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How to choose an online sportsbook

The online industry has been growing for the last decade to the point that we are now facing a problem every time we want to purchase something online: what website should I go to and can I trust it? With hundreds (if not thousands) of online bookmakers out there the question becomes even more critical since not only are you staking your own money, you are giving out your personal and financial information. This is why its crucial to be able to distinguish between good bookmakers and shady shops. First of all consider the following: a website's appearance is never a measure of how good it is. Now a days it's so easy and so cheap to produce a professional looking website that anyone can have his own up and running in no time.

The increasing popularity of the internet together with new ever improving technologies are making the online betting industry grow at an unbalanced pace. Every year a great deal of betting companies open and close. Hundreds of bookmakers operating online are willing to tell anything to get new customers to join. In this climate is not easy to find the relevant information and it can be difficult to distinguish the good ones from the bad ones, as the appearance and feel of the websites are not enough. The traps that may accompany betting online and dealing with such operations are unfortunately not well known, especially to the novice bettor.

The betting industry has its share of honest operators, that are good choices for players, and dishonest operators or total scams. The latest exist only to take your hard-earned cash when you place your bets. They use great appearances, generous odds and introductory bonuses to lure you in, whereas if you win and try to collect they are not willing to pay you. Some bookmakers have financial problems or which are not up front to the punters. These bookies depend on new players to sign up, deposit their money and lose it, so they can pay other customers. They cannot let the word out that they are having financial difficulties, so they keep saying that payouts are on their way while their objective is to delay payments. Excuses used for delays are many, they are either creative or lame and some may even sound true. Take these excuses and you finish by waiting up to several weeks or months, while they just "hope" that you keep betting and lose before the balance can be sent to you. If they finally come forward or you find out that they are in trouble, you will probably have to accept only a partial payment or a bailout from another bookmaker.

Some operations play a game of their own, especially if you go on a roll of a lifetime. They tell you that you are a member of a betting syndicate or a professional and such action is not welcome, or that you knowingly cheated or broke some "non-existent" rule, thus your bets have been voided. Some shops "simply" do not pay anyone and disappear.

Making a right and sound choice when you select a bookmaker to bet with is an essential step for successful online betting. The following are all the crucial and relevant factors you should consider when choosing an online bookmaker.

Financial solidity and stability
Facing reality the most important question for an online punter is: "How do I pick a bookmaker that I can trust?" This is the first and the single most important factor you should consider, all the other factors mean nothing without this one. A bookmaker is like a bank, it is a place you trust with your money. A financially solid and stable bookmaker will be able and willing to pay when you win and ask for it.

There are limited pieces of evidence you can look at to determine whether a bookmaker is financially solid and stable. If they are a publicly held company, you can look at financials statements and balance sheets. If they are a private company, you have only indirect evidence, as they will not open their books to the public. An educated guess would be to consider how many years they have been operating in this business and if during this time they have been successful in producing a positive track record and building their reputation on honesty, fairness and prompt payouts.

You want to make sure the bookmaker is operating from a country where the bookmaking business is legal and the government regulates and supervises it to a certain degree. The jurisdiction should have a meaningful oversight over the release of bookmakers' licenses, with strict requirements to establish and maintain operation, and background checks on the people that run the business. See our section on jurisdictions to find reviews of the best environments and a list of high risk locations.

Customer service
You want the bookmaker to be easily accessible via e-mail, telephone or live chat. Customer service representatives should be fluent in your language or you should have a good understanding of the language they speak, in case you need to explain to them some complex matter. They should be efficient, responsive, knowledgeable about betting in general and their company policies in particular. They should not guess what they do not know and quickly get the person that does. They should treat customers in a courteous and professional way. If they have a 24-hour service, they should be able to answer e-mails and phone calls even at night.

To get some evidence ahead of time of what you can expect if you should ever really need their help, you should contact the bookmaker's customer service before you join. Ask them questions and see how they respond. They should be able to answer any queries regarding how long they have been in business, in which country they are licensed, the minimum deposit needed to open an account, the minimums and maximums amounts allowed for bets, the payment options and connected fees, how long will it take to get your winnings, the promotions they run or all other information in regard to their operation. You should get a good understanding of their service from the quality of answers or from how they handle your call if you phone them. Conflicting, evasive and unsatisfactory answers, unanswered and unresponsive e-mails are all bad signs. Long delays on hold and dismissive or rude staff answering the phones are bad signs too. Anyway, remember that bookies show their best faces to prospective customers and that their services will not likely improve once you have signed up.

Payment options
There a lot of methods to transfer money to and from a bookmaker, and many differences in transaction policies and fees. Before opening an account, you want to be certain whether a bookmaker offers to transfer money by the solution you prefer and which are the policies and associated fees. Bear in mind that these transactions will be the most likely interfaces you will have with the bookie's customer service, so the easier, faster and less expensive they will make it to get money to and from them, the better you will feel toward their operation. Check our section on payment options to find the method that might work the best for you.

