The Malta LGA and the Alderney AGCC at the London ICE: no answers and nobody available.

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This is the rather long-promised followup to my previous articles on the Malta LGA, the ex CEO of the LGA Mario Galea, and also the Alderney Gambling Control Commission.

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I attended the 2009 International Casino Exhibition in January this year for the purposes of speaking to the Malta Lotteries And Gaming Authority and the Alderney Gambling Control Commission.

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My reason for seeking out the LGA were complaints at Malta-based sportsbooks Interwetten and BetChance. Betchance is covered in detail in my Betchance article here, and the Interwetten matter is described in great detail in the Interwetten report on my own site.

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I was looking for the Alderney Commission to raise issues which I described in the AGCC article for Midas Oracle – namely, why the AGCC considers it acceptable for a licensee to revoke a player’-s winnings after the player followed all the rules to the letter.

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Those above-mentioned articles are infinitely more interesting than anything I can say here. The visit was a monumental waste of time.

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To give the LGA credit, they were at least available to talk, which is more than can be said for the AGCC.

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I spoke to two members of the LGA’-s legal department, Dr. Edwina Licari and Dr. Joseph F. Borg. I had been given Dr. Licari’-s name by the “-complaints manager”-, one Frances Blenheim, who told me she would not be in attendance herself. She also said that Dr. Licari would be up to speed with the matter.

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However, Dr. Licari knew nothing about my case. I said “-hey, your friend Frances told me to talk to you!”-, to which the lady replied that although the complaints woman had notified her that I was intending to visit, she had NOT told her anything about the case. As such, she was in no real position to say anything other than that which would have been complete guesswork.

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So, zero out of ten for that.

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I felt a little sorry for Dr. Licari. She looked frankly terrified during my entire visit, as if she thought I could be on the verge of doing something totally unpredictable (granted, always a possibility). This, in its turn, put me slightly on edge.

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Never mind. Onwards to Betchance.

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I had pepared a sheet of paper with reports from Sportsbook Review, detailing in brief the unfolding situation, namely that Betchance’-s debts were around $100,000, the silence was absolute and the Malta LGA still listed them. I read this out to Dr. Borg.

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He told me that Betchance’-s license was under “-notice of suspension”-.

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And that was all. Because of this notice, no comment was possible.

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I also quoted ex-CEO Galea’-s comments, that the Betchance players were “-lying”-, and that people who questioned the LGA should watch their backs.

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Again, no comment was possible. Galea would have to speak for himself. And, of course, Galea is no longer part of the LGA.

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In fairness to the LGA I should add: Betchance’-s license was suspended two weeks after this, on February 2nd – see their suspended licenes page.

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Also in fairness, Dr. Borg was a nice enough fellow, who offered to look at my own Interwetten case. We also glanced over other general matters – he pointed out that the LGA was not a court of law and could only make recommendations, and acknowledged that the Interwetten players’- ten month wait for just a response from the LGA was unacceptable.

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However, answers there were none.

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So then I sought out the Alderney Commission.

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A “-States of Alderney”- stand there indeed was. Unfortunately, there were no more than two reps of the Gambling Control Commission.

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So could I please come back later?

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So I did. Still nobody. OK, try again, shall we?

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Next time, I spoke to a lawyer – somewhat out of desperation, as I could see I was getting nowhere with anyone on the actual commission. I told this gentleman I wanted to discuss matters pertaining to player complaints – could he be of help?

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He said he’-d listen, but it wasn’-t his department so he would be unlikely to be able to shed any light on my concerns.

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So we should probably just leave it at that, eh?

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Good idea. No sense in wasting anymore time.

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So I departed.

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In a fairly bad mood.

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And that was it. No answers from anyone. The Malta LGA couldn’-t say anything, and Alderney was barely there.

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I’-ll finish off this non-article with a customary rant – I think it’-s justified:

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This exhibition, and others like it, is a quintessentially perfect representation of the gambling industry. It’-s like candy floss. It looks lovely, but one lick and it’-s gone – or, in this case, one flick of the duster. There is no substance. You go up to a snappy looking stand, full of smart looking people wearing nice suits, and you think: hey, this is the business. Then you ask them a question, and you discover there’-s nothing there. There isn’-t even a bit there, there is nothing. A question: nothing. Another question: nothing. Try somewhere else, and you can’-t even ask a question in the first place, because despite all the throngs of people in evidence, nobody has anything to do with anything of substance. One puff and it’-s gone. Back to nothing.

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Which is all rather like Las Vegas, or any other gambling centre: monumental homages to nothingness, with no real entertainment other than for the masochistically inclined.

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So, I suppose I got what I expected so shouldn’-t really complain.

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Thank you for reading my non-report on my non-visit to the non-event that was the 2009 Earls Court International Casino Exhibition. If it bored you, think about me going to it and writing about it, and hopefully you’-ll feel a lot better.

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My next report will be on an online poker scandal currently and painfully being played out. It is, I promise, more interesting. :D

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The Alderney Gambling Control Commission: you follow the rules but you still dont get paid. Why bother with regulation at all?

