Shooting for the Jackpot With Online Casinos and Gambling CD-ROMs


Playing computer card games has been a natural from the days of thumb-twiddling solitaire to the latest video poker machines. So it’s no surprise that dozens of companies jumped at the chance to run online casinos, letting the personal computer user play games of chance for money or fun.

But many were surprised at how vehemently Congress and state legislatures have fought to outlaw online gambling--possibly to keep it from eating into real casinos’ business. A handful of states (not California) have made gambling on the Net illegal, and the Senate is considering a bill that would make it illegal throughout the country. Still, the courts haven’t made a definitive ruling, and it’s difficult to enforce a law on businesses largely run offshore, with games played in people’s living rooms.

While everyone sorts through the legal tangle, you can saddle up to ride through an odd assortment of Web-based casinos, with servers hosted on islands such as Dominica or Antigua. One site will take wire transfers to its Swiss bank account or personal checks to an address in South Africa. Talk about an international flavor. Be sure to read all the fine print, because many charge $1 or more to cash out, and some will pay you only once a month. Many take credit cards and will pay by issuing credit to your card.


The online casinos have a loose, Wild West feel to them, and though they are licensed by their countries, it’s difficult to tell if their payback is always legit. If you don’t have the stomach for playing for money, you can play for fun at almost all the sites. For detailed, lively reporting on the industry, check out Rolling Good Times Online (, which rates a vast number of sites and gives gambling tips.

Though many online casinos seem to have at least one thing wrong--slow servers, ugly design, gargantuan downloads--I was impressed with the sleek Acropolis Casinos ( The software is only 1.7 megabytes, and it works smoothly and simply, letting you play blackjack, roulette and video poker free offline. For the novelty factor, stop by First Live Casino (, which broadcasts live roulette games with streaming video. It was a little shaky but fun for a free trial.

If you want a richer graphical experience and just want to practice for Vegas, there are a few CD-ROMs to help test your harebrained “foolproof” systems. Golden Nugget (Virgin; $20) gives you casino basics without a lot of personality, while Hoyle Casino (Sierra; $30) focuses on the wacky characters who play beside you.

Avery Cardoza’s Casino (Cardoza; $30) has wisecracking cyber-dealers who’ll shout, “How ‘bout a little feed for the chickens!” if you don’t get your bet down fast enough. Cardoza also gives helpful advice for situational plays in blackjack and video poker. And for those who can never get enough slots, there’s Avery Cardoza’s 100 Slots ($30), with themed machines and music.

If you go overboard, there’s help online from Gamblers Anonymous (, a group based in Los Angeles with outposts around the world. You can read the 20 questions to see if you have a problem and learn how to help family members who have become compulsive gamblers. Some online casinos and gambling e-zines have thoughtfully included links to G.A.


Mark Glaser is a freelance writer and critic. You can reach him at