Online gambling regulation: players two, casinos nil. And about time, too.

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Online gambling regulators are not usually much to write home about as far as player protection goes. For the most part, they do little more than lie down and wait for their collective tummies to be tickled by the operators they claim to &#8220-regulate with impartiality&#8221-, and it can be considered an achievement of global proportions if you can manage to get a reply from any of them in anything less than a year of making a complaint.

The Alderney Gambling Control Commission? A sham of incompetence.

The Malta Lotteries And Gaming Authority? Actions bordering, at times, on criminal.

However, in recent weeks, two regulators have issued judgements which give hope for the future. One close to home in the UK, the other on the far-off shores of the Mohawk Indian reservation in Canada. Both, rather typically, centred around the casinos&#8217- misuse of their bonus programmes to the disadvantage of their customers.

In the first case, sportsbook and casino Bet365 promoted a free bet in a UK television advert, with the promise of further free bets if the first one was successful. Customers claimed the bet, and those who won went on to claim again- another win, and another free bet claim. And so on and so on.

Bet365 didn&#8217-t like this, and, in time-honoured online gambling fashion, refused the bets to some customers with a variety of excuses: customers showed &#8220-unusual patterns&#8221– customers were suspected (not proven, of course) of laying off the bet elsewhere for a guaranteed profit with the bonus, which Bet365 considered &#8220-bad business&#8221-.

Oh dear.

How despicable &#8211- customers looking for ways to win. What in the world were they thinking, trying to win money in a casino?

Anyway, some customers complained to the Advertising Standards Authority, and an Adjudication on Bet365 Group Ltd was promptly issued. Here is a part of the judgement &#8211- read it and weep, online gambling operators worldwide:

We understood that Bet365 excluded a proportion of customers who they deemed to be non-recreational players- however, we considered that without defined criteria, it appeared that Bet365 had excluded customers from the offer when they were winning or were no longer profitable.

We noted the ad did not state that customers who made each-way bets, won frequently on similar bets, or used betting exchanges would be excluded from the offer.

Although we understood that Bet365 believed the viewers were exploiting the offer, in the absence of qualification in the ad to make Bet365s limitations on the offer clear, we concluded the ad was likely to mislead.

The ASA discounted all of Bet365&#8217-s whinging and whining about &#8220-non-recreational players&#8221- who were &#8220-bad for business&#8221-, on the basis that since none of those copouts were stated in the terms of the deal, they could not be arbitrarily applied afterwards as an excuse for non-payment.

Or, if I can summarise the ASA judment in my own words: &#8220-This is what you said- this is what you did- what you did wasn&#8217-t what you said you&#8217-d do&#8230-so please go take a running jump&#8221-.

This was a perfectly thought out and articulated response from the ASA. What a refreshing change to see a regulator of some description actually doing its job and making a fair call.

Players 1 / casinos 0.

The next case was one I was involved with myself. A player contacted me, saying that he&#8217-d had a €10,000 cashout confiscated by a Microgaming casino group, on the basis of infringing the conditions of the bonus he&#8217-d received on his deposit. He had indeed, but the terms were so cleverly hidden by the casino that breaking them was almost a certainly.

To cut a long story short, the player filed a complaint with the Kahnawake Gaming Commission. The KGC has long been something of a running joke on the online gambling scene, allowing its licensees to get away with almost anything. However, I had heard that a new complaints officer had recently been appointed, and that the Commission was generally trying to get its act together and be taken seriously as a genuine regulator. But I wasn&#8217-t holding my breath.

As such, the Kahnawake judgement left me astonished &#8211- see the full complaint against UK Casino Club, of which here is an central extract:

Mr. N&#8217-s dispute centres on the argument that, at the relevant time, some additional terms and conditions that were posted on the Casino&#8217-s site regarding signup bonuses (the &#8220-Terms and Conditions &#8211- Multiple Bonus Promotion&#8221-) did not clearly incorporate the provisions of the Casino&#8217-s T&amp-C.

However, given the fact that Mr. Niemz did accept the T&amp-C and that his pattern of play subsequently breached Clause 13(i) of the T&amp-C, we cannot conclude that it is reasonable to direct the Casino to reimburse Mr. Niemz for 100% of the amount of the disputed amount &#8211- 10,000 Euro.

We do accept that the Casino must bear some responsibility for failing to make it clear that the Terms and Conditions &#8211- Multiple Bonus Promotion incorporated the provisions of the Casino&#8217-s T&amp-C.

In view of the foregoing, we hereby direct that:

1. The Casino must, on or before 8:00 p.m ET on February 18, 2010, deposit 50% of the disputed amount &#8211- i.e. 5,000 Euro &#8211- into Mr. N&#8217-s account and permit him to withdraw this amount, and

2. The Casino must immediately amend its Terms and Conditions &#8211- Multiple Bonus Promotion to clearly indicate that they incorporate the provisions of the T&amp-C.