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Online gambling regulation by accountable governmental bodies is a good thing for one reason and one reason alone: it offers protection to the player. There are many reasons why it’-s good for the industry in terms of profit and image, but all that is irrelevant if the player side is missing from the equation, as without the player there is no industry.

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I outlined serious flaws in the Malta Lotteries And Gaming Authority in my LGA article a few weeks ago. In recent days a regulator much closer to home has come into the spotlight. (The following appears in moreorless the same format in the Alderney Gambling Control Commission article on my own site.)

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The Alderney Gambling Control Commission oversees remote gambling within the states of Alderney in the Channel Islands. In the blurb on the homepage we find the following:

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The Commission ensures that its regulatory and supervisory approach meets the very highest of international standards.

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Excellent.

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So, does this have any practical relevance to the player?

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As reported at Casinomeister, in early July 2008 a player deposited at one “-PKR Casino”-, receiving a signup bonus in the process. The next day he was tempted to re-deposit with another bonus invitation, after which he cashed out his balance.

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Three days later, the casino revoked his bonuses on the basis of “-bonus abuse”-:

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After a thorough review of your account it is evident that you have abused the PKRCasino Reload bonus. You have now been permanently banned from PKR and all funds gained by abusing the reload bonus have been seized.

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Since the player had infringed no terms, he appealed to the Alderney Gambling Control Commission. A week or so later the Commission released the following quite breathtakingly atrocious findings:

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You made two large deposits, $200 and $500. The first deposit of $200 is the maximum eligible amount for a first time deposit bonus. The second deposit is again the maximum eligible amount for reload bonus.

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As soon as the bonuses were cleared you requested a withdrawal, each time within five minutes of clearing the specific bonus.

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You did not engage in any play between the first withdrawal and the second deposit when the reload bonus became available.

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The only game you played was casino hold em.

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The vast majority of the bets you made were the minimum $1. This is quite a small bet amount when compared to the amounts that you deposited. Only the basic main bet was played, never the side bet (AA bet).

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The total amount you bet on the account was $20,002.00, this reflects the $10,000 bet to claim the first deposit bonus and then a second $10,000 to claim the reload bonus. It is clear that as soon as the bonus was released no more games were played.

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Play only occured while a bonus was pending.

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The Commission has thoroughly investigated your claims and are found to be in agreement with PKR Limited’s decision to exclude you from their site. On obtaining details of your game play it’s apparent that you have abused the bonus scheme that was offered to you.

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In accordance with sections 9 and 10 of PKR Limited’s terms and conditions, of which you agreed to adhere to at all times, they are more than within their rights to close your account and seize all funds

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Here is section 10 of the above-mentioned terms and conditions:

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PKRCasino reserves the right to withhold any bonus payment if it believes that the promotion has been abused and/or where the terms of the offer are not fulfilled, or any irregular wagering patterns are found.

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So, according to the Alderney Commission:

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The player played no disallowed games.

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The player made no disallowed wagers, or disallowed wager sizes.

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The player did not wager less than the stipulated amount.

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In short: the player broke absolutely none of the rules of the contract.

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PKR does not define “-abuse”-, nor “-irregular wagering patterns”– PKR does not, in fact, state that it must be unequivocally sure about this apparent abuse, only that it must believe that the undefined indiscretion has occured. And if PKR Casino believes that something which they cannot define may have happened, they reserve the right to confiscate players’- money.

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This must count as just about the most vague, inadequate and frankly risible condition you could find in a contract. Why not just say “-we’-ll keep your money if we don’-t like your name”-? Or “-…-if there’-s a ‘-y’- in the month”-? Or “-…-on Tuesdays”-?

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Would such absurdities be any more ludicrous than guesswork about a non-defined activity?

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And yet, the Alderney Gambling Control Commission endorses this condition.

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This is a precedent-setting move, as it sends a message out to players that casinos under Alderney jurisdiction may confiscate their legitimately-earned funds with absolute impunity, safe in the knowledge that the AGGC will do nothing to stop them.

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As such, I would like to ask the AGCC the following questions:

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1) Since a straight observance of all the stated rules is not acceptable to you, precisely what would a player need to do to earn his full cashout at one of your licensee casinos WITHOUT incurring your displeasure? Which additional rules would you have a player observe?

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2) You appear unhappy with the playing of just the one game- how many, and which, additional and unstated games would one need to play to earn a full cashout, and why do you not require that the casino list them?

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3) You appear unhappy with issues of betsize- what betsize is acceptable to you, and why do you not require that the casino list it?
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4) You appear unhappy with strict observance of the required wagering- how much additional wagering do you consider acceptable and why do you not require that the casino state this?

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5) You appear unhappy with the timescale of withdrawals (”-within five minutes…-”-)- how soon after requirements are met is acceptable to you for withdrawing, and why do you not require that the casino state this?

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6) You appear unhappy with the lack of play occuring outside of bonus requirements- how much additional play is acceptable to you, and why do you not require that the casino state this?

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Lastly,

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7) Why in the name of heaven can a player abide by all the given rules and not be paid in full?

