With the world of online gambling generating billions of dollars every year, there are some obvious attractions to starting your own online casino. For starters, increasingly sophisticated payment and back-office systems mean that it's far from the technical challenge it once was. The overall size of the market is also a factor. Capturing even a small percentage of the profit from that very large pie could be a very nice thing indeed.
For the vast majority of us, owning an actual casino is very much out of reach, but an online one? Not nearly as much. In fact, it's a more feasible option now than it's ever been and, with the market continually expanding, the potential for profits isn't disappearing anytime soon. Be aware, however, this isn't a path to instant riches but the profits on offer certainly make it worth your while setting up your own casino, as we'll see below.
Online Casinos Software Providers
The vast majority of online casinos are powered by a small group of specialist software providers. They will provide the core of your casino's identity so your choice here is extremely important. The software solution you go for will run your whole casino and determine which games are available, the type of customer support structure that will be in place, and (to a certain extent) what the overall look and feel of your casino will be like.
The number of providers in this space is relatively small and we recommend staying with one of the larger providers. Here's a quick run-down of the main casino software providers:
Microgaming: Microgaming markets itself as the largest casino software provider in the world and has a good claim to being one of the oldest also as it's older than Playtech by five years. Microgaming has constantly adapted over the years to stay ahead of the competition, with a constant goal of offering customers the best possible online gaming experience. Their product suite isn't limited to online casino games either – Microgaming also offers sportsbook betting software and land-based casino software options. Microgaming are known for being one of the main movers behind the Interactive Gaming Council (IGC) and the standards organisation eCOGRA. Microgaming provide the highest standards of security and transparency so users can rest assured the tables are never rigged against them. Microgaming casinos also have a reputation as some of the most profitable casinos for affiliates and operators.
Playtech: Playtech is one of the world's leading online casino software providers and the only one currently listed on the London Stock Exchange. Founded in 1999, the company has continuously focused on state-of-the-art technology to ensure the best gaming experience for all.
Playtech's software is available for all types of devices, so your casino will be covered across all options for web browsers, downloadable games and mobile devices. Playtech offers single accounts that are guaranteed to work across all options seamlessly and also enjoy an excellent reputation for security.
Real Time Gaming: When you're on the hunt for online casino software, RTG is usually one of the first names that pops up. This company offers something for everyone, with options available for everything from poker games and sports betting software to free mobile software. RTG has earned a reputation for reliability and trustworthiness over the years, along with providing consistently innovative and entertaining gaming solutions.
The three names we've covered above are by no means the only options out there but they are some of the most established and all have world-class reputations for reliability and security. If you're considering other providers, be sure to do your due diligence and research their offerings thoroughly.
Once you've selected a provider, you will be faced with costs to get things up and running. There are two types of contracts available that you should know about. The first one is direct and complete purchase of the software. This isn't usually available from larger suppliers such as the ones we've highlighted above. Some smaller providers will, however, sell you the entire software package which leaves you free to run it yourself, with no additional fees, and keep all the profits. There are a few downsides here to bear in mind. The main ones are that these tend to be smaller companies without the broad range of games that are needed to compete in an ever more competitive market, and you'll be responsible for all of the upkeep yourself.
The second method – and the one used by all the major companies – is a monthly licensing fee for the software, plus a percentage of the profits you make on top. For a fully functional and expansive casino you can expect monthly fees of $12000 or more, plus as much as 15% of your profits, which can be significant costs per annum when added up.
Given the costs, choosing which provider to go with is obviously a decision you do not make overnight, and there are several key considerations to work through. The range and quality of games on offer are obviously of paramount importance so you'll want to spend a considerable amount of time going through what's on offer. You'll also want to factor in which jurisdictions they support and other aspects of the license such as whether they support tie-ins with land-based casinos and what type of customer support is bundled in. Regardless of which option you go for, you'll have to be prepared to invest a significant amount of money but it is still very much worth breaking down the differences between various providers to make sure you're getting the best possible value.
The next decision you face concerns payment infrastructure. These days, luckily, there is a wide range of payment providers to choose from including all the standard credit/debit card merchants and e-wallet providers that you're already doubtless familiar with. PayPal is probably the most widely known and accepted e-wallet provider but firms such as Neteller and Skrill are becoming increasingly popular. The traditional option of wire transfer is also still very much available.
Having as many payment options available as possible on your casino site is obviously the best option to attract customers. Be aware that there will be fees associated with all of these payments. You can expect to see as much as 4% of payments disappear in charges for these transactions so it's prudent to steer customers to the lower fee methods where possible. In terms of merchant services, credit and debit cards attract high fees but are ubiquitous, and offer security for both casino and customer. Similarly, PayPal offers world-class security with its various systems, and their fees are comparable to the card merchants.
Neteller and Skrill offer a similar service to PayPal and have become a preferred payment solution for many customers. You'll still want to accommodate the major providers such as PayPal and credit cards simply because their presence acts as a trust signal in its own right. Not having these options on offer can actually harm your overall credibility.
When it comes to offering wire transfer, you'll need to factor in that these transactions take longer to process, though the associated fees are much lower. It's a potentially very useful option if you're, for example, focusing your casino on the Asian market where options such as e-wallets may not be as widely available due to geographical restrictions.
The final option to consider for payments are prepaid cards. This is a relatively new class of payment options where companies such as PaySafe are leading the way and making increasing inroads into the market. They're a very convenient option for certain classes of customers so you should consider offering them as an additional payment method on your casino site.
For legal reasons, your casino needs to be licensed. In order to combat the explosion of less than reputable casinos that occurred in the early days of online casinos, several licensing boards have been set up in a variety of global jurisdictions. There are two main types of online casino jurisdiction for you to choose from: those in mainland European Union Countries, and those in smaller offshore islands like Malta.
