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Guide to Responsible Online Sports Betting

Written by: Pat Eichner
Fact-checked by: Daniel Umfleet
12 min read

Guide to responsible online sports betting

Sports betting has never been easier in the US, and since 2018 up to 38 states have introduced some form of legal sports betting. Many of them include pretty much unrestricted online sports betting, available at your fingertips 24/7. While online sportsbooks offer convenience and a wider range of betting options, it is important to use them responsibly and understand the risks associated with online gambling. 

This page will help you understand the differences between brick and mortar and online sportsbooks, the responsible gambling tools available on these platforms, the importance of using regulated versus offshore online sportsbooks, and a breakdown of how online sports betting bonuses really work. Understanding all of this lets you enjoy a safe and responsible online sports betting experience.

How Are Online Sportsbooks Different from Brick and Mortar?

When you’re betting on sports, there are some important differences between brick and mortar and online sportsbooks.

Brick and mortar sportsbooks are physical locations you can visit to place bets on various sports events. In many cases, they double as a kind of social venue, with screens showing the latest sports live and sometimes a bar or restaurant. Lots of US sportsbooks are located in casinos and so visiting a sportsbook has been somewhat folded into the overall casino experience. However, plenty of people also use brick and mortar sportsbooks simply to place their bets, without hanging around. If you win your bet, you need to return to the book to cash out your winnings. 

On the other hand, online sportsbooks are web-based platforms where you can place bets on sports events using your computer, tablet, or mobile device. When you win a bet online, it gets credited to your sports betting account pretty much instantly. 

One of the biggest advantages of online sportsbooks is the convenience factor. With a sportsbook in your pocket, you can place bets from anywhere at any time. This means you can bet on a game while sitting in the comfort of your home, on the go or even in a stadium while you are actually watching the game. In terms of in-play betting, for instance, online sportsbooks certainly have the edge. 

However, there are some downsides to online sportsbooks as well. On a practical level, some people miss face-to-face interactions with a bookmaker. This can make getting immediate assistance with any issues or concerns difficult. You lose a social element that is a big part of sports betting, especially when you think about sitting down with your buddies to watch a game after you’ve placed a bet. 

Another major concern is the potential for addiction or overspending due to easy access to sports betting from your laptop or mobile device. When you always have a sportsbook in your pocket, it is important to limit yourself for the time and money you spend on sports betting apps and websites. Staying disciplined and planning your betting is key, which is more complicated when there is a constant temptation.

Using the responsible gambling tools provided by online sportsbooks is a great step to ensure you are not overspending or engaging in problematic gambling behaviors.


Expert Opinion - Community Support

Peer support groups within online sports betting platforms would offer a unique opportunity for players to connect with others facing similar challenges and experiences. These groups provide a safe and non-judgmental space where individuals can share their thoughts, seek advice, and receive encouragement from their peers. By fostering a sense of community, peer support groups empower participants to navigate the complexities of sports betting responsibly. Through open dialogue and mutual support, members can exchange strategies for managing gambling triggers, coping with losses, and maintaining healthy betting habits.

Moreover, peer support groups serve as a valuable source of accountability and motivation. Participants can set goals together, track progress, and celebrate achievements, fostering a collective commitment to responsible gambling practices. Ultimately, peer support groups promote solidarity, resilience, and well-being within the online sports betting community, helping individuals build meaningful connections and access the support they need to thrive responsibly.

- Pat Eichner
Associate Partner at GMA Consulting

Safer online sportsbook toolsSafer Online Sportsbook Tools

Legal and regulated sportsbooks and responsible gambling go hand in hand, and gaming commissions require licensed sites to protect their customers. Sportsbooks have developed safer gambling tools to help players manage their betting activities. By using these tools, players can avoid overspending, recognize problematic gambling behaviors, and ensure they control their betting activities.

These safer gambling tools are designed to promote responsible gambling and prevent gambling-related harm. They include deposit and betting limits, time-outs, self-exclusion, and reality checks.

How to Play Safer

Responsible gambling tools are useful for everyone, from casual gamblers who have a healthy relationship with the activity to people who are struggling with problem gambling.

