Internet censorship is a sad fact of modern times. Too many of our readers live in countries where the government actively monitors the internet and blocks access to sites deemed “dangerous” or “immoral.” In every case, internet censorship is a result of authoritarian top-down control rooted in paranoia and an unhealthy fear of free information.
VPNs are a good idea for people in many parts of the world for many reasons. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the realm of politics. In some nations, people are routinely arrested, harassed and sometimes even disappeared as a result of things posted online. It’s scary.
But for today’s post, we’re going to stick with the slightly more mundane topic of gambling. Internet censorship isn’t just restricted to oppressive governments in faraway lands. It happens here in the West too. A growing number of governments are already restricting access to betting sites. In most cases, it’s an effort to protect the state-owned monopoly on gambling. In others, it’s a simple effort that comes from the delusion that “they” know better than you what is good, healthy and moral.
I don’t much care for other people thinking for me and I’d be willing to bet you feel the same way. So, I want to share with you the wonderful invention that is the Virtual Private Network (VPN). You can use a VPN to shrug off the shackles of government censorship and access the internet in the way it was designed to be accessed: without restriction.
What is a VPN?
Virtual Private Networks are tools that create secure, private connections between your computer and others on the internet. A VPN encrypts your data so other people can’t spy on you. It also masks your IP address so you can visit sites that restrict access by location.
If you work in an office, you probably already use a private network. This is the in-house intranet that you use to communicate with colleagues, share documents and access the rules manual. It’s safe because it isn’t connected to the normal internet. It’s just a bunch of computers linked together at work.
The disadvantage of private networks is they are disconnected from the rest of the internet. You can’t use them to e-mail your non-work friends, look up stuff on Wikipedia or gamble online. This is where the VPN enters the picture.
A VPN is designed to work across the general internet. It creates a virtual private network similar to the one in your office each time you connect to another website or online service. People use VPNs all the time in the regular world:
- To send sensitive e-mails to work while traveling
- To access private information while sitting in an airport lounge on a public network
- To access websites that are blocked in certain countries
Example of Use
Note: This is a real example but I’ve changed the name of the gambling site so I don’t cause them any undue stress.
AwesomeBettingSite.com blocks access to visitors from the United States. If you’re in the US right now and try to visit, you’ll get a pop-up warning telling you that ABS doesn’t accept visitors from the US. They block access by IP address out of an abundance of caution in response to US gambling laws.
Whenever I’m in the US, this causes problems for me because I frequently write about Awesome Betting Site and its various bonus offers, new games and whatnot. So what I do is activate my VPN with a click of the mouse, wait a few seconds and then go visit AwesomeBettingSite.com to do my research and finish my work.
How to Get Your Own
Getting your own VPN is easy. You don’t need to be a technophile to set up your own. So many normal people need VPNs these days that providers have simplified the process down to almost nothing. All you have to do is download the software, install it and click run.
These services do cost a little money though. Here in the United States, I spend $49 a year for my subscription. This isn’t bad by US dollars but it may be prohibitive in some parts of the world. There are cheaper services out there if you can run a search in your language for a VPN. You should find something affordable where you live.
Some VPNs are so security minded now that they don’t even require your name or credit card information. I know of a couple that are completely anonymous and accept payment via Bitcoin and prepaid debit cards. If your country’s gambling laws include punishments for players, you might want to look into that.
Choosing the right VPN is especially important for those of you in areas where the legality of betting online is questionable. Even if online gambling isn’t outright outlawed, it’s better to err on the side of caution. You want to use a VPN that encrypts all communications and does not store server logs on any type.
I have had the pleasure/displeasure of working with multiple VPN providers over the years and can tell you that it pays to pick a reliable VPN service. Currently, my favourite is IPVanish.com. IPVanish can make it look like you are a visitor from just about anywhere in the world and is effective at getting around web blocks.
Other VPNs I’ve tried were much more hit-or-miss. One worked great for a couple of years, but then began randomly dropping my VPN connection without warning me! This left me exposed with no idea that I was no longer connected through the VPN. Luckily for me, I don’t live somewhere punishes people for gambling online or viewing political material. Had that happened somewhere else, though…
One other VPN seemed to leak my location somehow. I’m not an expert on the ins-and-outs of VPNs, but I noticed that one big-name provider would often fail to get around blocks that I knew for a fact that it should have gotten around. That was enough for me to switch once again.
I have now landed on IPVanish and have nothing but good things to say about the service. What I like about it is it has many servers located around the world and actually works as intended when I try to visit various websites that are blocked in different parts of the world. I change my location often just in doing research here for OnlineBettingSites.com and this VPN has not yet failed me.
Some of the other features that convinced me to try IPVanish were unlimited bandwidth, a zero traffic logs policy (although I always take this claim with a grain of salt no matter how much I trust my provider) and the fact that IPVanish has an app just for the Amazon Fire Stick for private streaming.
What if my country blocks access to VPN websites?
In some places, the government doesn’t just block access to normal websites, it also blocks access to websites that sell VPN solutions. This can be a problem under some of the most restrictive censorship programs.
The good news is there’s always a way. There are hundreds of VPNs out there and they are all well aware of how many governments attempt to block them. With hundreds of providers (some of which operate dozens of alternative domains in order to fly under the radar), there’s no way the government can block them all. You’ll have to do a little searching around, but you’ll find something eventually.
Is it safe to use a VPN?
VPNs are safe in and of themselves.
However, a few countries enforce severe penalties on anyone caught using a VPN or accessing blocked material. In that case the risk is still very real. No VPN can ever be 100% effective against government surveillance efforts.
If you’re only using a VPN to gamble online, it’s probably not that big a deal. The risk increases as you break increasingly serious laws. Placing a few bets online is one thing. Plotting to assassinate the king is a whole other ball game.
As far as gambling goes, yea, you probably won’t have any problems. I won’t promise anything because things do change and it’s impossible to keep perfectly up to date on the gaming laws of every country in the world. This is where it would behoove you to do a little further research on your own. Good luck out there and be safe!
Can I use a VPN to play at sites that restrict my country?
No. I wish it was that easy because I’d be playing online poker right now. You can use VPNs to access offshore sites that block people in your country, but you’ll have a hard time depositing or getting paid. All that financial stuff requires banking information. Even if you use a VPN, find a prepaid card and deposit, where would you tell them to send your winnings?
People still try of course. I know of a few poker players in the US who used VPNs, offshore bank accounts and overseas mailing addresses to continue using PokerStars in the US. These guys got caught, their accounts closed and I believe they lost some money too.
There may be people out there who do have a better method for playing offshore, but they aren’t talking. Personally, I don’t want to take the risk that just when I start winning money the site figures it out and confiscates my account balance.
Wes Burns has more than a decade’s worth of experience as a writer, researcher, and analyst in the legal online betting industry and is co-founder of OnlineBettingSites.com. Wes approaches his work from the viewpoint of players.