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I hope that at some point the AGCC will address these points, as it seems clear that a player who simply follows the stated rules is guilty in their eyes of an indeterminate indiscretion.

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There is nothing new about incentivising bonuses – they occur even in the UK banking sector. Take a look at the Alliance And Leicester esaving account:

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Earn 6.50% AER (variable), this rate includes a 0.88% bonus payable until 31 August 2009

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The bank uses a bonus to boost the customer’-s interest, giving them a nice, catchy headline rate. They may lose money on the bonus, but the idea is that the new customers they’-ll gain will more than compensate for the loss. If the customer shamelessly empties his account when the bonus period expires and goes elsewhere, the bank does not confiscate the bonus funds. If they did, it would put them in quite monumental breach of UK law. And at the end of the day, why would they? – they should still make money overall.

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The exact same marketing concepts govern bonuses offered by online gambling operations: “-give ‘-em money and you’-ll make money”-.

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So if a profit-motivated customer of a UK bank cannot have his funds unfairly confiscated, why can similarly focussed customers of an operation under the jurisdiction of the Alderney Gambling Control Commission be subject to such outrageous treatment?

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Well, here’-s where it get’-s interesting.

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The answer is that there is nothing in Alderney law which prevents it.

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In the UK and across many, if not all, other EU countries, trading standards legislation does not recognise the legality of anti-customer clauses in contracts – take a look at the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999:

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If there is doubt about the meaning of a written term, the interpretation which is most favourable to the consumer shall prevail…-An unfair term in a contract concluded with a consumer by a seller or supplier shall not be binding on the consumer…-The contract shall continue to bind the parties if it is capable of continuing in existence without the unfair term.

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One example of an unfair term is given as:

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“-…-giving the seller or supplier…-the exclusive right to interpret any term of the contract

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You can see how this legislation would make it difficult for a business to hold customers to clauses like “-we reserves the right to withhold any bonus payment if it believes that the promotion has been abused”-.

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Unfortunately, there is no trading standards legislation in Alderney, and as such nothing that protects the consumer from unfair practice – take a look at the “-fair trading”- section of the States Of Guernsey trading standards page of the Guernsey government website:

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In March 2000 the States of Guernsey approved the introduction of legislation relating to the sale and supply of goods and services, unfair contract terms, misrepresentation and the disposal of uncollected goods. This legislation is at the stage of preparation and subsequent introduction

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I spoke to the Guernsey trading standards office yesterday, and they confirmed that this is still the case – this legislation, though in the pipeline, is still not in place in 2008, fully eight years later!

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I also spoke to the State Office of Alderney, and they confirmed that the same applies: there is no trading standards legislation in Alderney.

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So where does this leave the player, on the receiving end of an outrageous decision issued by the Alderney Gambling Control Commission?

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During my afternoon of phone conversations with the various Channel Islands public bodies, the Alderney Greffier pointed out that there is an appeal process listed in the 2006 eGambling Ordinance (see page 21, “-appeals”-). However, she acknowledged that this is a potentially rocky path:

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Acceptance of the appeal request is down to the court itself.

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Alderney solicitors charge upwards of ?400 an hour, making the pursuit of anything other than very large sums completely self-defeating.

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Exactly what would happen as a result of a successful appeal is by no means guaranteed in terms of customer satisfaction.

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Lastly, in the case of an appeal against unfair contract terms, when there is no actual law prohibiting such terms in the first place, it requires quite a stretch of the imagination to think that the court might find for the customer on that basis!

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As such, appealing against a decision from the Alderney Gambling Control Commission is most likely an exercise in extreme pointlessness.

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None of this should even be remotely necessary- an ostensibly respectable and competent governmental body should not be taking decisions based on what a customer might have done in relation to undefined, and frankly undefinable, terms – this is grossly unprofessional and grossly unfair. Vague talk about “-bonus abuse”- is the stuff of the lowest level of online casinos- it’-s unthinkable that a governmental regulatory body would talk in the same manner. A serious regulator needs to take fair and balanced decisions: did the customer break any clearly defined rules? If so, he should not be paid. If not, he should receive his money- if he does not receive his money having broken no rules, then action against the operator should be forthcoming, up to and including the revocation of the operator’-s license.

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Not so in the case of the Alderney Gambling Control Commission. What did they say? It bears repeating:

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it’-s apparent that you have abused the bonus

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What is the lesson that players can take away from all this?

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Well, take your chances by all means- a lot of the Alderney-based casinos are decent operations so you’-ll probably be alright. But remember that if you are NOT alright, if you accept a promotional bonus, on the casino’-s specific invitation as part of their marketing campaign to snag your deposit, and you cash out only to then find you’-re the subject of ill-defined accusations of unacceptable behaviour you apparently may have indulged in, then you can expect no quarter given from the Alderney Gambling Control Commission on the basis of their performance in this case.

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This was, I think, a test case for the AGCC, the first one of its kind that’-s been in the public domain.

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What a shame they fell at the first fence and set standards in online gambling back about ten years.

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What is the point of “-regulation”-, if the reality is this?