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Online Casinos vs. Land-Based Casinos: Which is Better?

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No, this isn't the main event card at Caesar's Palace. It's the fight between Internet casinos and the traditional land-based alternative for the public's gambling dollar.

The question is: Which is better?

Both have unique and powerful advantages weighing in their favor. But while they are very much similar, they couldn't be further apart.

The biggest advantage that a hotel-casino in Las Vegas, for example, has in its favor is the atmosphere. Try as they might, the biggest and best online alternative will never be able to replicate the atmosphere that is part and parcel of the Vegas experience. Try as they might, software manufacturers haven't yet been able to capture the neon glow on The Strip and impart that into the online gaming experience.

The roar of players surrounding the craps table isn't yet present in the artificial craps environment offered by the Internet brand of gaming. In Vegas or Atlantic City, cheers echo throughout the casino floor when a player gets the roll of the dice. Unless you are playing at an online casino that offers multi-player chat, the only cheers you hear in front of your computer, are your own.

The best, and perhaps easiest, way to compare an online casino to a land-based hotel is to use baseball as an example.

If you have ever played video games at home, you'll know that software manufacturers like EA Sports have done a tremendous job in making the playing environment as realistic as possible. Players today have a fluid movement that puts similar products from a decade ago to shame. The grass looks authentic; the crack of the bat is eerily realistic; the crowd cheers; and they now have play-by-play announcers calling the game as you play.

But nothing can replace the sights and sounds of attending a live game at Fenway Park. Until EA Sports can manufacture a way to embed the artificial smell of hot dogs and cracker jacks into their software, they have a long way to go before they can replace the real thing.

But that is where the comparison should end in the debate of online vs. land-based casinos.

Because while gambling is a form of entertainment, it is definitely not a game. Where the hotel-casinos fall short, is in the most important area of all --- issues that directly effect the player's chances of winning.

There are far too many variables involved at an offline casino to favor it over playing online. Below is a list of ways in which online has surpassed its offline counterpart in offering players an environment that is more conducive to winning.


COMPS

In terms of getting freebies from the casino, playing online in 2001, is what Vegas used to be like in the 1970s. With roughly 1,300 casinos vying for your business, online operators bend over backwards to get, and maintain, your gambling dollars. Rarely, if ever, do you make a deposit into a casino account without being comped. These offers include no-deposit-required comps, percentage bonuses, match bonuses, and existing player bonuses.

The knock against online casino comps has been that they have conditions attached to them and that they must be played several times over. But if you pay attention to your playing methods, you'll notice that $50 can go a long way and in no time, you'll have wagered more than $1,000 on that free comp. For example, I recently played at an online casino and deposited $50 into an account, the match bonus resulted in an ensuing $50 match bonus. A $100 bankroll may not sound like much, but I managed to wager a total of $2,800 at the end of my session, due in large part to the comp I received. Again, this is free money that you're playing with, so any profit you make on top of that is icing on the cake.

If you're playing at a hotel-casino, you must spend hundreds of dollars to even be considered for a comp of any sort. For example, at a major Vegas casino, you must bet $75 a hand while playing blackjack for at least two hours, to be considered for even the smallest freebie. Unless you put together a good run, you'll be looking for handouts at places other than just the casino. They do, however, love to give you free drinks. Sit at a table or machine long enough, and a kindly waitress is bound to offer you booze at some point during the course of your gambling session. But before you think too highly of the operator, think long and hard about why alcohol is referred to as "chip remover" by most experts.

If you shouldn't drink on the job, drink and drive, or drink while operating heavy machinery, you certainly don't want to drink while you are playing with money. These are your finances, not poker chips, that you are playing with, so politely ask the waitress for a Coke without the rum.


VARIETY

Look at a map of the Vegas Strip at night, and it appears as though there is an endless array of casinos where you can play. In reality, there are only a handful of options and they aren't necessarily within walking distance. In total, there are just 80 casinos in Vegas.

Online, however, with more than 1,300 options available, the competition is only a click away. If you don't like online casino X because of poor customer service, comps, or game selection, a simple search will reveal a variety of alternatives and online casino Y is only the click of a mouse away. That brings us back to the competition aspect. Operators are Netizens like yourself, and while they know the advantages of housing an online operation, they are more aware than anyone of the potential drawbacks that could be of detriment to their ability to compete in this burgeoning industry. That results in a wider variety of games, bonuses, software options, language, and customer service.

Competition breeds success, and while Vegas has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt to be the success story of American commerce in the 20th Century, it hasn't necessarily resulted in benefit for the player. The same could be said for the online casino industry 5-10 years down the road, but because the business is still in its infancy, it is a buyers market. The potential is there for the Internet to fall subject to the same fate as Vegas if a company with deep pockets eats up smaller casinos, but until that day arrives, it's a free-for-all, and you are the benefactor.


STRATEGY

Time is your friend online.

If you have ever played at a land-based casino, you'll know that sitting at a table brings with it inherent external pressures that aren't present online.

If you are playing Blackjack, for example, and are unsure whether to hit on a 15 when the dealer is showing a 7, there is a sense that the other players are staring a hole through you to hurry up and hit, stand, surrender, or whatever. Just something!

At home, though, the only pressure to make a hurried decision comes from within yourself. If you hurry and make a dumb play, the only person you can blame is yourself, because unless there are little voices in your head telling you to do otherwise, you are the source of your own pressure. If you are unsure of what the proper strategic move is, you can keep the program running in the background, and refer to the volumes of data that have been produced about situational moves. It stands to reason, then, that the more time you have, the more you stand to make.

