Sweepstakes Casinos vs. Real Money Online Casinos

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Real money online casinos have been around since the mid-1990s. They give you the opportunity to play real money casino games through your smartphone, tablet, or computer.

Sweepstakes casinos, on the other hand, are somewhat new when compared to traditional gaming sites. Therefore, you might not know how real money and sweepstakes casinos differ.

This page covers how both types of gaming sites work. It also dives into the main ways that they differ and which kind of casino you should choose.

What Is a Real Money Casino?

People have been gambling valuable items for thousands of years. Real money casinos take this historic approach to gaming.

They see you deposit and place bets in real currency. Many of them also provide the option to display your bets in different currencies.

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If you’re from Canada, for example, you’ll select the CAD option. Assuming you’re from the United States, you’ll choose USD.

Once your account is funded, you can visit the games section and start playing games. Online casinos typically feature a nice mixture of games, including slots, blackjack, roulette, baccarat, and more.

How Does a Real Money Casino Work?

The name “real money casino” suggests that you must risk cash to play. However, the truth is that you can play at these sites without depositing.

Most online casinos require you to register for an account. But some casino sites even let you play for free without signing up.

Once you’re ready, you can simply open a game and start playing. If you see an interesting slot, for instance, you just launch it and begin spinning the reels.

Of course, you do need to be a registered member and deposit before placing real money bets. Here are the steps towards completing this process:

  1. Sign up for an account.
  2. Visit the banking section.
  3. Choose a banking method.
  4. Enter the amount that you’d like to deposit.
  5. Complete the transaction.

After depositing, you can start playing real money slots and table games. Upon opening a game, you simply choose your stake size and begin wagering.

What Is a Sweepstakes Casino?

Sweepstakes contests have been around for decades. Publishers Clearing House (PCH) made sweepstakes incredibly popular in the 1980s and ‘90s. The McDonald’s Monopoly continues to serve as one of the most popular models today.

Sweepstakes gaming sites are a hybrid of casinos and PCH/Monopoly. They feature typical online casino games, such as blackjack and slots. However, they also allow you to participate in contests and mail in to request more coins. The contests and mail-in aspects are where the sweepstakes factors come into play.

By nature, sweepstakes casinos don’t constitute real money gambling. Instead, they see you wager play-money coins in casino games.

They do feature some elements that make them similar to traditional online gaming in a roundabout way. Namely, you can exchange coins for virtual currency, which can be traded for money.

How Does a Sweepstakes Casino Work?

Sweepstakes gaming is similar to playing at regular online casinos. The key difference, though, is that it doesn’t revolve around a real money model.

You typically receive free coins or chips after signing up. These coins let you play the various games at a sweepstakes casino. Your goal is to use these coins to boost your bankroll. Assuming you lose your bankroll, you can reload it by purchasing more coins.

This process works just like placing a deposit at an online casino. You visit the banking area, choose a deposit method, and buy a coin package.

Sweepstakes Casino Game Select Screen

Sweepstakes casinos usually offer online bonuses for buying larger packages. For example, you might receive an extra 10,000 coins when you buy 100,000.

These gaming sites give you the opportunity to win bonuses through mail-in requests and social media, too. For example, a sweepstakes casino might give away coin packages to five people who like and comment on a post.

For the most part, sweepstakes gaming isn’t about real money play. However, many of these casinos provide the ability to exchange coins for some type of virtual currency.

You can then turn around and trade this virtual currency for money. In a roundabout way, you’re able to play for cash at many sweepstakes sites.

How Do Real Money and Sweepstakes Casinos Differ?

Sweepstakes and real money gaming certainly have key differences. Below, you can see the biggest ways in which they differ.

Sweepstakes Casinos Are Legal Nearly Everywhere

Traditional online casinos are available in many states and countries. In some cases, these gaming sites are even 100% legal and regulated.

However, real money gaming isn’t generally as accepted across the board. After all, most people still see these casinos as strictly gambling.

Sweepstakes gaming sites largely avoid the gambling distinction among players and governments. They use a unique model that helps them work around many laws. First off, sweepstakes casinos don’t see you directly play for cash. Instead, you receive and wager play-money coins.

You can trade these coins for virtual currency, which are actually worth something. But these casinos skirt the law by using a free-play model (at least initially) and sweepstakes contests.

Only Washington state and Washington DC ban sweepstakes casinos. Other states and US territories allow them, or at least tolerate them.

Real Money Casinos Are Only Legal in Some States

Real money gaming sites are considered much closer to gambling than the sweepstakes variety. They see you place a deposit and actually risk cash to win money.

Considering that they fall under the gambling umbrella, real money casinos face more legal scrutiny. Politicians mull over legal online gaming for months or years before passing legislation.

Most of the US gambling laws don’t go strongly for or against online gambling. Therefore, many offshore casinos serve gray market states with no legal troubles. But then again, offshore casinos don’t hold licenses or approval from the states they serve.

Sweepstakes Gaming Sites Don’t Let You Win Real Money (Directly)

Sweepstakes casinos give off the appearance being like real money sites. They feature fun games like baccarat, blackjack, roulette, and slots.

The key difference, though, is that they don’t let you wager money to win cash. Instead, you must take the following steps to win money:

  1. Buy coins or earn them through contests.
  2. Wager these coins through casino games (you can’t immediately trade free coins for virtual currency).
  3. Trade the coins for whatever virtual currency the casino offers.

The fact that you can eventually get money through sweepstakes gaming is appealing. However, you’ll need to go through a convoluted process to make it happen.

You Can Win Cash at Real Money Gaming Sites

Real money casinos offer a rather simple process towards earning money. You deposit, play games, and cash out winnings.

You don’t need to get play-money tokens, spin them into virtual currency, trade that currency for cash, and then withdraw money. No, you just play casino games and try to win.

Games Look Different at Sweepstakes Casinos

The traditional online gaming industry features plenty of unique games. It draws from dozens of software providers to deliver countless games to players.

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Nevertheless, you’ll still notice that sweepstakes casinos offer unique-looking games compared to the regular gaming industry.

Sweepstakes casino games feature a glossier appearance. They also have more-playful graphics than what the average casino does.

Real Money Casinos Offer More Games

When measuring the number of games between sweepstakes and real money casinos, the latter easily wins out regarding quantity.

The average real money casino boasts hundreds of online casino games. I’ve played at some casinos that feature 1,500+ game titles.

Sweepstakes gaming sites do provide some level of variety. You’ll typically find 50+ slots and a few table games. However, these casinos simply don’t have the same variety as what you’ll find through real money gaming.


If you’re strictly looking to gamble and play for big jackpots, then you should focus on traditional online casinos. Real money gaming sites give you an opportunity to bet and win money.

They also feature immense variety. You’ll enjoy hundreds of slots and dozens of table games at the average online casino. Sweepstakes sites make for nice fill-ins if you don’t have access to real money casinos. What you should understand about sweepstakes casinos is that they boast fun games and the ability to win cash through a bit of a convoluted structure.

But you may prefer sweepstakes gaming if you’re just a casual player. It offers a social media element and doesn’t typically cost much.

In summary, your personality will determine which type of gaming you’re most comfortable with. For me personally, though, I go with real money casinos due to the serious win potential. I think true rewards are a result of true risks. Good luck with your gambling!

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