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Casinos online or on land must be required to adhere to the toughest standards for fair play.
For the past six months or more a row over allegedly unfair games has been raging on internet gambling message boards, where players angry at the findings and attitude of Gibraltar's chief regulator, Phill Brear, have at times forcefully voiced their feelings.
The furore has generated reams of online gambling media coverage, but now appears to be gaining traction in the mainstream US press, with the Pennsylvania Tribune-Review carrying an extensive story at:
The article observes that the officials who write and enforce rules for America's nascent online casino industry could learn important lessons from the handling of allegations of rigged software at two popular European gambling sites.
"However, key participants disagree on whether the five-month investigation by the Gibraltar Regulatory Authority is something to emulate or avoid," the writer notes.
The story has its roots in a rather questionable online punter who claimed on the Casinomeister portal that games developed by UK developer Realistic Games and used by Betfred were rigged.
Importantly, this poster provided math to back up his allegation, and this was subsequently checked and confirmed by Eliot Jacobsen, a respected gambling math expert.
The initial lack of reaction from the regulator of the operators carrying the games when Jacobsen brought the issue to its attention left something to be desired, but eventually the Gibraltar Regulatory Authority embarked on an investigation that was to take five months and end up enraging, rather than reassuring, the player community.
The row centred on whether the regulator had fully understood the magnitude of a virtual game that was supposed to replicate real card game behaviour, but did not... to the disadvantage of the player, and whether the regulator's action against the operators - especially in regard to compensating aggrieved players - was sufficiently punitive.
But, it has to be said, the attitude of the chief regulator exacerbated an already alarming situation in which the regulator appeared to have a higher regard for the operators than the players, and a rather abrasive communication style that many perceived as arrogant and even intimidatory.
Betfred was the original operator named in the complaint, which focused on two games, Reel Deal and Hi-Lo Gambler.
Jacobsen's conclusions after double checking the complainant's numbers was that the games were not performing as should be expected, observing that the possibility that the games were fair was comparable to the odds of being dealt four consecutive pat Royal Flushes in five card stud poker - around 1 to 1,048,712,149,670,420,000,000,000.
Subsequently, it transpired that the games were in order when they left the studios of Realistic Games, but that the distributor - Finsoft-Spielo in the GTech group - had allegedly made some adjustments.
Games provided direct from Realistic performed as expected, but that was not the case in those supplied by the distributor, which did not deliver the claimed 100 percent RTP.
Subsequent tests claimed that Finsoft-Spielo's version delivered as expected when played for free, but produced only a 96 percent return when played in real money mode. Gibraltar's regulations stipulate that games should perform the same in both fun-play and real-money play.
Further testing claims were that the Finsoft-Spielo version was also adaptive, adjusting the odds to a 48 percent chance of success, regardless of which colour the player bet on. The regulator emphatically rejected this.
Several operators embroiled in the growing scandal compensated players and removed the offending games; others did not, and there appears to have been no pressure from the regulator to do either.
Finsoft-Spielo has left it to the operators and the regulator in a communications sense, maintaining a complete silence on the issue. In contrast, Realistic Games offered full cooperation and transparency to Jacobsen.
In posts on a long thread at the Casinomeister website, the GRA's chief, Phill Brear, claims that body has demonstrated a high level of openness necessary between regulators and casino operators, “something many other regulators have failed to achieve.”
But Jacobsen questioned the fairness of the two games, saying that the lack of depth in the probe opens the door to future abuses.
The Tribune-Review points out that America's land-based casinos have flourished because strict government regulation gives players confidence that luck and skill determine whether they win or lose, and not rigged games.
"Online, unscrupulous operators can have games programmed to increase the house edge without players' knowledge. Adaptive software can recognize how a player bets and increase the chances of a loss," the article notes.
In a Casinomeister post dated May 20, regulator Brear says he found no evidence of adaptive software or of dishonesty by casino operators. Instead, he appeared to focus on the credibility of the player who first raised the issue, apparently disregarding Jacobsen's and other test results indicating the probability of tampered software.
His concern for operator - regulator relations is perhaps illustrated by the comment:
“We will not be able to maintain that trust if the disclosure of minor errors results in disproportionate or unwarranted public embarrassment for the operators; but, if that trust is breached, the outcome may be fatal to a (licensee). For this reason, this episode warranted no more than the significant inconvenience the suppliers have been put through in dealing with my requests for material and explanations/meetings.”
Jacobson says the GRA botched a chance to explain what happened and determine remedies, including ordering repayments to affected players.
“(The GRA report) exposes that the regulatory agencies for online gaming - at least the GRA, which is one of the biggest anywhere - are not only not regulating, but barely competent,” Jacobson told Player's Advantage.
The Tribune-Review article concludes with a valid observation:
"As states devise rules governing Internet play, they must ensure regulators avoid getting cozy with those they oversee and that casinos have protection against cheats.
"Most importantly, casinos online or on land must be required to adhere to the toughest standards for fair play."
The relevant thread (it's a long read) on Casinomeister can be accessed at:
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