Taking a few minutes to contemplate the merits of doubling down on a face card when the dealer is showing a nine would be suicide at a land-based casino. But online, you can play at your leisure and be secure in knowing that when you play a hand, you've put some thought into it, and have not played as a result of impulse or peer pressure.


REAL MONEY

When is $100 not $100? When it is in the form of a plastic chip.

When you place a bet at a land-based casino, the value of a bet is the color of the chip you lay down, or the token you put into the machine. Because you are not playing with a monetary note, your sense of money management is hampered.

You would likely think twice about careless, or risky bets if you were putting a $20 bill on the table as opposed to a pair of $10 chips.

When you are playing online, the software clearly shows how you are wagering and how much you have remaining in your bankroll in real dollars. Unless you are a highroller and don't give much thought to the amount of your wager, you will pay far closer attention to the rate at which your cash is dwindling, or hopefully increasing, and then base your decision on when it is time to cash out based on those factors.


ENVIRONMENT

While the atmosphere is the biggest drawing point for land-based casinos, there is something to be said about environment. Don't understand the distinction? The two are similar, but noticeably different.

After all of the glitz, roaring crowds, waitresses and shows subside, your favorite chair is as good a spot as any to gamble. Because you know your home as no other, you have all of the conveniences at your disposal.

If you don't smoke, you can escape the cloud that hovers over the table and concentrate on winning. If you do smoke, you don't (and if you don't, you should) have to worry yourself about imposing your nasty habit on others, and distracting them from their play. It is generally frowned upon to open a bag of Doritos at the roulette table, but your home is your castle, so eat yourself into a coma if that's your preference.

Also, when is the last time you noticed a clock in the casino? There is a very good reason why they are absent, and it's not because the operators are hesitant to stop using the sun dial. If people actually paid attention to the time they spent in a casino, they would be amazed. I was recently at Casino Niagara and noticed an 80-something-year-old grandmother playing slots at 4 a.m. I was long since exhausted, so she should have been nestled cozily in her bed many, many hours ago. Your digital alarm clock will let you know just how long you have been playing and if it's time to get some shut-eye before you go to work the next morning.

These aren't the most vital of differences, but comfort goes a long way towards producing positive results. I prefer to make certain that I have tended to the most miniscule of details to ensure that I have covered even the smallest of bases to make my experience a successful one.


COST

Going to Vegas is great. You get to see The Strip, Wayne Newton, the Hoover Dam, etc., but they all cost money. Unless you live around the corner from the MGM, you will most likely have to fly to Nevada. The cost of a plane ticket alone is a major consideration, but then factor in meals and hotel rooms, and you're looking at a hefty bill to do what you could have done online for much less. You might be able to get a comp for the hotel and meals, but in order to qualify, you'd likely have to gamble close to what you would have spent on the room and food to begin with.

Also, as nice as the lovely waitresses in Vegas may be, they are an expense. Suddenly, all of those free drinks aren't so free anymore once you begin to tip. Don't forget to drop a few bucks on the dealer while you're there either, else you'll be shot an evil eye from the dealer and experienced players, and the gambling gods may no longer be with you. At home, the only tips you need to concern yourself with, are those which will better your game so that you might one day be able to afford that elusive trip to Vegas.


PRESSURE

As much as we like to think that blackjack or craps are individual games, that point is debatable.

A poor play while playing blackjack, and you'll hear rumbles under the breath of your tablemates. A bad roll of the dice will elicit jeers, not cheers, from those wagering alongside you at the craps table. There are external forces --- those same forces which can make Vegas so attractive --- that make it a pressure cooker and can have a devastating impact on your game. The same can be said for other players who make debatable plays during the course of a game and affect your outcome.

So-called experts are more than happy to suggest how you should play, even though your gut tells you to buck to odds and go with your instincts. Where are the experts when you listen to their advice and their fool proof plan goes awry? They certainly aren't handing chips over to you lost because of their tainted advice.

Keep yourself focused on the task at hand --- winning. This is why most experts will advise you to stay as far away from multi-player chat-enabled games online. You should keep yourself focused on the task at hand, which is, of course, winning.

Anything, no matter how seemingly trivial, that distracts you from your goal to make money, is a distraction that you should avoid at all costs. Putting yourself in a situation where another player can directly impact your ability to win is not only risky, but outright careless.


EASE OF ACCESS

My most recent visit to a land-based casino was mostly spent hovering around the blackjack table, waiting for a seat to open. You can spend hours waiting to play blackjack, slots, video poker or most other games even on weeknights. If you ever have any of those problems online, please let me know immediately because it would be an experience that I have never, ever heard of. I'll dream up some sort of certificate for you to mark the occasion and mail it to you.

But having easy access to the games is not the only difficulty you'll experience at a hotel-casino. The variety of online operators and resulting competition, have fostered games and machines that offer better odds for the player. By and large, when you are playing on land, the odds remain constant no matter the game or location.

Each of these arguments shouldn't be considered as knocks against land-based casinos, particularly Vegas, because anyone who enjoys gambling as a hobby should experience the buzz and electricity that lives in a major land-based casino at least once. Casino operators have spent billions upon billions of dollars constructing the ideal atmosphere for their customers and it's success is shown in the state of the industry. They have defined the industry and have grown it from its infancy since the middle of the 20th Century.

In closing, Vegas is not an annual ritual for everybody. It is a considerable expense, and for some, it is a once in a lifetime experience. But anyone with a computer can keep a hand in gambling, and in terms of making money at it, online is by far the most advantageous for the player. Of course, there are issues with the industry that will be incurred by any industry that is still in its infancy. But even at this early stage of its development, the pros far outweigh the cons when deciding if online or land-based is the place for you to place you wager.


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