If there’s one thing about online gambling that you can predict with absolute certainty, it’s that the technological landscape underpinning it is never going to stay still. Over the last ten to fifteen years, we’ve already lived through generation after generation of revolutionary change, and there’s a sense that things are just warming up!
Whether in the rise of global broadband, the app revolution, or the emergence of a new generation of casino software providers, change has been nearly constant over recent years. One of the more interesting trends which has started to make its presence felt over the last five years in particular has been the emergence of a whole new breed of alternative payment and funding methods for online casinos.
This new wave of currencies and financial instruments is still making its way into the mainstream, but the casino industry is very much in the vanguard of its use as enthusiastic early adopters. As the success of PayPal has previously shown, gamblers themselves are also understandably keen to experiment with anything that promises to make their money management easier and remove friction at various points in the process.
In this piece we’ll shine a light on one of the very newest of this new range of tools — Ethereum. We’ll cover what Ethereum is, how you can get set up to take advantage of it, and where you can find online casinos that accept Ethereum. Before we go into detail, let’s set the stage with some background on cryptocurrencies and the blockchain generally.
In the somewhat staid world of finance, it’s not often that genuinely new technology appears on the scene. Though the day-to-day financial headlines around the world may be dramatic on occasion, the underlying principles and technology powering the industry are fundamentally conservative. Many of the key tenets of finance have been set in stone for centuries at this stage. That’s why it’s all the more exciting when a new piece of technology emerges that brings a whole different set of possibilities to the party. The blockchain (or blockchain database) is definitely one such technology.
The concept of the blockchain first came to prominence when it was outlined by the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto, the inventor of Bitcoin, back in 2008. To put it in simple terms, a blockchain is a type of distributed digital ledger that records every transaction that has ever taken place across a particular digital currency. It’s also protected by incredibly secure cryptography meaning it’s virtually impossible to crack.
That combination of being globally distributed and highly secure made Bitcoin and other blockchain based digital currencies highly attractive pretty much instantly upon their invention. Though Bitcoin itself has suffered from currency fluctuations and many high-profile scandals over the years, the idea of the blockchain as an alternative method of creating a currency has gained widespread acceptance in even government circles.
The gambling industry worldwide was also quick to jump on the blockchain wagon, with a huge number of Bitcoin casinos springing up worldwide. Over the last year in particular, a new form of cryptocurrency has also been gaining more and more of a foothold in online casinos — Ethereum. That’s where we’ll turn our attention to next.
Like Bitcoin, Ethereum is a public, blockchain-based platform, but it arrives with several twists that make it significantly different. Ethereum also shares some commonality with Bitcoin in terms of its creator — it was first outlined in 2013 white paper from Vitalik Buterin, a programmer who had previously been involved with Bitcoin.
Buterin’s basic aim was straightforward — to bring many of the decentralised advantages of a solution like Bitcoin to a much wider set of software. Following his initial proposal, and the positive reception it was greeted with, Buterin went about raising initial funding and further publicity before finally launching a live blockchain on the 30th of July, 2015. The project quickly took off and had an estimated market capitalisation of over $1 billion within a year.
Though its purpose is potentially wider, Ethereum can also be used as a currency in the form of tokens known as Ethers. Like Bitcoin, these tokens can be traded and transferred worldwide, and stored in special wallets by consumers and institutions. In another similarity to Bitcoin, the value of these tokens has been somewhat volatile to date.
Ethereum’s main technical innovation has been in what are called smart contracts. This is a concept that’s embedded into the blockchain itself and allows programmatic contracts to be easily created, and used in a potentially very secure and distributed environment.
Smart contracts can be a tricky concept to understand. The easiest way of thinking about these is to imagine traditional cryptocurrencies as being a type of limited contract that only applies to a monetary value. Smart contracts, on the other hand, can represent any type of agreement at all. You could use smart contracts as proof of membership, for example. Or you could even create your own cryptocurrency using smart contracts to describe it. The existence of smart contracts in Ethereum opens the door for potentially much wider ranging implementations than those seen with Bitcoin to date.
The exact technical underpinnings of Ethereum and smart contracts needn’t delay us too long, however. We’re more interested here in finding ways of using Ethers to securely gamble online. Let’s move on to doing just that!
The first thing to point out here is that Ethereum is a brand new technology, so the amount of online casinos supporting it will necessarily be limited. You also need to get the lingo right — what you’re technically searching for are “online casinos that accepts Ether”. Ether (you’ll also see it written as ETH) is the coin-based cryptocurrency Ethereum actually uses.
A simple Google search, or consulting our list of Ethereum casinos, should be enough to get you a few likely candidates to start exploring. Again, as the technology is very new, you want to exercise even more caution than you normally would when doing your due diligence on the casino in question. Make sure to look for positive reviews of the casino elsewhere online and easy to find contact details and support options.
