While there’s no federal law against gambling online, it’s against the law for banks to handle the transactions. That makes it hard for U.S. players to get money into or out of an online casino. Most credit cards don’t work, PayPal won’t touch those transactions, and the feds have shut down countless small processors.  If you’re a U.S. citizen who wants to gamble online for real money, your options for making deposits and withdrawals are limited to non-existent.  Below is a list of possible ways to deposit money.What’s actually available to you depends on which online casino you play at.

  1. Credit cards

Try a credit card first, because it might work and because it’s super-easy.  If it doesn’t work then you can try something else, but if it does work, then problem solved!

Credit cards are hit-and-miss — they might work, and they might not.  I’ve been lucky and have been able to use credit cards for years to make deposits, including again at my favorite casino just now (June 2011).  I’ve never been able to use all my credit cards, though.  If one doesn’t work, I try another one.  Also, a card that works one day might not work the next.  (But then it might start working again in the future.)  I’ve had success at one point or another with cards from Bank of America, Capital One, Chase, First Equity, MBNA, and Washington Mutual.

Note that you might have to pay a fee (like 4.9%) to use your card.  Blame that on the hat dance that casinos are forced to do because of the banking problems, which is expensive for them.

  1. Instant Check (aka, e-Check)

Some casinos let you easily deposit money by just typing in your bank account number.  They withdraw the money from your account as though it were a check. You might be rightly wary of giving an offshore online casino access to your bank account, which is why you should do this only with established, trusted casinos.

In October 2006 the U.S. made it plainly illegal for U.S. banks to allow these kinds of transfers.  The good news for players is that while your bank may run into problems with the feds, you won’t:  It’s not against the law for you to request the transfer; it’s against the law for your bank to process it.

So why would the bank process it if it’s against the poker online law?  Simple: They might not know what the money is being used for.  The online gambling site will use an intermediate company name so that it can’t easily be identified as being gamling-related.  Incidentally, this is why banks are up in arms over the legislation, because it’s so difficult for them to comply with the law.  In the meantime, this is the easiest option for deposits, if it’s available at the site you want to play at.  I’ve used it successfully at my favorite casino.

  1. Western Union (aka “Money Transfer”)

I used this method successfully at Bodog, but it’s a little cumbersome.

First, call Bodog at 888-263-0000 and get the “Beneficiary Name”. This changes often, so that’s why I’m not posting it here. You have to call.

Then, call Western Union at 800-225-5227 or go to their website to send the money with your credit card. If you do it by phone then you go through a long, laborious phone system, and then a rep comes on the line to confirm your info and get the beneficiary name. Then they’ll give you a “control code”.

Finally, call Bodog back and give them the control code.

I think this whole process took maybe 10 minutes, so it’s not instant, but it could be worse.

Western Union charges pretty hefty fees, but the good news is that if you deposit at least $500 then Bodog picks up the tab. They do this by adding the amount of the fees to your casino account. So if you deposited $800 and the fee was $70, Western Union will charge your card for $870, and then Bodog will give you $870 in chips. (Well, actually, they’ll give you $950 in chips if it’s your first deposit because they give you a 10% bonus the first time you play, but let’s not split hairs.) So if you only want to spend $800, then you should deposit only about $735, which will cost you about $800 with the transaction fee, and then Bodog will put $800 in your casino account (plus maybe a 10% bonus).

Western Union isn’t a good method for small deposits, because the fees are so high. A $100 deposit will run you $20 in fees, and Bodog won’t pick up the tab unless you deposit at least $500.

But they’re not good for really big deposits either. The most you can send via Western Union is $1000 to $3000 every month, depending on your “profile” (whatever that is) and the country you’re sending the money to.

  1. Online payment services

No longer an option!  Everyone used to use PayPal, then PayPal stopped handling gambling transactions.  Then we switched to Neteller, but the feds subsequently forced them to stop serving U.S. customers, too.  A number of smaller processors sprang up, but the feds smacked them all down too.  Even if you can find such a processor, they won’t last long, and you risk losing your money if the processor is holding it when they get smacked.

Cashing out

Okay, that’s how you get money in.  How do you get money out when you win big?  Simple: The casino sends you a check. Actually, it’s not that simple.  First, they might require that you fax them a copy of your ID before your first withdrawal. Don’t freak out, that’s just standard security protocol at many online gaming sites to make sure that no one else is pretending to be you and trying to steal your money. Also, be prepared to wait at least a couple of weeks for your check. With the laws about gambling and banking being murky, there are often some obstacles your casino has to deal with to get your check to you, so it can take a while.

Note that if you deposited with e-Check, you’ll have to wait for that deposit to clear before your payout request will be processed. It can take up to two weeks for an e-Check to clear.