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For those of you who are new to the world of Internet gambling, this guide will try and give you all the basics you need to know. The fact that you're reading this suggests you're interested in gambling online.

May we suggest that before you start, you read this guide. You may well find that it saves you a considerable amount of time and effort. This guide has been created using our own past experiences (both good and bad) so hopefully you'll be able to avoid a few of the possible pitfalls.

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Choosing an online casino is without a doubt the biggest choice you'll need to make when starting to gamble online. Take a little time and read through this guide, think about what you're looking for and when you are ready we will help find the best casino for you.

There are well over a thousand online casinos on offer today, with more being added every day. All these casinos have one thing in common, they are want your business. They would like you to sign up and play. Therefore to encourage you, some offer fantastic deals for new customers. Some of these 'deals' only sound fantastic. Don't worry, if you stick to this guide and follow our simple advice you'll be just fine!

The majority of online casinos are reliable and legitimate, but as with most things there are a few unscrupulous casino operators and they have to be avoided. There are several things to look for when looking for a safe casino:

Make sure that the casino is secure (look for the yellow padlock in the status bar of your browser when signing up or playing games and web addresses starting 'https://'). This ensures that your data is being safely encrypted between your computer. The web site should quote 128bit encryption somewhere.

There are several common sets of games used by online casinos, Microgaming, OddsOn and RTG are the most common examples. These programs are used when you play games and they can be a separate program from your browser or can be Flash games played from within your browser. Stick to casinos that use these reputable suites of games.

A good way of checking on the quality of a casino is to test out its Customer Support team. Be wary of any online casino that doesn't offer you 24 hour 7 days a week customer support. Most good casinos offer free email support, toll-free telephone support and in some cases even 1-2-1 chat support. Ask a few simple questions and wait for a prompt, courteous and correct answer.

Make sure that the casino web site looks professional. A quality casino web site cost a lot of money. If the site looks amateurish, inconsistent or poor quality in general don't trust it.

Look out for spelling mistakes. Spelling mistakes on casino web sites suggests that the site has been put together quickly and not been checked. Legitimate casino sites rarely let this happen

Most casinos are members of independent committee organisations. Check for mentions of this on the web site (usually on the main page) indicated by images. Go to the web site mentioned and check they're listed.

These guidelines are not 100% foolproof but can help you to judge the good from the bad. The best thing to do is to keep your eyes open when looking at casino web sites and if anything doesn't feel right think twice.

Bad casinos don't last long as word gets around that they're unreliable or don't pay on wins. If a casino has been around for several years or has many players, this is a good indicator that you've found a trustworthy online casino.

The casinos listed here at ESC have all been reviewed and every effort has been made to make sure that they're safe for you to use. Most of the casinos listed have been in operation for several years and have had consistently good reviews. We continually monitor reviews and reports of the casinos we list here to make sure that they're still honest and safe places to gamble online.

There are two main types of online casinos on offer at the moment. Software based casinos and Flash-based casinos. You should be aware of the advantages and disadvantages of both types. Make a choice of the best type of casino for you.

Software-based casinos require an initial download before signing up for an account. This can sometimes take half an hour or so because the software includes the common games and all you need to safely sign up for an account. Once you have downloaded the software once, you install it, sign up for an account and you're ready to play! The basic casino games are included and a vast array of other games can also be downloaded quickly and easily. This is currently the most common way of gambling online and it is most suited to people who will be playing the games from one computer.

Flash-based casinos don't require the download of any software, but do mean that any time you want start to play that you log into the casinos web site and download the Flash games before you play. This doesn't take too long but it can get annoying after the first few times. The benefits of using Flash games are that you can gamble from virtually any Internet connected computer regardless of whether or not it is a PC, Mac or WebTV box. The Flash software is a standard part of modern browsers and is available as a plug-in for most older browsers.

Some online casinos are now trying to cover both bases by focusing by offering both a software-based casino and also a Flash-based casino. This gives you the benefits of both letting you decide how you want to play.

Finding a casino that lets you pay how you want to is pretty important. To start with you'll probably need to pay some money into an online casino account. Finding out if you can easily pay money into the casino and more importantly how you can get your winnings out. There are many ways of doing this, but you'll probably already have a pretty good idea how you intend to pay. The following are the most common ways to buy chips in online casinos.

