July 14,2012 : ARE TRUSTS THE ANSWER TO KEEP PLAYER FUNDS SAFE?
Independent trusts not only safeguard player funds against operator misuse, but from liquidators, too.
Online gamblers, and especially poker players, have been left holding the baby in a number of recent operator failures at companies like Full Tilt Poker, Everleaf, Purple Lounge and 5050Poker, severely denting player trust in apparently powerless or out-of-touch regulators as well as online gambling operators.
Over the weekend the poker information portal Pokerfuse took a well-researched look at the situation in an article that touched on the consistent failure to protect players despite frequent protestations of care for their welfare, and possible alternative solutions to the problem of supposedly segregated player funds being plundered by cash-strapped operators and eventually lost to liquidation proceedings.
Pokerfuse comes to the conclusion that Pokerstars might have the solution in the form of independent trusts, which it has deployed to good effect in ensuring no player goes unpaid.
The article points to the practical implementation of the idea on the PokerStars.fr site, which explains: “PokerStars’ approach provides a third-party, fully independent trustee being appointed to oversee player funds in France. The Trustee will be a UK trust company wholly owned by IFG Group PLC, an international financial services company with full market listings in London and Dublin.”
Pokerfuse points out that when player funds are placed in a trust, "…the ownership of the money passes to the trust. Their money cannot be lost on a liquidation or misused for operating costs."
On setting up its system, Pokerstars noted that player protection via the independent trust system is ideal for newly regulated markets, where the regulator can substantially ease its oversight burden by insisting that online gaming companies it licenses maintain the full amount of customers’ funds in fully segregated, independently managed accounts in a trust structure.
The process is not an expensive or complicated one, and is offered through many financial services companies based in diverse internet gambling licensing jurisdictions, and as Pokerfuse points out, the supporting IT infrastructure can be set up to sweep excess funds from the trust into the company’s accounts or top up the trust fund if necessary – common practice in other financially oriented industries such as banks and investment brokerages.
Regulators need add only a line or two to their existing regulations, and check that companies are using the system; such checks can again be automated.
"A low cost system of player protection that can put an end to the debacle we have seen over the past year that has brought the whole online gaming industry into disrepute; who could possibly object?" Pokerfuse correctly asks.
The article notes that the idea of a trust may not be universally popular with all operators, in particular those with limited financial resources.
Using a trust reduces the risk of misuse of player funds, but it also restricts the operators' freedom to deploy player funds to smooth cash flows or meet operational expenses – something a reputable and integrity-driven company should not be doing anyway.
The author correctly opines: "The best, the virtuous, those that believe in “the customer comes first” won’t gamble with your money, they’ll help you to gamble with it. The others shouldn’t be in the business anyway."
Pokerstars' concern for the safety of its player funds, and its foresight in adapting the trust structure for online poker, could pay marketing dividends as players become increasingly disenchanted with the manner in which operators are apparently allowed to misbehave by their regulators.
In a scenario where operator failures increasingly leave players exposed and at a disadvantage, the appeal of a genuinely safe and independent segregation of player funds has to be considerable.
Pokerfuse suggests that players could agitate for such a development by writing to politicians and regulators, sharing the facts with other players to get the message out about a relatively simple and inexpensive solution to what has become a major player concern.