Following the Supreme Court’s decision to end the federal sports betting prohibition back in May, many states have begun the process of legalization. Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Mississippi and West Virginia have all passed laws to legalize sports betting, and legislation is pending in even more states. New Mexico is also in the mix after a tribal casino launched sports betting without even waiting for the state to pass new legislation.
While most of the early run on sports betting has occurred purely in the physical realm, laws passed in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and West Virginia all permit online sports betting as well. The first online sportsbooks are now operational in New Jersey, and more are on the way in other states.
There is bound to be some confusion now that sports betting legislation is rolling out across the country – especially with illegal offshore betting sites continuing business as usual to muddy the waters. The situation is confused even further by informational websites that promote illegal offshore betting sites as if they were legal. Simply figuring out which online sportsbooks are legal and which are not is a challenge all of its own.
As legal, US-licensed betting sites grow in number and push illegal operators out of business, the situation will become clearer and guides such as this page will be rendered unnecessary. But until that happens, it helps to know how to find the right online sportsbook so you can be sure you’re doing business with legal, licensed and reputable operators.
So with that in mind, here are seven key factors to consider when looking for your next online sportsbook.
Look for a US License
Up until recently, all online sportsbooks that accepted US customers were run by offshore operators who held quasi-licenses from foreign governing authorities. These so-called licenses may give people a vague sense of security, but the fact is they provide no protection under US law. If something was to go wrong and you were to have a dispute with an offshore betting site, you would have absolutely zero recourse in the United States.
Online sportsbooks actually licensed in the United States, however, are beholden to the laws and regulations of the US. This is why it is vital to stick with local, licensed betting sites.
In New Jersey, you can search for licensed betting sites by visiting the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement (NJDGE) website. There, you’ll find a list of sites that have been authorized to operate in New Jersey. Most likely, other states will provide similar resources that you can use to verify whether or not any particular betting site is licensed by your state’s gaming commission.
Be Brand Aware
Another thing worth considering is the brand backing the various betting sites that are already in operation and that will soon be in operation. Already, we have seen big-name operators launch sportsbooks in New Jersey with the likes of Tropicana, Borgata and MGM all offering online sportsbooks and mobile betting apps.
Noted daily fantasy sports operators FanDuel and DraftKings have also gotten in on the action, as are some big-name companies from Europe such as William Hill and BetStars. We are also likely to see lesser-known operators enter the fray as additional states pass sports betting legislation.
Ultimately, we’re likely to see a diverse and competitive sports betting market in the United States powered by operators big and small. As long as they are licensed, all should be safe. However, every brand will undoubtedly provide a different experience, so it will pay to know who you’re dealing with.
Regular visitors to brick-and-mortar casinos will want to pay especially close attention to the brands behind the biggest online sportsbooks. One of the trends we’re starting to see in New Jersey is online sportsbooks coming out with loyalty programs that combine your in-person and online action for rewards such as comped rooms, free shows and more. If you’re already a member of a local casino’s loyalty club, you might as well play at that casino’s online sportsbook so you can take full advantage of those rewards.
Are Player Funds Segregated?
Whether or not player funds are segregated is another critical factor to consider when choosing an online sportsbook. When players’ funds are “segregated,” it means the sportsbook in question keeps all customer account balances in a separate bank account reserved only for safekeeping those funds. Segregated funds are not comingled with the site’s other funds used for marketing and other business expenses.
The importance of keeping player funds segregated can be seen in some of the well-publicized implosions of offshore gambling sites that ran into financial difficulties, then used players’ funds to barely stay afloat before ultimately going bankrupt and leaving players high and dry. The Full Tilt Poker fiasco is perhaps the most iconic example of the misuse of players’ funds.
The issue of gaming sites failing to properly secure players’ funds has not always been limited to illegal offshore providers. A handful of US-based fantasy sports sites have been found guilty of doing exactly the same thing.
In all likelihood, states that legalize sports betting will also pass regulations requiring betting sites to segregate players’ funds. New Jersey, for example, has regulations in place that mandate players’ funds be held in separate bank accounts, but it would be wise to keep this in mind as additional states come online.
Are the Terms and Conditions Fair?
Terms and conditions are the kryptonite of a well-regulated online betting industry. Even though sites may be able to remain technically on the right side of the law, crafty terms and conditions can cause major headaches for players. So, it would be wise to always give the terms and conditions page a quick read before you sign up, even if it doesn’t make for the most interesting of reading.
Key things to look for the in the terms and conditions include:
- What is the sportsbook’s bonus policy?
- Does the sportsbook tack on unnecessary fees for deposits and withdrawals?
- Does the sportsbook maintain the right to close your account if you don’t bet often enough?
- How many business days does it take for withdrawals to be processed?
Are Bonuses Believable?
The majority of legal online sportsbooks launched so far in New Jersey offer welcome bonuses as an enticement for new players to sign up and make a deposit. These bonuses can take many different forms, ranging from doubling your first deposit to refunding your first wager if it loses.
All bonuses come with terms and conditions, which as we’ve discussed above, are required reading. In most cases, you’ll find that bonuses come with “wagering requirements” that state you must place a certain dollar amount worth of wagers before withdrawing the bonus or any money won by betting the bonus.
Always make sure you read the T&Cs attached to any bonus and see if it has wagering requirements. If it does, are those wagering requirements sane? Will you be able to clear the bonus within a reasonable amount of time?
Wagering requirements alone are not necessarily a sign of anything underhanded. Operators in mature markets such as Europe have been offering deposit bonuses with wagering requirements for years – it’s just a part of doing business. Sites also need to protect themselves from customers who would otherwise sign up, make a deposit, claim a bonus and then withdraw immediately without actually giving that site any business.
Additionally, it pays to use some common sense. Bonuses that seem too big or too generous to be true usually are. The $1,000 deposit bonus from Sportsbook A may look pretty, but the $100 bonus from Sportsbook B may actually provide more value when wagering requirements and other conditions are taken into consideration.
Does Your Sportsbook Promote Responsible Gambling?
Responsible gambling measures are just sound business policy for any sportsbook worth considering. Even if you personally are confident you are not at risk of problem gambling, the fact is that responsible gaming policies show a certain amount of respect for customers. If an online sportsbook isn’t willing to put the well-being of its customers over the almighty dollar, you have to wonder how else that sportsbook cuts corners.
The odds are that every state that legalizes online betting will also enact regulations requiring operators to implement certain responsible gambling measures. So, this may end up being a moot point. Even so, it’s something worth keeping in mind as you look for safe betting sites that respect their customers.
What Are Other People Saying?
And finally, it is wise to see what other people have to say about any particular betting site before you sign up and deposit your hard-earned money. There are many comparison and review websites out there such as BettingUSA.com that offer detailed reviews of all the country’s legal gaming sites. At sites such as these, you’ll find in-depth reviews, information about which sites are available in which states and much more.
At the same time, remain skeptical. Not all review websites are equally reliable. As we noted previously, some still recommend unlicensed offshore betting sites without making it clear those sites are not licensed where you live. Generally, you can tell pretty quickly if a website is trying to sell you something or if it is actually providing serious, unbiased reviews.
You’ll also find it useful to see what other people have to say about a betting site by visiting the app store and searching for your site’s mobile betting app. For example, Apple’s App Store includes customer reviews that are short, to the point and oftentimes quite critical. It never hurts to get a second opinion when considering where to bet online.