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February 2008 Online Casino News
February 18, 2008.

A Study Of The Most Frequent Cause Of Online Casino Operator vs. Player Conflict By eCOGRA.


Holders of the "Safe and Fair" seal from eCOGRA (former "Play It Safe") and all it implies in terms of professionalism and player sensitivity are expected by the online gambling public to exhibit superior operational and integrity-driven management conduct.

Certainly the quarterly statistics on complaints against eCOGRA venues issued by the Fair Gaming Advocate indicate that "Safe and Fair" seal operations have an outstanding record, with the average number of valid disputes received per approved site per month at only 0.44 percent after literally millions of transactions at almost every website.

It is this higher standard and the assurance of safety that flows from it that attracts players to eCOGRA accredited sites, and it is one of the marketing benefits that helps justify the extensive time and effort that operators have to invest in achieving and maintaining the seal.

However, the higher expectations of the players where “Safe and Fair” operators are concerned can also create situations where eCOGRA’s influence can be called into question if even one seal holder does not meet the required standards of fairness.

The issue of so-called "bonus abuse" is the issue that most often causes trouble.

Casino Bonuses
The mediating experience of the Fair Gaming Advocate, together with data from the eCOGRA Global Online Gambler Survey shows that bonuses, and how they are constructed, managed, adjudicated and rewarded….or not, constitute a major area of conflict between the player community and operators, one that can lead to damage to both sides.

There appear to be two main views:
Operators: believe that bonuses are offered to bring in business, and that the player has an often unwritten obligation to give more than the T&Cs demand in the form of wagering. This is often commonly referred to as “the spirit” in which the bonus is given.

Players, and for that matter most advocates and affiliates: see the bonus as an inducement to play at a particular casino on a particular promotion or sign-up, with more experienced players giving it the added value of reducing the odds against them. Many players shy away from bonuses due to the bad press which disputes have given the practice.

Virtually all players view the Terms and Conditions as their sole obligation and “contract” in accepting a bonus. They do not connect it with a requirement for loyalty over and above the action offered and accepted on a particular promo. In short: “If it’s not in the T&Cs it is not enforceable.”

Conversely, they expect the operator who has offered the specific terms and conditions to honour same once the conditions have been met without dishonesty by the player. And players have become expert at meeting T&Cs to the letter.

Terms & Conditions
That raises the argument of lawyers’ catch-all clauses in the T&Cs that pretty much allow the management to make unilateral decisions regardless of the player’s compliance or the T&Cs offered - players refer to this as a “FU” or “management can do what it likes” clause. Because it is inherently unfair, and its use encourages sloppy investigation and imprecise definition of an issue this sort of clause should not be deployed. Its use inflames the player community and reflects badly on both seal holder and eCOGRA.

Growing numbers of bonus-using players are becoming expert at interpreting Terms and Conditions before depositing and playing within same. For this reason eCOGRA cannot stress too heavily the importance of professional promo design and the critical nature of the way T&Cs are worded and communicated in support of each promo offered.

Badly designed promos can result in major financial damage to the company as players take legitimate advantage of a too generous offer. In sub-standard operations, managements all too frequently panic and start indiscriminately locking accounts, denying promised rewards and making rash and unsubstantiated “fraud” and “bonus abuse” accusations.

This sort of reaction creates an equal and opposite reaction from the players, who feel they have been cheated by the operator refusing to honour his or her own T&Cs. This inevitably overflows on to the message boards, damaging business, for as we have seen from the results of the Global Online Gambler Survey these player communication vehicles have significantly more influence and reach than was hitherto deemed possible.

Because the sole responsibility for the promo and the supporting T&Cs rests with casino management, it is absolutely imperative that promos be thoroughly considered and double checked by senior and experienced managers before being offered.

It is equally important that the promo and its supporting T&Cs are communicated efficiently and fairly, because errors or omissions in that area can be equally damaging i.e. promos going to the wrong category of player; out of date promos; unclear terms or terms displayed incorrectly.

The bottom line is this:
The operator makes the rules and the offer. Once the player’s action is accepted and those rules and requirements are met, the player deserves to be paid timeously and in full unless he or she has been guilty of fraud or misrepresentation.

