One of our biggest roles here at HowToBet.com is to review online sportsbooks, casinos and poker rooms. In order to be able do this fairly and effectively, it was necessary for us to develop an organized and reasoned approach to the task of writing reviews.
This article will take you through our review process in its entirety. Our aim here is to show you exactly which aspects we look at so that you can have a fuller appreciation of how reliable our reviews are. We also want to put this information in your hands so that you can learn how to review online casinos, sportsbooks and poker rooms for yourself. After all, the more fairly you can assess an operator or venue independently, the better.
Having a rigorous approach to reviewing is important because assessing online betting sites can be quite a subjective thing. We all have different aspects that are more important to us than others. Some might demand generous bonuses. Others might think that game selection or sports coverage is more important. Knowing how to review online casinos and sportsbooks for yourself allows you to assess sites based on your own criteria rather than on that of someone else. This knowledge can also be applied by those of you who want to review Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) sites and racebooks.
What Are Reviews?
Before we go any further, we should perhaps pause and define exactly what a review is. This might seem like a silly question to ask, but in an age when reviews are written about everything from Amazon and eBay purchases to meals enjoyed (or not) at local restaurants, it’s important to be precise.
For our purposes, a review is a factual assessment of what a particular operator offers its clients. Whereas a personal review might be based partly or wholly on an individual’s personal experience, a professional review focuses much more on objectively verifiable facts. Our job in reviewing an online casino is not, therefore, to tell you whether or not we like the color scheme of its lobby, because that is just personal opinion. Our job is to tell you what games are available in the lobby to be played.
Why You Should Read Reviews
Reading reviews of online sportsbooks, casinos and sportsbooks is a good habit to get into. Not only will it help you to keep abreast of everything that is going on in the industry, but it will also constantly remind you of the things that you too should be focusing on.
If you visit an online casino and you lose your bankroll playing keno, it can often be tempting to blame the casino itself. But just because you lost cash doesn’t make it a bad casino. The fact is that you lost money because you were unlucky or reckless. The casino itself did its job of allowing you to play keno perfectly well.
Any review worth its salt will focus squarely on the facts. It will tell you who, what, why, where and when. Reading good, solid reviews will teach you to start focusing on similar objective points rather than allowing your personal experience to cloud your vision.
The Key Aspects of Solid Reviews
Having explained the importance of learning how to review online sportsbooks and casinos in an objective and methodical way, we will now discuss the key aspects to focus on. These are the aspects that we consider most important and relevant to bettors and players of all persuasions. A couple of them are specific to certain types of betting sites, but the majority of them apply to all. The key aspects are:
- Legality and Licensing
- Company History and Reputation
- Loyalty Programs
- Layout and Accessibility
- Games (Casinos and Poker Rooms)
- Sports Covered (Sportsbooks)
- Betting Markets (Sportsbooks)
- Customer Support
- Banking Options and Process
We will now discuss each of these key aspects in turn. Remember that our aim here is not only to tell you about our process, but also to help you develop your own. Focus on the same aspects and you will have a good idea of how to review online sportsbooks, casinos and poker rooms for yourself.
1 - Legality and Licensing
The first and most important thing that we do when reviewing any online gambling site is check its legal status. US gambling laws are very strict, and even the most liberal states only allow betting with properly licensed operators. It is therefore essential that we don’t recommend any operator which isn’t licensed to take bets in the US, even if that same sportsbook is licensed to operate in multiple other countries.
Along with legality goes licensing. In order for an online betting site to be legal to operate in a US state, it must be properly regulated. Each state has its own body which regulates gambling activity in that state. A sportsbook which operates in multiple states will therefore be regulated by several bodies - one for New Jersey, one for Pennsylvania, and so on,
With all of this in mind, you would also do well to make checking out the legality and licensing of an operator your first item of business. Don’t assume that just because it has a big name it is legal for you to play at in the state you live or work in. That may not be the case, and if you bet with an illegal operator you could get yourself into all kinds of trouble with the law.
2 - Company History and Reputation
Online betting and casino gaming is big business. It generates more in revenues than some small countries. For that reason, an increasing number of companies are climbing over each other to try and grab their share. This competition is ultimately good for bettors and players. However, it also means that there can be considerable variation between the companies operating. Some will have decades of valuable experience, whilst others will be serving the sports betting or casino gaming communities for the very first time.
