Casinos allow gamblers to play and wager of many types of games. Online casinos allow gamblers to do so through the Internet, without visiting a brick and mortar casino. This offers significant advantages and convenience, but is also risky.
Leaving alone the morality of gambling or whether gambling per se is a vice or not, are the advantages of online casinos worth the risks?
Advantages of Online Casinos
Online casinos have many advantages over brick and mortar casinos:
The gambler can play and wager from the confines of their homes or any place of their liking without taking the trouble to visit a real world casino and adhere to dress code and other their rules and regulations.
Unlike real world casinos, which operate at specific times and have limited games at set times, online casinos are open 24x7. Players can opt to play any game at virtually any time of their choosing.
Online casinos allow the players to remain focused on the game, without the noise and other distractions usually found in a real world casino.
Overall, most online casinos offer similar odds and payback percentages to brick and mortar casinos offer. Some online casinos have higher payback percentages for slot machine games. The actual payout percentage depends on the rules of the game.
The main risks related on online casino is the threat of falling victim to scams. The real site may contain vulnerabilities that allow hackers to steal financial information. At times, the casino site itself may be a fake impersonation of a real site, developed specifically to steal credit card information.
All reputed websites that undertake financial transactions have encryption in place to protect the financial data, personal information and other game data that the gambler inputs on the casino screen. Encryption is encoding the information transmitted between the gambler's computer and the casino's server, so that any eavesdropper or hackers cannot access such information. Many "credible online casinos" offer such encryption, making them safer than real world casinos, where the physical risk of losing tokens or cash is real.
The major risk however relates to the software in use by the online casino. The online casino experience may be either safe or risky depending on the type of the software in use and the way the casino owners use the software.
Random Number Generation
Almost all casino games depend on generating a random number. For instance, the wheel of the roulette spins and stops at any specific number. Almost all online casino games, be it the roulette, disc game, card games or anything else use random number generation at the back-end. For instance, when the disc rolls, or a card shuffles at the user interface, random number generation software runs at the backend and provides a number, which determines which number how long the wheel spins or which card will show up after the shuffle.
Most online casinos run software developed by companies such as CryptoLogic Inc, International Game Technology, Microgaming, Playtech, Realtime Gaming and others; but all of these use the same random number technology.
Almost all random number generator software works on an algorithm, or a complex set of mathematical formula, to generate a long number stream. The values in the number stream depend on the initial values, or the random seed number, fed into the algorithm engine.
Theoretically, the same random seed number would generate the same results repeatedly. To overcome this, developers apply quantum computing and incorporate external sources of randomness. For instance, some programs use minute differences in the speed of advance between two clocks. Some others use the difference in timing of actual movements of the hard disk read-write head.
The most widely used algorithm in online gambling is the Mersenne Twister algorithm, developed by Makoto Matsumoto and Takuju Nishimura, two Japanese mathematicians, in 1997. Both the initial version of this algorithm, MT19937, and the later version, MT19937-64, produce sequences of numbers 219937 numbers long. The initial version produces 32-bit integer numbers, or any number between zero and about four billion. The later version produced 64-bit integer numbers having a range between 0 and 1018, allowing even wider variation.
All things equal, a computer based casino based on a sound algorithm and adequate safeguards is just as fair as a real-world casino. But it is theoretically possible to crack such algorithms and predict the outcome, but success of such cracks depends on getting one's hands on the random seed number. Gaming houses naturally keep the random seed number a closely guarded secret, but in today's world where cyber criminals are adept in stealing even from Fortune 500 companies, stealing the random seed number is child's play.
Casinos themselves rigging the results by manipulating the data is a real possibility. To keep credibility, most online casinos hire eCogra and many other worldwide gambling regulators to inspect the software and number sequences for signs of foul play and check whether the win percentages match the stated odds. Another test of fairness is the casino's payout percentages being roughly in line with the published odds. But here again, nothing prevents the casinos from publishing whatever figure they like.
The bottomline: gambling is an inherently risk activity and online casinos simply increase the risk.