An important first step is to recognize what you want out of your gambling experience and to make sure it is realistic and affordable for you. For many people, one $20 bet per week or per round of a competition is all they want, to add a little extra spice to the viewing experience. Others may be higher volume gamblers, who get a kick out of higher risk and bigger potential wins. 

Responsible gambling tools can help both types of bettors.

 Before we jump into the tools themselves, it’s important to remember a couple of things:

  1. The advantage is always tilted in favor of the sportsbook, thanks to the juice that is factored into the odds. If you could reliably beat the sportsbook consistently, it wouldn’t stay in business for very long. Betting on sports is a form of entertainment, not a way to make money. We go into more detail on this in the last section of this page. 

  2. Only spend money that you can afford to lose, and would be happy to lose. Better to think of your betting bankroll like an entertainment budget, which you might use to go to the movies or play a round of golf.  

  3. If you find that your betting habits are producing negative, anxious or stressful emotions, you probably have a problem. 

You can normally find the tools below in your online account settings or your profile settings. If you’re having trouble finding them, reach out to customer support. 

Deposit and Betting Limits

When gambling at online sportsbooks, deposit, and betting limits are crucial tools players can use to manage their spending and ensure they stay within their financial limits. Once you figure out a budget you are comfortable spending, you can set your limits accordingly. If you go over them, the sportsbook simply won’t let you spend or gamble any more. 

There are two kinds of limits out there. The deposit limit caps the amount of money you can add to your account within a certain period of time. It could be 24 hours, a week or a month. Betting limits are similar, except they restrict the total value of bets you can place over a given time. 

Using the deposit and betting limits is beneficial as it gives you additional financial control and prevents chasing losses and gambling more than you can afford. Setting them in advance helps guard against temptation down the line. 

Using limits also helps improve your mental health and awareness: it means you don’t gamble recklessly without thinking about your spending and forces you to think about and take ownership of your betting habits. 

Reality Check

A reality check is simply a way for the sportsbook to check in with you once you have hit a certain threshold, either of time spent on the site or money gambled. Usually, there are certain automatic triggers for a reality check, although you can also sometimes customize them to your own requirements. 

In some cases, reality checks are simply automated messages giving you an update on your gambling activities. Other times, a real human customer support agent will reach out. 

Reality checks are useful because they guard against players getting carried away. Taking regular breaks and getting your mind off gambling is a huge part of responsible gambling, and reality checks are designed to encourage exactly that. 


Time-out is for those who want a temporary break from a sportsbook to cool down and resist the short-term urge to gamble. If you feel like gambling at online sportsbooks is becoming too much, or if you just want to take a break for whatever reason - work, holidays, focusing on other hobbies - a time-out is a great option. 

Once you decide to take a time-out, you can usually choose any time period, from a day to a few weeks. Some platforms can offer up to a few months if needed. You will be blocked from placing bets and accessing account features during this period. Even if you change your mind and want to get back on, your sportsbook won’t let you. 

A time-out is a great way to reset and reconsider your relationship with gambling, reducing the temptation to gamble on the sportsbook and giving yourself time for reflection. However, if this isn’t enough, you need to use it as a platform to go to the next stage of self-exclusion.


Self-exclusion is a tool that sportsbooks offer to players who have identified a serious problem with their online sports betting habits. It involves requesting a gambling website to prohibit you from accessing your account indefinitely. Once activated, there is no going back and the sportsbook will not reverse the ban and let you gamble with them again.

Self-exclusion is for when you want to permanently extract yourself from gambling. It’s normally used as a drastic step for compulsive gamblers who can’t stop, but it’s also useful if you simply decide you definitely don’t want to spend time on a site anymore - gambling problem or not.

In addition to site-specific self-exclusion, each US state with legal gambling has its own state-wide self-exclusion program, which means that no licensed sportsbook or casino will accept your bets. It’s a big step, but can be a lifesaving tool for people with gambling disorders.


Expert Opinion - Financial Management Tools

Financial management tools integrated into online sports betting platforms would empower players to take control of their gambling expenditures and maintain responsible betting habits. These tools provide essential features such as expenditure summaries, budget trackers, and financial goal setting, allowing individuals to monitor and manage their betting finances effectively.

Expenditure summaries offer a comprehensive overview of betting activity, enabling players to assess their spending patterns and identify areas for adjustment. Budget trackers allow users to set personalized spending limits and receive notifications when approaching or exceeding predefined thresholds.

