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Fueled by the explosive growth of the Internet and by a general acceptance of gambling as a legitimate form of entertainment, online gambling is growing at a torrid rate.

There are now over 1,800 online casinos with software provided by at least 40 suppliers.

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There are millions of people who gamble online

Games offered on the Internet range from traditional games like video poker and slot machines, to poker, keno, bingo and other games. Here is a list of games offered by just one online casino: baccarat, blackjack, craps, pachinko, the dragon spirit pachinko, victory poker, Caribbean poker, free ride poker, pai gow poker, red dog, roulette, sic bo, slots, gold rush slots, magic hat sportsbook, video poker, deuces wild video poker, jacks or better video poker, joker wild video poker, king of decks, war and battle royal.

Because of the uncertain legal status of Internet gaming in the U.S., virtually all online casinos that accept wagers are located outside of the United States.

As an individual, there is little risk of prosecution because of gambling on the Internet as the thrust of prosecutorial power is invariably directed at online casino operators, credit card providers and software providers.

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Technologically, many of the casinos are very similar, as there are a relative handful of large software developers who dominate the industry. Each casino using software from the same developer will have a similar appearance to other casinos using the software.

Generally, online gaming sites are one of three types, based on the type of technology used to provide their games.

Many online casinos require that you first download their software before you can play their games. This first category of "downloadable software" has to be first transferred from the host computer to your own computer via downloading and then it must be installed in order to function. Usually, these programs are free. The online gambling sites offering this type of software can be good places to start your play as, once installed, the programs offer great graphics, sound, animation, and of course, the chance to play for free.

The second type of software used by online casinos is JAVA software which does not require downloading. JAVA software allows programs to create little programs known as applets that are embedded directly into a web document. When online casinos use JAVA, the programs run right on your web browser.

I am not a fan of casinos using JAVA. With a JAVA casino, you have to load the software every time you play; whereas, with downloaded software, you can begin playing almost instantly once the software has been installed on your computer. I have also had incidences when the JAVA software will freeze my browser. In such a situation, you may not be sure whether your last bet was accepted or not. As a minimum, it is very disruptive to have to start a game over. And, not knowing where you stand is not a lot of fun either. It is sort of like someone turning off all the lights in a land-based casino, and when the lights come back on, you are not really sure if you still have all of your casino chips.

The third type of software found uses HTML code which is the standard language used to create web pages. Sites using HTML are fast to play, but they often have cheesy graphics and no sound or animation.

Perhaps the biggest fear most people have is the fear of being cheated out of their money by the next big "scam" and they don't want to be one of these people.

All sorts of government agencies and personnel are anxiously hoping that the prosecution of online gambling will be their ticket to the big time.

Guess what? It is not likely that any of these folks are going to find major problems with online casinos cheating people. Are there any crooked casinos online? I am sure there are. There are not very many, but since there are a few rotten apples in every industry, there are bound to be some in the online gaming group.

Almost all online casinos use random number generators to create their gaming results. This is part of the software package used by the casino and most of these programs are encrypted, effectively locking out the casino's ability to modify the programming. This is designed to reduce the risk of any unscrupulous operator changing payout ratios or otherwise seeking to gain an additional edge over the players.

The software programs all record bets and results as well as the time they occurred. In other words, everything you did online can later be reconstructed if necessary. This is designed to safeguard both the players and casinos as an "audit trail" is created which can be referred to in the event of an unresolved dispute.

Of special importance to those who are afraid to use their credit cards on the Internet is that fact that most online casinos don't get your credit card number. Third party processors who forward the money to the casino's account handle the monetary transfer. If you complain about a casino's fairness, you will most likely be given a refund, resulting in a chargeback against the casino. This is one of the reasons online gaming is so safe. To stop a charge against your credit card, send a letter to your credit card company. They will nearly always take your side in a dispute with an online company and refund your money.