First let me explain the “software” element. The vast majority of online casinos buy, or rather licence, their games platform from a third party software developer. A few have made their own. Of the latter group, you may have heard of 888 and Party Gaming (Party Poker and Party Casino), both of which have arguably strong and fair software. I wouldn’t personally play either of these places by the way, but that’s not because the software isn’t good! I digress.
So the argument generally is that if a casino has developed their own software, who is to say they cannot manipulate it to suit the moment? Well no-one, because they could if they wanted to, although it is worth pointing out that the two aforementioned groups are both public listed companies so it is incredibly unlikely they would do this. That leaves me feeling uncomfortable, so I tend to avoid casinos with their own “in-house” software. Incidentally, I don’t play 888 because they are bloody slow to pay out, and I don’t play Party as their previous brands “Starluck Casino” and “Planetluck Casino” had well-documented software issues in the past, but this doesn’t stop both being very popular.
Because all other casinos use one or another software platform, as you trawl around, you’ll start to see a lot of similarities in the games. There are several very well known casino software vendors, most notably Microgaming, Playtech, Cryptologic (or Wagerlogic to be specific) and RTG (RealTime Gaming). Behind these are some lesser lights, such as Chartwell, Wagerworks, Kismet and Boss Media.
Broadly speaking, these are all established and recognised platforms, each delivering a fair game to the players. With RTG software aside, the casinos themselves cannot alter the paytables for each game, and it is widely accepted that the odds for each game are also no-go territory, which means that each casino on each platform offers the same odds. RTG do allow their casinos to alter the paytables, so you need to be careful which games you play at which casinos – if you care about winning that is! It can work to advantage – for example, iNetBet (a very reputable RTG casino) had Joker Poker with an expected return of over 100% when I last looked…of course you need to play this to the optimum strategy to achieve that, but it’s still probably the best percentage payout of any casino game anywhere online – or offline for that matter!
Players have their favourites obviously, but Microgaming software is streets ahead in terms of popularity. The games choice is huge (200+), the GUI is superb, but equally if not more importantly they, along with Cryptologic, are well known for regulaing their licencees strictly and effectively – they charge them a small fortune too! Microgaming casinos are where I play most, Cryptologic second and maybe the odd game at Wagerworks properties. Playtech software is very good, but personally I’m put off by a number of the licencees and Playtech’s rather stand-offish stance when problems arise. And like RTG, they tend to be licenced in territories I’m not entirely comfortable with – check the Licensing and Regulation section for more information.
One final note before we move on. A number of casinos operate “skins” in much the same way that poker rooms do. These generally run on other softwares rather than those mentioned above, although some RTG operators are known to follow this route. In general, these can be quite dangerous for a player in that a) the operators are often transparent and b) in some case, the skins lead you to dodgy operations unwittingly. In some instances also, the casino vendors are not the most reputable of operators and licence skins to all and sundry for small amounts of money. Consequently they are often not well funded and ther is little recourse for a player who runs into difficulties. Personally, I avoid them preferring to stick to casinos that use the software I mention above. “Better safe…” as they say!
This is a very important factor: a software provider who insist their casinos meet strict licensing guidelines helps to ensure players will be treated fairly.