You want a website that is easy and convenient to use with intuitive and user-friendly layout. Reliability and speed are other factors to consider. The use of excellent security technology to ensure the privacy and safety of customers' transactions is a must. Graphics and the order, or way, features are displayed are just matters of individual taste, and this is an intangible factor for which a site may give you a better feel than others.

You should spend some time navigating and practicing around the site before signing up. Make sure you read and understand terms, conditions and regulations. If you are a rank beginner, you might find useful help sections with comprehensive and quality description of various sports and bets rules. The website should provide all the relevant information you need to feel comfortable, including a support phone number to contact in the event the site will be unavailable or down for technical or other reasons.

Range of sports and bet types
You should make sure the bookmaker offers the sports and bet types you want to bet on. Competition dictates to international bookies to be creative in their offers, but you should not assume they all offer the same range of sports and bet types. Do not to jump to conclusions from just a quick perusal of the bookmaker's homepage. Dig around in the betting section of their websites, e-mail or call them to get more details about their betting options.

Opinionated lines
When a bookmaker takes a position on a particular line against other bookies consensus, that is an opinionated line. Opinionated lines mean attractive odds for players. The importance of getting the best prices is not in discussion, as it represents the players' real chance to be profitable long term. To find opinionated lines depends on the sports and betting style you are into. That is because a bookmaker may have "opinions" in some sports and offer consensus lines in others or it may usually deal in better lines for the favourites rather than the underdogs. You can find out which bookmakers offer consistently opinionated lines, using one of the odds comparison services that have sprung up online in the last couple of years. Always make sure to double check the availability of the same odds at the bookie's website as well.

The frequency with which you find the best lines at a particular bookie is the primary factor to distinguish an opinionated bookmaker from a general consensus operation. Be careful and remember that having too many "opinions" it may be a sign that the bookmaker itself is betting instead of bookmaking. It is tough to say when an opinionated line is the bookie's attempt to balance an unusual one-side action, the responsible use of the linemaker's opinion or a warning sign for an unscrupulous operation trying to attract wagers. This is why the bookmaker's reputation and its history regarding business approach to opinionated lines is very important.

Bookmaker's overround
The overround is the commission kept by the bookmaker for its services. As for opinionated lines, the importance of getting the best numbers is not in discussion and you should bear in mind that the overround affects all the lines and not just the few that are opinionated. The less the commission percentage, the lower the break-even point, the better for the player that is more likely to win in the long term. While a lower commission might not seem much at first thought, compounded over many bets it can make a lot of difference even for recreational bettors, for which the difference between profit and loss at the end of the year might be in only few percentage points. We invite you to visit our betting explained section and learn how to calculate the bookmaker's overround.

Style of play and limits
You want to make sure the bookmaker caters to your style of play and has limits within your bets size, these being both minimums and maximums. Recreational bettors usually require lower limits and larger bonus offers, while professional bettors need higher limits and opinionated lines. Some bookmakers welcome all styles of play, some cater to small players and they limit or refuse the kind of expert action that might put them at risk while others, offering no bonuses at all, fit to professional bettors with higher limits and unique lines.

Maximums might vary at the bookmaker's discretion, for different types of bets or at different times. Some bookies give you a maximum that is cumulative total; others give you a maximum for each increment and do not really care how much you bet as long as they have the chance to adjust the line between bets, if they choose to. Most bookies will, either generally or particularly for specific bets, lower your limits if you are too successful or if you bet according to some patterns or styles. You should not condemn those bookies as long as they are up front about their aversion to risk and they pay you in full.

Bonuses and promotions
Incentives are offered by legitimate bookmakers to attract new players or retain customers; scam operations use these perks as well to entice bettors to deposit with them. It might be difficult to distinguish between the two only by looking at the incentive structure, but remember if an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is. You should use your good sense and be very skeptic on bookies offering 20% and higher bonuses to sign up, while the industry norm is around 10%. Furthermore, to assess the real value of a bonus or a promotion there are other factors to consider and some can be quite complex. Remember that the majority of disputes between bookmakers and players are caused by misunderstandings on regulations and rules for these incentives. You can read more about different types of bonuses at our bonuses page. Conditions applied vary from bookmaker to bookmaker and you should be aware of and understand them. Read the fine print to make sure there are no grey areas. Contact the bookie's customer service to find out the details.

When choosing a bookmaker, you should consider other factors first and certainly never choose on bonus alone. Remember that the betting industry has no tolerance for players signing up only to profit from a bonus or promotion, with no intention of risking their deposit. These are all the factors to consider when choosing an online bookmaker, bearing in mind that one alone should never outweigh the others. If you want to learn about the procedure we use to review online bookmakers, please visit our review policy section. Before you go and sign up for an online sportsbook also check out our sportsbooks reviews.