Uncommunicative, casino operator oriented and player insensitive were some of the more common and heated accusations made against the Interactive Gaming Council (IGC) on message boards across the internet during the Golden Palace confiscated winnings dispute.
Angry and frustrated players unable to open a reasoned personal dialogue with the casino or its software provider turned their guns on the IGC, which appeared not to take a position on the issue by remaining silent amidst the escalating furore.
In all things there are generally two sides to a story. And it is true that although message boards perform an invaluable function in exchanging information there are times when accusations levelled in the heat of the moment can take on a life of their own in the ensuing storm of vituperation – and that can obscure the truth.
So what is the IGC’s attitude towards players, and how does their complaint structure operate? What powers do they have over members and who are those members? For these and other answers we turned to the IGC Executive Director, Rick Smith, and Deputy Executive Director, Keith Furlong, and found them both willing and keen to respond.
Winneronline (WO): Is the IGC focused on fair treatment for online casino players?
IGC: Absolutely. It is a major objective for us, and our membership conditions and programs are based on building player confidence in IGC casinos which voluntarily comply with our codes.
This was one of the key components in the IGC organization in 1996. Development of a Code of Conduct to protect players in the then new industry was one of the first initiatives.
A key mission of the IGC is to promote an environment where there is an absence of fraud, both fraud by players as well as operators, and this is why we have positioned our association in favor of strict government regulation. The IGC is concerned for the protection of the consumer (player), with particular emphasis on the prohibition of underage participants and providing assistance for compulsive gamblers.
With strict regulation by governments, there is always the option for a dissatisfied 789betting player to take their complaint to the licensing authority if the IGC cannot help reach a resolution between the player and a member casino operator. Since the IGC does not possess legislative sanctioning powers it is critical that a form of protection exist for players, in the guise of a licensing authority. This is the reason there is a requirement that IGC members who conduct interactive gambling are licensed to lawfully conduct that operation by the jurisdiction where they are located.
WO: Does your concern include mediating in player and member casino disputes?
IGC: The IGC is a non-profit trade association, and ultimately has little real authority over the manner that member companies respond to consumer complaints. IGC member companies work with the IGC on player complaints as a means toward increasing credibility within the Internet gambling industry. So, yes – IGC attempts to work with players who have complaints against member operators. In addition, under the Seal of Approval program, applicant casinos agree to adhere to a dispute resolution process for player complaints.
The Seal of Approval program provides an important mechanism for dissatisfied players. A designated Compliance Officer, initially Rick Smith as the IGC Executive Director, can intervene and mediate a resolution when there is evidence that any attempted resolution between a Seal of Approval member site and the player, has not been effective. There is also provision for a Review Council.
WO: Were you aware of the growing bitterness of the Golden Palace dispute on the message boards?
IGC: Not initially. We do not monitor the message boards. Perhaps we should to keep our finger on the public pulse, but we were not doing so throughout much of this dispute.
WO: Would the IGC have been more vocal if you had?
IGC: No, I don’t believe so. As an impartial body which could be mediating the issue between complainant and casino it would be improper for us to take a public position before we were in possession of all the facts from both sides. And we certainly could not debate the issue on the message boards for the same reasons.
It is arguable as to whether a general statement on the IGC’s ideals would have been useful in the climate of this debate.
WO: What about accusations that the IGC ignored or did not respond to complaining emails?
IGC: We all know that it is easy to level unsubstantiated allegations on a message board without having to back it up. My office at IGC is run efficiently and frankly I doubt that an email would not receive the courtesy of an acknowledgement. If any of your readers has proof of such an instance I would be happy to receive copies and details in order to answer specifically.
WO: Let’s assume I am a player with a genuine and documented complaint, perhaps backed up by screenshots or audit trails – what is the IGC procedure and where do I send my complaint?
IGC: You should first always attempt to resolve the issue with the casino concerned, and I refer here to taking it beyond a mere Support operator. Ask for the Supervisor and if necessary escalate from there to casino management. Any experienced player or operator will confirm that nine out of ten disputes can in the normal course of events be resolved in this way. I do not believe it is the right thing to do to post inflammatory or damaging notes about a casino before a resolution has been sincerely attempted. That is not only premature but it makes a resolution further up the line more difficult to achieve.
WO: Very well – I’ve escalated the issue at casino level but I have not achieved a just solution. The casino has an IGC or a Seal of Approval button on its site and I want to go higher up the resolution process?
IGC: The best way to submit player complaints is directly via the IGC web site (www.igcouncil.org) online customer complaint form. That is the fastest and most secure method. We will then log the complaint and immediately set about obtaining the member casino’s side of the story. When we have all the facts before us we can then make an unbiased assessment and try and broker a solution which suits both parties.
WO: Would you do that on your own – as an individual?
IGC: Not necessarily – I have executive authority to involve any relevant person who can assist me in coming to a fair and equitable decision.
WO: Let’s assume a worst possible case scenario – no resolution is possible?
IGC: Then the complainant has recourse to the licencing jurisdiction of the casino or perhaps civil remedies. By insisting that our members have acceptable licencing we create this final option for player complaints. We would also have the option of revoking the casino’s membership if bad practice was proved and the casino did not accept the ruling of the IGC mediators.
WO: What would you regard as a reasonable timeframe for the resolution of a dispute, accepting that you have to gather all the facts from both sides?