Be particularly careful to check the terms and conditions of any Ethereum site in detail. Newer casinos are often not as well organised as the traditional big players in the space and there can be onerous terms and conditions at play. The time to find that out is before you sign up for an account, rather than afterwards when you’re trying to cash out, so be sure to do your homework.
Though it’s still in a very early stage of development and widespread acceptance, Ethereum holds out the promise of a potentially large list of advantages. The first of these is simply transparency. As a blockchain based technology, it offers the same combination of transparency and anonymity that has already made Bitcoin so popular worldwide. You're also on safe legal ground generally with its use.
The second main potential advantage from an online gambling point of view is security. When you’re transferring potentially large amounts of money around the world digitally, you naturally want to be certain that you’re dealing with an intrinsically secure solution. Though there have been a couple of high-profile security incidents on individual projects to date, the platform looks set to be a highly secure one in the years to come. The fact that tech and commercial giants such as Microsoft, IBM, and JPMorgan are already seriously investigating its use suggests that the future is rosy in that regard.
As with all blockchain based online wallets, the use of Ethers promises to make worldwide transactions substantially faster, cheaper, and easier to carry out over time. Though the current setup stages require a little bit of background technical knowledge, it’s to be expected that that will get substantially easier down the line.
Though Ethereum and Ethers look like very promising new technologies for online gamblers across the world, there are a number of potential snags to consider as well. The first is simply the fact that Ethereum is a very, very young platform. Even compared to a relative newcomer such as Bitcoin, the software is pretty much fresh out of the box. As with any new technology, there is an inherent risk, however small, in being an early adopter.
In its current incarnation, Ethereum and Ethers also require a degree of technical literacy to understand and then use. Famously, even experienced programmers have had some difficulty in fully understanding the platform’s potential when it comes to smart contracts. Though it’s by no means horribly difficult getting up and running, it’s a long way from being as straightforward as, for example, PayPal.
Our final snag is a natural follow-on from the previous two points. As a very new technology, there is not yet an enormous amount of online casinos which accept Ethereum. We can expect that to change quickly over the next five years, but as things stand today you will have to be prepared to hunt them out.
We’ve covered a lot of ground on Ethereum so far, but haven’t outlined first steps towards actually using it. Let’s fix that now!
Getting started is actually relatively straightforward. Simply download the Ethereum wallet from the main Ethereum site, and then use the tools it makes available to convert funds you already have in other cryptocurrencies into Ether. You can also buy Ether from popular exchanges such as Coinbase and others and then transfer them into your Wallet.
Once you’ve gotten your hands on some Ether, using them at Ethereum casinos is as straightforward as using Bitcoin. Simply register with the casino and make a deposit in much the same way as you would have previously using Bitcoin.
Ether is, of course, far from the only cryptocurrency you can use online. Several other leading cryptocurrencies can also be used across the web and in a variety of online casinos:
- Bitcoin: Despite a series of scandals and currency volatility over the years, Bitcoin is still the most popular cryptocurrency worldwide. As the technology that made the blockchain popular in the public imagination, it’s set to remain on the scene for some time to come.
- Litecoin: Originally introduced in 2011, Litecoin is virtually identical to Bitcoin in terms of its technical underpinnings, but hasn’t gained as much traction worldwide. Nevertheless, it continues to be popular with cryptocurrency enthusiasts worldwide.
- Dogecoin: Though Dogecoin started as a “joke currency” back in 2013, it quickly established itself as a viable virtual currency and has gone on to be one of the main online alternatives to Bitcoin itself. It’s also established a niche for itself online as a type of virtual tipping system.
Due to its innovative nature, Ethereum has attracted a lot of attention worldwide to date. As the project homepage shows, it’s also being considered for a number of non-gambling related projects such as building innovative membership-based communities and crowdfunding campaigns.
Though the Ethereum project has had some teething troubles of late relating to security, the fact that it’s being actively investigated by massive corporations and in use on scores of innovative projects around the world suggests that the long-term future is very positive.
The good news for gamblers is that the same mix of classic table games that you’d find elsewhere are also available at online casinos that accept Ethereum. Let’s step through the main options you’ll find:
- Poker: Fans of poker are exceptionally well catered for across the web with a full range of poker variants available in most sites. You’ll also find a large variety of pot sizes and options for live dealer and fully automated games.
- Roulette: The traditional glamour of roulette is also available in online casinos where the latest generation of software offers an increasingly immersive casino experience. You can expect to experience intense 3D graphics that make online roulette a compelling gaming experience on devices of all sizes.
- Blackjack: You’ll find all major variants of blackjack available throughout most online casinos. Whatever your strategic approach to the game, there are plenty of opportunities to practice online and you’ve also got the option of choosing between live dealer games and standard automated options.
Though Ethereum casinos are still somewhat in their infancy, it remains an interesting new alternative for gamblers worldwide and one very much worth keeping an eye on over the longer term. We hope our introduction above has encouraged you to explore further!