Additionally, financial goal setting enables players to establish clear objectives for their betting budget, such as savings targets or profit margins. By leveraging these financial management tools, players can make informed decisions about their gambling activities, mitigate the risk of overspending, and prioritize responsible betting practices.

- Pat Eichner
Associate Partner at GMA Consulting

How to Spot Regulated vs. Offshore Online Sportsbooks (And Why It Matters)

Healthy gambling should be priority number one for anyone who bets online. For a variety of reasons, it is much easier to gamble responsibly when you use a legal and licensed sportsbook, compared with an unregulated offshore site. 

When we talk about a regulated sportsbook, we mean one that has received a license to operate from the gaming regulator or gambling commission in the state or country you live. Unregulated sites don’t have these licenses, but since they are offshore they operate in a kind of legal gray area. They probably aren’t legally allowed to accept players from your state or country, but do so anyway with very few legal repercussions. 

You can check whether a site is regulated by looking for the badge or accreditation displayed on the website or app, or by checking out the FAQ or About sections. If in doubt, you can also hit up customer support via live chat or email. Legal and regulated sites are proud to display their credentials as they know it gives their customers peace of mind. 

The biggest difference between regulated and unregulated sportsbooks is that the former is legally obligated to take certain measures to protect their customers, while the latter is not. Those measures include things like providing the responsible gambling tools we’ve already talked about, using safe and secure payment methods, handling players’ money responsibly, preventing underage gambling, data privacy management and more. If they fail in any of these areas, they can lose their license.

With unregulated sites, it’s more like a lottery. They may indeed have all of the player safety measures of the legal sites, but they also may not. It’s a risk, and one that should be avoided to gamble responsibly. 

Differences in Responsible Gambling Tools

We’ve already covered the various tools that legal sportsbooks provide for their players to foster safe and responsible gambling. At a minimum, you can expect fewer of those to be available at offshore sites, for the simple reason that they are not being obligated to provide them by a gambling commission. Worst case scenario, an unregulated site might provide no tools or settings to encourage responsible gambling. 

Aside from what we’ve already mentioned, loss tracking is another important service provided by legal sportsbooks. This is basically a log of your betting habits over a given period of time, including wins and losses. It helps you understand your betting habits and means you might notice any problematic patterns in your betting. 

KYC and Identity Verification

KYC (Know Your Customer) and identity verification are a huge part of legal sportsbooks’ efforts to remove the risks of problem gambling and underage gambling.

In regulated sportsbooks, KYC and ID verification are built into the signup process. The idea is that the sportsbook understands their bettors, is certain they are of legal age to gamble and can spot any telltale signs of problem gambling. 

Depending on your publicly available information, the process can include ID scans, income checks, or proof of address which the customer support team checks. In addition, you can expect top-level security to keep your data safe, including encryption and anti-fraud measures.

KYC and identity verification differ for offshore online sportsbooks. The process may exist or may not, and if you are requested to send in some personal documentation to verify your identity, you can’t be sure how it will be handled. Again, it’s a risk. 

Financial Security Measures

Financial security and peace of mind is a priority for anyone gambling online. 

Regulated sportsbooks are built on strict foundations and offer a robust system around your finances. Each transaction uses data encryption and safe processing to protect your financial information. Additionally, there are extra layers of verification, such as one-time passwords, to prevent unauthorized access.

Licensed sportsbooks won’t let you make deposits or withdrawals via shady means, like untraceable gift cards. You can be sure that the payment methods offered are legit and safe to use. 

All of this is mandated by the regulatory body that oversees the financial processes of the sportsbook. 

Offshore sportsbook platforms present a different security landscape for your finances. While some sportsbook platforms may implement basic safeguards, the effectiveness of financial transparency can be inconsistent. Simply put, there is a lack of regulation that increases the risk of data breaches and misuse of funds.

Understanding sports betting bonusesUnderstanding Online Sportsbook Bonuses

Bonuses are a big part of the world of online betting. They can influence how players behave, make people deviate from their planned expenditure or time spent betting and, in the worst cases, mislead people to their financial detriment. 

They’re not all bad however, and there are plenty of fun and genuinely valuable bonuses out there too. To make sure you are using bonuses responsibly, the key thing is to understand how they work and what they can really offer you.