There is a strong logical argument against the term “bonus abuse” itself - there is no such thing because as long as the player and the operator both hold to their agreement in the T&Cs there can be no ‘abuse’.

Opening multiple accounts or using a false ID is not bonus abuse but fraud in contravention of most site rules. Failing to make the wagering requirement is a breach of the T&Cs. Neither is “bonus abuse.”

With both sides compliant with a specific and professional T&C there is little room for dispute….and operators have the sole responsibility for designing and offering those T&Cs.

None of this suggests that the operator should forego the right of admission or access to promotions. The operator can exercise that right of admission by locking out players who are regarded as unsuitable or unwanted, and promotions can be denied to specific players providing they are clearly advised of that exclusion.

But if such a lockout or exclusion occurs following a promotion, the rewards promised to the player at the time he or she was accepted and wagered should be paid first.

Retroactive changes to Terms & Conditions
In the past, less than honest online casino managements outside the influence of eCOGRA have tried to ameliorate the impact of big wins or promo errors by retroactively changing the T&Cs in order to either disqualify or reduce the player reward, and this is clearly totally unacceptable and unfair.

Both player and casino management are responsible for meeting the obligations in force at the time a promo is offered, accepted and the first deposit/wager made.

Ideally, each promo and its T&Cs could be date-stamped to avoid any misunderstandings.

It is therefore of paramount importance that the offer made in an email or other communication to the player is identical with the requirements and obligations of both parties as enshrined in the T&Cs displayed on the website, implying that the website copy, as the definitive version, must be kept absolutely up to date.

General guidelines:

  • 1) Try and avoid subjective or emotional decisions, instead considering objectively the facts presented by the T&Cs and the player’s activity within those T&Cs.
  • 2) The construction of promos and T&Cs should never be left to junior or inexperienced personnel, and the draft should always be re-checked by managers who know what they are about before promos are offered. Remember, the operator has to live with any adverse results flowing from a badly designed offer or imprecise T&Cs.
  • 3) If the operator wishes specific further play or loyalty from a player it should be a requirement in the promo T&C, not left as an unwritten expectation.
  • 4) Take the heat out of personal confrontation by referring the player to eCOGRA’s Fair Gaming Advocate where agreement at casino level proves impossible.
  • 5) Communicate promos and their attached T&Cs clearly and to the right audience, with a summary linked to the full T&C on the website. Make sure the website is kept up to date - players take date-stamped screenshots of T&Cs. Ensure that Marketing’s promos are properly communicated to other departments such as accounts and that the terms are clearly understood by the Support personnel who are the first interface with disgruntled or confused players.
  • 6) Disqualifications of rewards or lock-outs should only be actioned after careful consideration of all the facts surrounding the offending player or activity - it is, after all, throwing business away. Be prepared to inform the player why the action has been taken. If the operator cannot articulate a fair and logical reason for a ban, it should be even more carefully thought through. Note that eCOGRA recognises that it may not always be prudent to provide information that unveils the nature of casino security precautions, but experienced managers can usually ensure that this does not occur without detracting from a reasonable response to a player.
  • 7) Eschew the “FU” or “management can do what it likes” clause. Its use will only exacerbate an already bad situation without adding any clarity, and it will definitely discourage players from using the site.
  • 8) Monitor leading online gambling portals to swiftly identify and attempt to defuse any problem that may be building through misinterpretation or malice.
  • 9) Do not be tempted to retaliate to real or imagined “bonus abuse” by players by stalling payments unjustifiably on “unreadable ID” or other subterfuges. The key is to think in an objective and fair, businesslike manner at all times.
Source: eCOGRA

Related Articles:
1. Emphasis On Real Regulation Boosts Interest In eCOGRA (17/10/2007)
2. eCOGRA: World's Largest Study Of The Online Gambler Revealed (27/01/2007)
3. eCOGRA Appoints Former Head Of Gaming Services At Leading.. (27/11/2006)
4. eCOGRA, The Online Gambling Standards Authority Offers Its.. (08/11/2006)
5. eCOGRA Urges Its Sealholders To Continue To Act Responsibly (14/10/2006)

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