at the sportsbook.
The lower the vig, the better.
This is true regardless of whether you’re a serious professional sports bettor or a strictly recreational bettor. If you’re a professional sports bettor, you’ll win more money in the long run when facing a lower vig. If you’re a recreational sports bettor, you’ll lose money faster with a higher vig.
When you’re comparing sportsbooks, be sure to compare the vig. Look for the lowest vig you can find.
There’s no downside to paying less vigorish.
7- What Kinds of Banking Methods Do They Use?
The ideal situation for a sports bettor from the United States is to be able to deposit money using your credit card.
All sportsbooks I know of accept credit card payments.
The problem is that not all credit cards allow such transactions to go through.
In fact, from the United States, it can be next to impossible to get a transaction to go through to a sportsbook on a credit card.
There’s a federal law (UIGEA—the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act) which makes it illegal to transfer money for the purposes of illegal gambling. Credit card companies don’t want to deal with that mess.
Sportsbooks have come up with a variety of other deposit and withdrawal options, though. One of the most popular these days is Bitcoin.
If you’re not familiar with Bitcoin and you plan to do some gambling online, you should get familiar with it. It’s a “cryptocurrency” that’s popular with online gamblers.
Credit cards and cryptocurrencies aren’t your only options, though. Many sportsbooks allow you to send and receive funds via wire transfer or electronic check. You can also often use services like Moneygram and/or Western Union to transfer cash to and from the sportsbook.
One thing to keep in mind is the size of fees involved with such transfers. Any fee you pay when transferring money is a cost.
If you’re a professional sports bettor, your margins are probably already razor thin. If you’re a low-stakes bettor, such fees can eat up all your profits.
You can find details about which banking methods a book uses on their website. If you’re having trouble finding that information, or if you don’t understand the information as it’s presented, don’t be afraid to ask their customer service team.
You can also draw some conclusions about how they do business from their handling of such informational requests.
8- What Kinds of Bets Do They Take, and What Kinds of Betting Limits Do They Have?
The variety of bets available at sportsbooks varies. Some of the smaller books have more limited betting options than some of their larger brethren. You should make sure that the kinds of bets you want to make are available at an online sportsbook before signing up there.
Also, all online sportsbooks have betting limits. They have a minimum bet size and a maximum bet size. If you’re a high roller who wants to bet $2000 a game, you’ll be awfully disappointed after signing up for a sportsbook which has a maximum bet of $500.
This applies in the opposite direction, too. Low rollers might be more comfortable at a book which offers lower minimum bets.
The most basic bets—straight bets, for example—are available at almost any reputable sportsbook. The bets that start having limited availability are the more interesting longshot style bets. Futures and parlays might have limited availability.
Most of my readers are probably most interested in the most basic bets anyway, but you definitely want to make sure the book offers the products that you want to buy.
9- Are You Interested in Other Gambling Activities?
Many online sportsbooks only offer sports betting. If that’s all you’re interested in, such sites are probably the best fit. In fact, I know some sports bettors who hate doing business with these all-in-one gambling sites that offer sports betting, casino games, poker, and bingo all at the same time.
But an equal number of sportsbooks offer other options. Poker seems to be hugely popular with sports bettors, too, so you’ll often find sportsbooks offering Texas holdem and other varieties of poker. If you like poker, and you’re trying to decide between 2 books, maybe the one with poker available is a better fit for your needs.
Many sportsbooks also offer casino games. Some of them have incredibly robust online casino experiences, too—you can play hundreds of different slot machine games, for example.
Some online sportsbooks even have live dealer table games. These are blackjack, craps, and roulette games played with a real human dealer via a webcam interface.
Bingo and sports betting have little overlap, but you can even find sportsbooks offering bingo games and lottery games. I don’t judge. If that’s your bag, look for a sportsbook which also offers that product.
My friends who are serious about their sports betting prefer sites which don’t offer such distractions, though.
10- What Kinds of Ongoing Promotions Do They Offer?
The initial signup bonus I discussed earlier is only one aspect of a sportsbook’s promotions. They usually also offer ongoing promotions. The value of these promotions can be considerable.
I used to play at a sportsbook which offered me a 10% bonus on every deposit. That was an ongoing promotion there. I loved it.
Most sportsbooks also have some kind of frequent players point program. In a brick and mortar gambling business, you would use these points to get comps—like free hotel stays or meals at restaurants.
At most online sportsbooks, though, the frequent player points are most often used to determine rebate sizes on your losses. You can also often buy branded sportsbook items in the frequent player points store on their website.
These products can be cool and expensive. I once got a beautiful poker table from a site using frequent player points, and we got a lot of use out of that.
Don’t just look at the initial signup bonus.
Do some research into a sportsbook’s ongoing promotions, too.
I know I started this post with what might have sounded like an ominous warning about the legal situation as it relates to sports betting online.
That’s a legitimate concern you should be aware of before gambling online.
I’m not a lawyer, and I’m certainly not in law enforcement. I think sports betting online should be legal. It’s your money. You should be allowed to do what you want with it.
I, of course, advise you to obey the laws where you live.
But if you’re not going to do that, you should at least try to make intelligent decision about who to do business with when you’re “circumventing” the laws.
You should realize that more due diligence is in order when dealing with companies which don’t care much about breaking federal laws in the United States.