As a budding online casino operator, your first licensing decision is to decide which jurisdiction you wish to operate under. This is an important choice and there are numerous factors involved that you'll need to consider in terms of how your casino runs, your profitability, and the startup costs you face.
You'll find different rules associated with what you can offer and to whom when it comes to licensing. For instance, some jurisdictions will expressly forbid allowing residents of the United States to gamble at casinos under their regulations, whilst others do not offer any restrictions at all. Tax is another aspect to consider, some offer tax free status to the offshore entity that runs the casino, where others do not. The cost of the license and amount of bureaucracy involved can also vary widely between countries.
The final point to bear in mind (and one that many prospective owners foolishly ignore) is perception – what does the location say about your casino? The reputation of a particular jurisdiction can cause issues with your casino’s reputation, both positively and negatively. Casinos based in Gibraltar or the Isle of Man, for example, carry an association of reliability and security due to the tight controls over operational and fiscal activities that are in place there.
All of the factors we've mentioned above can make a significant difference to the feasibility and day-to-day operation of your online casino so you should be sure to carry out thorough research before committing to a particular decision. Also bear in mind that the licensing process itself can take a considerable amount of time, anywhere from two months to a year depending on your choice of location. In Malta, for instance, it usually takes six months for an application to be finalised and a license issued.
When it comes to making your decision, there are two general approaches you can take:
- A rules based approach: This leads to a lower entry outlaw but higher running costs.
- A principles based approach: This results in lowered day-to-day running costs at the expense of higher startup costs.
The costs of licensing begin at the application stage where the majority of options come with a large advisory and legal bill attached. The amounts here can vary and will depend on your history and the complexity of your casino operation. For a highly reputable jurisdiction such as Gibraltar using the principles based approach, the legal and associated fees of the application can amount to anything up to $1 million. You'll then also need to factor in the cost of your equipment and other expenses such as web hosting. Other jurisdictions such as Alderney will also attract high legal fees, but the license itself runs at $75k per year. In Gibraltar your costs will vary by turnover but can be as high as $400k a year. As with all of our points, you'll need to do extensive research as the cost variations you'll find are large.
You'll also need to set up a company in the jurisdiction of the licensing authority. Options available here vary considerably. Some territories require at least one resident of the country to hold a position amongst the management, others require a set number of employees, and others still have no restrictions at all. The key here is to make sure you fully understand, and comply, with all the requirements, as not doing so will see your license disappear and potentially leave you with nothing. Make sure you fully research the legal implications of each option you're considering.
You'll obviously need staff for the day-to-day running of your casino. Areas you'll need to consider include customer support staff, technical staff (depending on your setup). You'll also need to make a hefty initial banking deposit to cover any large wins as you can never be sure when these will occur and need to be covered at all times.
Another operational concern that you'll need to deal with is that of security. Depending on which software provider you go with for your online casino, much of the heavy lifting may already be taken care of, but you'll still be responsible for making sure financial and technical security systems and processes are in place and for monitoring possible threats.
There's no getting around it, marketing your casino is essential. With the marketplace becoming ever more crowded, marketing is assuming an increasingly important role in terms of attracting a solid customer base.
One of the most popular marketing tactics in the industry is going down the affiliate marketing route. This is where affiliates market your casino on your behalf and receive a fee based on how many customers they can attract to your casino. How this fee is arranged varies considerably. Some pay a fee per new customer, but the general arrangement is a percentage of what revenue the new customer generates. These percentages can be quite high. 32Red for example (one of the market leaders), pays 25% of each customer’s monthly revenue to the affiliate.
Affiliates use a variety of techniques to obtain new customers for your casino. The majority of them will employ a website and domain of their own that they use SEO techniques and other marketing solutions to promote. Using trackable ads and links, these sites then direct the customers to your site.
Recruiting affiliates can be tricky but you'll see that most casinos have a link to their affiliate scheme listed prominently on the main page. The best affiliates are usually experienced players who understand the market, but you can also use specialty affiliate websites to recruit, or even attend conferences and recruit gambling aficionados that way.
Aside from the affiliate system, you will also need to market the casino yourself, via SEO, SEM and other online marketing techniques. This can be done in-house or via specialist companies that will promote your site for you. Be sure to fully research any third-party companies you're considering employing as some less than reputable outfits use underhand marketing techniques that can damage your brand over the long term.
If all this sounds far too expensive and involved, and for many it will be, you are probably wondering if there are any alternatives. Luckily there are! The first is the so-called white label casino option. In this instance, the casino provider covers all aspects of the infrastructure, including licenses, software, payment processing and so on. You simply pay them a fee for the casino itself and then an ongoing percentage of the profits. This is a great way to dip your toe into the online casino world, and is considerably cheaper than any other option out there.
Another alternative is running a BitCoin casino as these are not currently required to be licensed, though this is likely to change. You'll still face startup costs of course, but nothing like the levels required for a full online casino.
Setting up an online casino is far more involved than many think, and the level of cost can be frightening. However, for well-run, successful casinos the profits on offer more than justify the costs. Even a $1 million outlay could be easily recouped by a solidly run online casino within a year.
For some people, the affiliate route will be the one to go down. With payments as high as 35% of user revenue per month on offer, there is certainly some profit to be found there. For others, going down the white label route will represent a happy medium.
As we've stressed throughout the article, carrying out extensive research is an essential first step towards setting up your own online casino. We hope this article has pointed you in the right direction and given you some valuable resources you can lean on to make the right long-term decision.