Sportsbooks never offer any bonuses that they believe won’t end up benefiting them in the long run. It’s just not part of their business model. Similarly, any time you see a flashy advertisement offering “free bets!” or “money back!”, it’s never quite what it seems. 

Sports betting bonuses come with all kinds of terms and conditions attached in the small print. Understanding and navigating them is an essential part of using bonuses responsibly. As long as you know what you’re doing, claiming bonuses and promotions can absolutely be a part of a healthy relationship with gambling. When you get carried away, start chasing bonuses, or don’t really understand how they work - that’s when it can be a problem. 

Next up, we’re going to explore some of the most common sports betting bonuses, how they work, and how you can use them responsibly.

Welcome Bonuses

Welcome bonuses are one-time-only offers exclusively for new players. Sometimes, you need to use a promo code to trigger a specific welcome bonus, but many sportsbooks just automatically provide a welcome offer for all new players when they sign up. 

As their big pitch to try to get players through the virtual door, welcome bonuses tend to be the most valuable promos available at a sportsbook. 

Just like all sports betting promos, welcome bonuses come with terms and conditions attached. As a rule of thumb, if something sounds too good to be true - it probably is. It’s always absolutely essential to read the terms and conditions of any bonus carefully before you claim it. Below are some of the more significant conditions to look out for:

  1. Wagering requirements refer to the number of times you need to gamble with some bonus money before it can be withdrawn. In fact, this type of condition is more significant at online casinos than sportsbooks. With sports betting promos, you normally just need to use a bonus bet or some bonus cash once (wagering requirements of 1x), and if you’re successful you get to keep the winnings.

  2. All bonuses have time limits, and if you don’t use them within the timeframe they simply expire. 

  3. Bonuses are subject to restricted markets, meaning you can only use them at certain odds or for certain types of bets. 

The three most significant types of welcome bonuses are bonus bets, second chance bets and deposit bonuses. 

Bonus Bets / Free Bets

Bonus bets are basically betting vouchers, and despite the way they are advertised, they aren’t actually free. Usually, the sportsbook provides you with some bonus bets in exchange for signing up, depositing some money and placing your first qualifying wager. If you win with a bonus bet, you only get to keep the winnings, not the value of the stake. It’s a good way to get to know the site without spending too much money upfront. 

Second Chance Bets / Risk Free Bets

With this offer, the sportsbook will refund your first bet if it loses, up to a certain value. Be careful: the refund comes in bonus bets or site credit, so you won’t just be able to withdraw it right away. This is a fallacy that plenty of people have fallen victim to. 

Since the overall value of second chance bet offers can be quite high - like, a refund of up to $1,000 for instance - it can cause players to place a larger first bet than they are comfortable with. Don’t be tempted by this and stick to what you planned to gamble or can afford to lose. 

Deposit Match Bonus

This offer is more common at online casinos, but you can find it at some sportsbooks. In this case, the book matches some or all of your first deposit up to a certain limit, in the form of bonus bets or site credit.

Again, don’t get caught out trying to maximize this offer if it’s something you can’t afford. 

On-running Promos

As well as welcome bonuses, sportsbooks offer all kinds of bonuses and promotions for their existing customers. They could be Odds Boosts, money-back specials, parlay bonuses, one-off bonus bets, reload bonuses, and more. They often come up with offers based on whatever is attracting the most interest in the media, like when the major leagues reach the playoffs. 

Two important things to remember here:

  1. Never claim a bonus just for the sake of it, especially if it’s for a sport you don’t know much about. Just because a sportsbook has come up with an offer, doesn’t mean you need to jump on it. Chasing bonuses can be overwhelming and time-consuming. And ultimately, even taking into account the value of the bonus, your bets are still tilted in favor of the house. 

  2. Always read the terms and conditions and understand any bonus you claim. 

Bonuses aren’t cheat codes and they can be distracting or enticing for vulnerable bettors. But if you understand how they work and use them sensibly, they can be a fun part of your sports betting experience. 

Understanding Different Kinds of Bets

Just like with bonuses, the more you understand about how different types of bets work, the better equipped you will be to gamble responsibly. It may seem like stating the obvious, but you should avoid betting on sports or betting markets you don’t really understand - at least until you’ve done some research. 