This was an excellent resolution, as much for its sheer unexpectedness as for the fact that it was fair. Way to go, Kahnawake.

Players 2 / casinos 0.

I&#8217-ve commented on both these cases in more detail in my Kahnawake Gaming Commission and Bet365 posts.

I had assumed that hell would freeze over before any official &#8220-watchdog&#8221- or &#8220-regulator&#8221- would arbitrate a conflict between player and gamnbling operation and find in the player&#8217-s favour. As such, I&#8217-m pleasantly surprised &#8211- or, to be a bit more honest, entirely gob-smacked &#8211- at the outcomes of the cases handled by the UK ASA and the Mohawk KGC.

It&#8217-s not all bad, folks.

Smarkets want you to believe that they are going after a much bigger betting market than BetFairs one.

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Their CTO (Hunter Morris) is the first to present in the video. Watch out for his slide on casual and social betting.

Startups Rally &#8211- Part I &#8211- Elevator Pitches (4 of 4) from Plugg Conference on Vimeo.

Download this post if your feed player does not show you the video above.

External Link: Smarkets

Mastercard and Visa online gambling crackdown

Credit cards Mastercard and Visa have recently imposed restrictions on online gambling transactions to US customers, in preparation for the implementation of the anti-gambling legislation in June this year.

The following was reported by eGaming Review:

Mastercard crackdown leaves US players unable to pay

US-facing operators have been hit by an overnight crackdown on online gambling payments by credit card giant Mastercard. The US company is believed to have toughened its stance on the widespread practice of operators coding egaming transaction as other kinds of online commerce, which will all (sic) its US customers from using their cards to gamble online.

Rival US card giant Visa is rumoured to have taken a similar measure, although this could not be confirmed at the time of writing.

The action is a sign that banks and payment companies are preparing for implementation of America&#8217-s Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA), which bans the facilitation of online gambling by payment companies. This was originally supposed to have been enforced from 1 December 2009, although the US treasury later approved a delay allowing companies until 1 June 2009 to comply&#8230-(more)

In the followup article, it was established that Visa was also implementing the restriction on US customers:

Visa declining US egaming payments

The crackdown on US online gambling credit card payments that began on Wednesday is being operated by Visa as well as rival US credit card giant Mastercard, EGRmagazine has now confirmed, with tens of thousands of US online gamblers likely to have been affected.

As reported yesterday, US-facing operators were hit by an overnight tightening of restrictions on the use of credit cards for egaming transaction ahead of the implementation of America&#8217-s Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) law on 1 June, which bans the facilitation of online gambling by banks and other payment companies.

The action was at the time of writing confirmed as applying to US-registered cards issued by Mastercard, but rumours that a crackdown had also been launched by Visa had not been substantiated. However eGaming Review has now confirmed that these too are subject to the ban. Repeated attempts to use a US-registered Visa card by an eGaming Review reporter on PokerStars last night were declined, with the American poker giant sending an email in response that read:

&#8220-Status: DECLINED.

Your credit card transaction has been declined. If your credit card information was entered correctly and you have sufficient funds, your transaction was probably declined due to Internet gaming restrictions set by your credit card issuer&#8230-&#8221- (more)

So:

In order to better avoid of the USA anti-gambling radar, some gambling operators accepting US customers have been coding their Visa and Mastercard transactions in a manner as to not appear as gambling-related. The correct &#8220-internet gambing&#8221- merchant code is 7995- some operators have been putting their transactions through thus, and taking a chance as to whether or not the deposit goes through- others have not.

To put it another way: they&#8217-ve been trying to cheat the system.

Since the February crackdown appears to have been applied retrospectively to January, players now face the prospect that their deposits &#8211- with which they will have had plenty of time to play, and lose or win on accordingly &#8211- will now almost certainly not be honoured by Mastercard and Visa, resulting in an effective chargeback. This may have a knock-on effect when it comes to winning players receiving their payments.

And while the general tone of the internet discussion on this matter has been one of condemnation of the US administration in the wielding of its prohibitionist axe, I would personally like to ask this question: why should we not lay the blame for this squarely at the door of the online gambling operators, still dealing to US customers, who tried to cheat the system in the first place?

Their motives were purely profit-driven in attempting to stay below the radar. But it is the players, who committed no wrongdoing, who may suffer as a consequence.

It is of course also the case that not all operators have been trying to cheat the system. Some, such as Pokerstars, have been coding their transactions upfront as &#8220-internet gambling&#8221– in fact, in another EGR article they made a point of distancing themselves from the practice:

PokerStars does not, nor ever has engaged in the practices of mis-coded credit card transactions. We have therefore been unaffected by any crackdown by Visa or MasterCard to close down such mis-coded processing accounts.