This is why the next aspect that we look at is company history and reputation. We don’t need a sportsbook or casino to have been around forever, but if it has had several years of experience and has gained a good reputation over that time, we will have more confidence in the chances of it continuing to be reliable for the long term. A brand new operator can of course be just as good, but they can also be fly-by-nights which are here today and gone tomorrow.
3 - Bonuses
Whether you play at online sportsbooks, casinos or poker rooms, you will have noticed that bonuses are a dime a dozen. Bonuses are expected by bettors and players, and so they have become industry standard. If an operator wants you to give it a try, it had better offer you a decent incentive in return.
When we look at the aspect of bonuses, we typically want to know:
- What bonus is being offered.
- How easy it is to claim.
- What the wagering requirements are.
Any old operator can shout about the fact that it offers a four-figure bonus. However, if you need to deposit five figures to get it and then wager it 100 times before you can withdraw it, it’s pretty much worthless for anyone but the highest of rollers. This is an important point to consider, because too many bettors focus just on the headline bonus value and neglect to find out what that really means in practical terms.
Our reviews are written for the average sports bettor and casino player, so high-roller bonuses won’t automatically stand head-and-shoulders above the rest. For us, the ideal bonus is one that is genuinely valuable, easy to claim and has minimal wagering requirements.
Of course, your mileage may vary. It could be that you actually are a very high roller. Or maybe you genuinely don’t care about bonuses. In that case you can assess an operator’s bonus offers according to your own criteria. And that, after all, is why we are teaching you how to review online sportsbooks and casinos for yourself in the first place.
4 - Promotions
Bonuses are generally offered to attract new players and bettors. Promotions, by comparison, are separate offers that are more often aimed at existing customers. They could include odds boosters and special incentives for online sports bettors. Online poker players might be offered discounted seats in certain tournaments, whilst online casino fans could benefit from reload or cashback promotions. Again, our task when assessing this aspect is to look at what is being offered and how genuinely valuable it is to the average person.
When you are assessing an operator in this area, ask yourself what betting or gambling activity you intend to participate in. Then assess the available promotions accordingly. If you’re a die-hard Blackjack player then promotions which focus on playing progressive slots probably won’t appeal to you. In that case, an operator offering good Blackjack promotions would likely be more suitable for you.
5 - Loyalty Programs
The best online casino reviews always include a section on loyalty programs. We say that because loyalty programs are far more common at online casinos and poker rooms than they are at straightforward sportsbooks.
A loyalty program is essentially designed to give players a good reason to continue playing at the casino or poker room which offers it. They work by awarding you points according to how much you play. You can collect those points over an extended period and then redeem them for additional bonuses and promotions. Some operators will even allow you to redeem them for free drinks, meals or accommodation at their associated retail casinos.
As always, we look at how useful any loyalty program really is for the average person. We look at how points are earned, the rate at which they are earned and what they can be redeemed for. It would be a good idea for you to look at similar things. Bear in mind the games you tend to play (or the bets you tend to make) and the stakes you tend to use. Figure out how many points you might stand to earn in any given month, and then take a look at what you would be able to get for those points. This will give you a very good insight into how good a loyalty program is for you, personally.
6 - Layout and Accessibility
Our next area of investigation concerns layout and accessibility. You don’t visit an online sportsbook, casino or poker room to admire the colorful banner images. Instead, you go to place bets and play games. It is therefore important that it is laid out in such a way that you can do what you want to do with ease.
When conducting sportsbook reviews, we look at how easy it is to navigate to a particular betting market and place a bet. For casinos and poker rooms, we look at how easy it is to find a particular game and start playing. The less intuitive this is, the less useful it is to the end user.
It is worth noting that you would do well to assess this key aspect of an operator on the device that you expect to use most often. For example, if you mostly play online casino games on a desktop, see how the site performs on that display. Similarly, if you only want to place bets on your mobile phone, check to see how good the layout is on that device.
7 - Games (Casinos and Poker Rooms)
Our approach to reviewing a particular site obviously has to take into account the type of site being scrutinized. In the case of online casino and poker room reviews, we are careful to take a good look at the games that are available. Here we consider three main factors:
- The number of available games.
- How varied those games are.
- The quality of the games.
Whilst the general assumption seems to be that the more games there are, the better, that isn’t always the case. It is just as important for many casino players that the available games are of a high quality and that they offer genuine entertainment value. Similarly, online poker players usually want a good variety of ring games, MTT’s, SNG’s and Heads-Up games rather than an excessive number of one type.