Credit Cards - no surprises here, Visa and Mastercard credit cards are accepted by most online casinos. The secure and encrypted nature of today's online casinos makes transmitting your details over the web a safe option. When playing at your online casino you simply enter your credit card details and wait for the transaction to be confirmed. Then you can get started play the games. ( Casinos where you can play by Visa or Mastercard)

Firepay - works in a similar way Paypal by acting as a trusted intermediary between you and your online casino. You sign up for an account at www.firepay.com, register your credit card details and you then make a deposit into your Firepay account of an amount between $5 and $5000. The money then sits in your account until you wish to use it (you can withdraw it at any time). You can pay at virtually all online casinos and also receive pay-outs directly to your account, all without handing out your credit card details to anyone other than Firepay. Firepay differs from Paypal in that funds must be deposited before using them, whereas Paypal payments are made on demand from your credit card. ( Casinos where you can play by FirePay)

ClearChex - available to US residents who have checking accounts and allows you to pay money to casinos in the same way you would with a cheque, but without the need to actually write or send a cheque. First register for an account at www.clearchex.com and your computer will be set up to allow you to use the service. You will then be able to make payments using the ClearChex account with payments being taken from your checking account the same day. When you sign up the ClearChex system registers details about your computer, you and your checking account. You are only able to use that computer to make payments using ClearChex. ( Casinos where you can play by ClearChex)

Western Union - money can be sent using Western Union's money transfer service either from their web site at www.westernunion.com or from any of the 100,000 agents worldwide. The process is reasonably simple, just set up your details, decide who you're sending the money to, pass on payment details and wait for the money to be transferred. This system works well because you can pay from your computer (currently in the US only) or from your local Post Office (or other nearest agent). Western Union is also an organisation with a trustworthy and safe reputation, so security and reliability is not a worry. ( Casinos where you can play by Western Union)

ACH (aka Automated Clearing House) - a way of transferring funds electronically from one bank account to another bank account. In this case you will probably be paying money from your account to an online casino or having your winnings paid back to your account from the casinos account. You will be able to select ACH as your payment option when playing games for real and all this requires is for you to enter your bank account details and the casino will do the rest! Some online casinos will give you a free bonus for using ACH as a payment method. ACH is only available to US residents and it may take several days for the payment to clear. ( Casinos where you can play by ACH)

Cheque (aka check) - some online casinos allow you to pay by cheque. Its not all that common because you actually need to mail a cheque to the casino and wait for it to clear. It takes time but is still an option. ( Casinos where you can play by Cheque)

Postal/Money Order - works in the same way as the cheque option, but you can pay by cash at your bank or your Post Office and then mail it to the casino. Again its probably not the fastest way of paying to play online but it works. ( Casinos where you can play by Postal/Money Order)

It sounds obvious, but always make sure that the casino offers the games you actually want to play. The vast majority of online casinos offer all the traditional casino games (Blackjack, Roulette, Craps, Slots, etc.). You'll also find that a lot of them offer variants of these games, such as 5 Reel Slots and Video Poker options. Many casinos now combine efforts to offer Progressive Slots games where the jackpots can be limitless in size. All good casinos will be able to provide you with a list of the games they offer, as a guide most good casinos offer over 30 - 40 games in total.

We know its pretty boring stuff, but you should always make sure that there's nothing out of the ordinary that you're not happy with. Make sure that you're actually allowed to play at the casino in your country. Online casinos are sometimes not allowed to accept players from places like Russia and South Africa. Everything should be fairly straightforward, but its always an idea to make sure.

A simple enough procedure, just enter your details, choose how you want to pay for chips and click the button. Casinos will usually offer you the chance to play for real (i.e. for money) or as a guest (i.e. for free). Once you're happy with the free service you can deposit money and start to play for real.

Once you've signed up you'd be foolish not to take advantage of the free bonuses offered to new customers. Details of the current bonus promotions on offer are usually shown quite prominently on the main page of the online casino's web site and further details are normally available on a separate page of the site. Make sure you follow the rules about claiming any bonuses offered by the casino. You'll often need to sign up and then register for the bonus using a form somewhere on the web site. Follow the rules and you'll get your hard earned free credits!

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Well that's pretty much it! You've checked through the casinos, found the best one for you and signed up. All that's left for you to do is to gamble safe in the knowledge that you've made the right choice!

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