So, all well and good for the folks who&#8217-ve behaved honestly.

But the casinos and sportsbooks that have been trying to put one over Mastercard and Visa, whatever the ultimate cost they pay as a result of this matter may be, do not deserve any sympathy.

They particularly do not deserve any sympathy from those players who may end up seriously inconvenienced, and possibly out of pocket, as a result of their duplicity.

There&#8217-s been, predictably enough, quite a lot of discussion of this move that has such potential sweeping effects on the industry: see the No more Mastercard article at Bookmakers Review, and the Mastercard blocks US poker discussion at 2+2 Poker (&#8220-Intentionally mis-coding a CC transaction is a crime in many places around the globe.&#8221- &#8211- I quite agree)- also my own Mastercard and Visa online gambling crackdown article, and one tiny piece of mainstream media coverage, the Timesonline online gambling comment &#8211- actually, quite funny, so I&#8217-ll quote it:

Operators including PokerStars which continue to defy the US ban have been hit by a crackdown on internet gambling payments by Mastercard and Visa, the credit card companies.

Great. The one piece of mainstream media coverage gets it completely wrong. :D

Ladbrokes data scandal: personal information of millions of customers offered for sale to national newspaper

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Ladbrokes suffered a mighty embarrassment, earlier this week, and 4,500,000 customers had cause to get nervous, when the Mail On Sunday revealed that the UK uber-bookmaker&#8217-s customer database had been offered to them for sale:

For sale: Personal details of millions of Ladbrokes gamblers, offered to the MoS by a mysterious Australian

The confidential records of millions of British gamblers who bet with top bookmaker Ladbrokes have been offered for sale to the Mail On Sunday. The huge data theft is now at the centre of a criminal investigation after this newspaper was given the personal information of 10,000 Ladbrokes customers and offered access to its database of 4.5 million people in the UK and abroad.

(more&#8230-)

This is no fake claim, as attested to by the fact that a &#8220-taster&#8221- of the full database was handed over by the culprit, fully ten thousand names and highly confidential personal details for the purpose of whetting the potential client&#8217-s appetite.

Hey-ho. The gambling industry at its predictable worst.

These incidents are not new &#8211- I reported on an occurrence a few years ago in which an online gambling industry leader touted a database of 100,000 UK players to the highest bidder on his forum. Neither are they remotely hard to believe- while the average customer service representative might struggle to access his company&#8217-s full customer list, an employee higher up the chain in the IT department should have no such difficulty &#8211- a quick copy, paste and save&#8230-and it&#8217-s time to start lining up the buyers. I daresay the names of four and a half million bona fide gamblers would fetch a very fine price.

And while our data watchdog, the ICO, huffs and puffs its righteous indignation, I&#8217-m sure they know there really is very, very little you can realistically do about this. Just one employee with access is all you need.

It serves as a reality check: when you put your details online, they are just that: online. Assume that, at some future point, someone will be hawking your phone number, email and physical address to the highest bidder.

I commented also in my Ladbrokes data theft post, and see also the Racing Post&#8217-s Ladbrokes reassure users over data protection article.

Oh well, I don&#8217-t know- maybe privacy is overrated. :)

BetFair (via Right2Bet) are furious at the new French gambling laws.

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Right2Bet (operated by BetFair):

A Senate hearing on Tuesday looked at ways in which the French authorities could make it more difficult for operators not licensed in France from offering their products to French citizens.

They are now looking at adding wording to the new gambling bill, set to &#8216-open up&#8217- the market in time for the World Cup this summer, that makes it illegal for any French-based company from taking advertising or even simply linking to certain sites.

Those sites based inside France, including multi-nationals with French subsidiares, notably Google, found to be &#8216-aiding and abetting&#8217- (no pun intended) foreign operators could face fines of up to €100,000.

This is just another example of the French bill being a facade. They want to appear like they are liberalising their market, to fit in with EU rules, but clearly they are going to make it as hard as possible for foreign operators to offer their services to value-deprived French citizens, and are even looking to make it difficult for those who do apply for a French license.

At what point is someone going to wake up and say &#8216-enough is enough&#8217-? Don&#8217-t wait for someone else to do it, sign our petition today and add your voice to the thousands of EU citizens already calling for fairness in online gambling.

Our previous post

France = Communist China

France will soon block access to the BetFair and InTrade websites.

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Gambling operators that are not be licensed by France will have their web access blocked for the French public. The license would require that servers be located within French territory.

France = Communist China

HR 2267 = a bill that would legalize Internet gambling in the United States

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Will happen in 2010.

Bye bye UIGEA.