When assessing online casinos and poker rooms for your own use, take into consideration the games you personally want to play. If the operator offers them, that’s great. But if it doesn’t, you might want to look elsewhere.
8 - Sports Covered (Sportsbooks)
For online sports betting sites, the range of sports covered is also a very important consideration. For our online sportsbook reviews, we look at how well they cater for the needs of the average American bettor. This means that we want to see comprehensive coverage of all the main sports that enjoy popularity in the US, such as NBA, NHL, MLB, golf, tennis, horse racing and so on. In addition, we also like to see coverage of sporting events taking place outside the USA, including soccer, cricket, rugby and international matches.
If you are learning how to review online sportsbooks for your own purposes, you should consider what you want to bet on. Those of you who focus on US sports will be well catered for by all the top sportsbooks. However, if you’re a big fan of soccer, and you like to bet on everything from the English Premier League to the Bundesliga, sportsbooks headquartered in Europe might give you a greater range of events to choose from.
9 - Betting Markets (Sportsbooks)
Another sportsbook-specific aspect that we consider when conducting our reviews is the number and range of betting markets that are available. Our readers enjoy betting in all kinds of ways. Some like to focus on the moneylines and totals markets. Others spend most of their time betting in-play. Still others enjoy trying to land big payouts with ambitious parlays. For us, a sportsbook which offers all of these betting possibilities and more is a winner.
When you are assessing a sportsbook, take a look at the available betting markets in light of how you actually want to bet. If you like betting in-play, make sure that the operator will give you plenty of opportunities to do that. Similarly, if you are a fan of point spreads, note how many of those markets the sportsbook tends to offer about the sports you are most interested in.
10 - Customer Support
One of the biggest differences between betting or playing online and doing the same in a retail casino is the fact that there are no staff members visibly hovering around. That means you can’t just speak to the nearest staff member if you have a problem. Instead, you need to call for help from the online site’s Customer Support team.
What we look for here is availability, accessibility and efficiency. A sportsbook or casino which offers easily accessible support around the clock is better than one that only offers support during business hours or by email. By the same token, a Customer Support team that resolves issues quickly in a friendly manner is better than one that is less friendly and efficient.
You can give the Customer Support team at any operator a quick test simply by asking them a question. Note how easy it is to get in contact, how quickly they respond and how helpful their response is. If they impress in all three areas, the chances are good that you’ll be happy with the service in the event of a real problem arising.
11 - Banking Options and Process
The final key aspect that we consider when reviewing online casinos and sportsbooks is how easy it is to make deposits and withdrawals. You will need to make a deposit before you can start betting or playing for real cash, so this is a fairly essential consideration. What we like to see here are plenty of deposit options, an easy banking process and a swift transaction time.
If you already know how you want to make deposits (for example, by PayPal or Bitcoin) then you need to make sure that the operator you are looking at will allow you to use that method. Even if it does, you’ll also need to see how easy it is to make deposits and withdrawals, and take a look at the estimated transaction times. Ideally, you’ll want deposits to be processed instantly and withdrawals to be processed within a few business days at the most.
Generate Your Own Review Ratings
As you have seen, there are many aspects that need to be looked at when conducting a review. The down side of this is that it can then be tricky to compare several operators alongside each other. To help make that task easier, you can assign a numerical rating to each aspect you look at and total up those ‘aspect ratings’ to generate an overall review rating. Those overall ratings can then be compared directly so that you can see which one is the best.
We would recommend that you give an operator a score out of 10 for each of the aspects you look at. When you have done that, total up the aspect scores. You may also want to divide that total by the maximum available and then multiply by 100 to get a percentage rating.
For example, you might review a sportsbook and rate its aspects as follows:
|Legality and Licensing||10|
|Company History and Reputation||8|
|Layout and Accessibility||7|
|Games (Casinos and Poker Rooms)||N/A|
|Sports Covered (Sportsbooks)||7|
|Betting Markets (Sportsbooks)||7|
|Banking Options and Process||8|
|OVERALL RATING:||70/90 = 78%|
By applying this rating method to every operator you review, you will be able to compare operators with some accuracy. At the same time, you will also be able to compare operators according to certain features, such as Customer Support or Bonuses.
Of course, if you would prefer to save yourself the time and trouble and rely on our reviews and ratings, that’s fine. But at least you now know how to review online sportsbooks and casinos for yourself should you ever want to do so!