Sportsbooks only offer bets that they know will make them money in the long term. It’s similar to casino games like roulette or blackjack: the odds are always tilted in favor of the house so that, although short-term wins as possible, ultimately the casino always makes money in the long run. The exact same is true of sportsbooks. Otherwise, they would go out of business. 

It’s true that, compared with casino games which have a fixed house edge, it’s a little bit more complicated at sportsbooks due to line movement and how other bettors affect the odds on offer. Still, it’s essential to grasp the concept that, in the long run, you aren’t going to “beat” the sportsbook, and that sports betting is not a way to consistently make money. 

Instead, healthy sports bettors understand that it’s a form of entertainment that can add a little extra intrigue when you’re watching a game. If you win - great! If not, no big deal, at least you enjoyed the sweat. 

The reason sportsbooks always win in the long run is down to something known as the juice

The Juice

The juice or the vig is the cut that a sportsbook takes out of every bet you place. It’s how the books consistently make money, and understanding how it works is a big part of demystifying sports betting and gambling responsibly. 

The juice is built into the odds on offer for every bet at a sportsbook. The premium varies a lot depending on the bet and line movement, but it could be anywhere between 10-30%. 

A great example is with point spread betting. Here’s how a bet might look:

  • LA Lakers -3.5 (-110)

  • Golden State Warriors +3.5 (-110)

With point spreads, the sportsbook sets a line of points that theoretically makes up for the difference in quality between the two teams - like a headstart for the underdog. In this case, the spread is 3.5 points. To win a bet on the Lakers, they would need to win by 4 points or more. To win a bet on the Warriors, they just need to avoid losing by 4 points or more. 

It creates an even playing field, meaning the result should be more like a 50/50 shot. So that mens the odds for both sides should be even money or +100 right? Wrong. 

Instead, in this example the sportsbook offers odds of -110 for both sides, which represents a 10% premium on the true probability of each side winning. This premium is the juice. 

If a sportsbook was taking action on a coin flip (as they do sometimes, when it comes to prop bets on something like the Super Bowl), it would look similar:

  • Heads (-110)

  • Tails (-110)

Now, if you were goofing around with your buddy and bet on a coin flip, it would probably be straight-up odds. Heads, you owe me $10. Tails, I owe you $10. But a sportsbook would never do this, because there would be no advantage for them. 

The house isn’t interested in gambling, it just wants to turn a profit. Thanks to the juice, the advantage is always tilted in favor of the sportsbook. 

All of this is simply to illustrate that it’s a fallacy to think you can outsmart the house. The advantage they have is right there, staring you in the face in the odds. Gambling responsibly involves understanding and accepting this. Enjoy the wins when they come, but be prepared to lose and don’t chase your losses or try to outsmart the house. 

References List:

  1. https://www.usatoday.com/betting/sports/why-online-sports-betting-is-more-popular-than-in-person-betting 

  2. https://www.mlssoccer.com/news/responsible-gaming

  3. https://casinoshield.org/guides/responsible-gaming-tools-online-casinos-usa/ 

  4. https://www.colorado.edu/health/blog/gambling 

  5. https://www.begambleaware.org/self-exclusion

  6. https://www.lgrc.us/problem-gambling-prevention-2/responsible-gambling-tips/ 

  7. https://www.1800gambler.net/responsible 

  8. https://www.softswiss.com/knowledge-base/sports-betting-bonus-types/ 

  9. https://www.responsiblegambling.org/for-the-public/about-gambling/gambling-facts/ 

  10. https://www.forbes.com/betting/guide/what-does-the-point-spread-mean/

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Pat Eichner

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Pat Eichner, a strategic communications expert and responsible gambling advocate, joined GMA Consulting in 2023 to launch the firm's Strategic Communications unit, leveraging his extensive iGaming experience from companies like PointsBet to notable PR roles with the NFL and renowned PR agencies like Dan Klores Communications. Pat's dedication to excellence and impactful strategies continues to shape the dynamic landscape of public relations and strategic communications across the iGaming industry.

Pat is one of the resident responsible gambling specialists at WSN. He co-authored our Responsible Gambling Center and provides expert insights into the harms of problem gambling and how to combat them.

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