IGC: Our goal is to work with both players and on-line gaming operators to come to a diplomatic resolution as expediently as possible. However, we do have limited resources and there are occasions where the response time may not be as rapid as one would ideally like. We are working on that aspect.
Under the Seal of Approval program, however, the process calls for timely dispute resolution and there are specific timescales laid down in number of days for action at different points in the process.
WO: Apart from player protection how would you sum up the mission of the IGC and what have you achieved?
IGC: The IGC’s mission is to: provide a forum to address issues and advance common interests in the global interactive gaming industry; establish fair and responsible trade guidelines and practices that enhance consumer confidence in interactive gaming products and services, and serve as the industry’s public policy advocate and information clearinghouse.
An important role of the Interactive Gaming Council is to advocate for the adoption of strong government regulation of the Internet gaming industry throughout the World. To achieve this end the Council actively promotes cooperation within, and between, industry and government.
Many governments, most notably the United States, are currently debating an appropriate response to the spectacular growth of the Internet gaming industry. While some government officials are advocating an outright ban, the IGC has been lobbying for a more sensible solution: regulation. Our efforts in the U.S. are especially important for multiple reasons: the leadership position and reach of the U.S. government, the high percentage of revenues attributable to U.S. players, and the fact that most international credit card transactions, at some time or another, have some nexus with the U.S.
Within the last year, IGC representatives have testified about the pros and cons of Internet gaming before at least four important US bodies, namely the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States (NCLGS), the National Council of State Legislatures, the Nevada Gaming Control Commission and the New Jersey General Assembly Commerce, Tourism, Gaming and Military and Veteran’s Affairs Committee, during full-day hearings in Rhode Island, Chicago, Las Vegas and Trenton, respectively.
We are active in advocating the adoption of strong government regulation of the Internet gaming industry throughout the World. One of our main goals is to communicate and open active debate among legislative and regulatory bodies about the future of Internet gambling and to this end various representatives of the IGC have spoken at seminars and conferences, as well as at informal meetings, and submissions have been made whenever opportunities exist.
The IGC has also been proactive throughout the international Internet gaming industry, for example, providing written testimony to the Gambling Review Body in the U.K. In addition, the IGC has also made important achievements in two key areas with our Seal of Approval (SoA) program and Citadel, a fraud detection database. We are currently assessing the feasibility of establishing an international working party with a view to developing high level criteria for technical standards.
WO: Give me a snapshot of the membership of the IGC?
IGC: The IGC currently has over 100 members. Members are operators of Internet gaming sites, software suppliers, e-commerce providers, financial transactions processors, marketing and advertising companies, information-providers and other companies related to the interactive gaming industry. Within the last year, there has been a strong interest in IGC membership by a growing number of companies associated with the traditional gaming industry, including law firms, games testing companies, and auditing firms.
WO: Does the IGC carry out background checks on member applications – I’m thinking in terms of criminal convictions or bad credit ratings?
IGC: We are concerned about this aspect and hence the requirement for an operator to be licensed. We do not want to usurp government’s role, rather satisfy ourselves that an applicant is a “real” entity but this ultimately depends upon the detail of checking performed by the licensing authority. We are obviously concerned about the financial viability of an operator and are reviewing our process to explore more detailed background checks (as well as ongoing checks) in this regard. Unfortunately, we have little by way of authority to gather information from third parties eg financial records – this is easier if they are a public company but some are private.
WO: There is presumably an executive board? Are players represented on that Board?
IGC: Players are not presently represented on the Board. The Interactive Gaming Council board of directors is elected by the paid membership and currently comprises 13 positions. Elections are held annually although terms of those elected are staggered over two years to allow continuity of knowledge within the Board. While the current byelaws permit a director coming from outside of the membership, no such representative has yet been elected or nominated. The rationale behind this provision in the bylaws was to allow the opportunity for expertise or perspectives not present within the membership to be brought in from outside the association.
WO: Would the IGC be prepared to consider batches of player complaints against a particular IGC member, submitted by a player protection organization such as a watchdog site or the Online Players Association?
IGC: My recommendation would be that individual players with complaints about on-line gaming operators should bring their complaints directly to the IGC. With regard to other on-line gambling watchdog agencies, the IGC would like to see a movement toward growing cooperation among these various groups to establish credibility for the on-line gambling industry.
It is essential that complaints receive a fair hearing both in terms of fullness of information and a “natural justice” synopsis for all involved. Again, ideally, it would be beneficial to all concerned to have a supporting regulatory infrastructure and / or a body that could assess complaints in an independent status, possibly a body outside of the gaming industry – to avoid perceptions of impropriety or bias. A third party “collector” of complaints may not always provide all of the facts and there will exist the potential for an ulterior motive to dictate / impact on the fairness.
WO: Does the IGC have ambitions in regard to being represented on the US regulating authority should this concept come into being?
IGC: I think we would have a worthwhile contribution to make, but the IGC was never designed to be a replacement for strict government regulation. In fact, the IGC has been actively advocating strict licensing and regulation by governments. In our opinion, effective government regulation is the only way to move the Internet gaming industry to the next level of legitimacy. If such an authority were to be formed the composition of the governing panel would need meticulous consideration, as would those filling the positions. These people should not only be from a cross-section of the industry, government and key stakeholders, but should also be subjected to appropriate background checks.
Comments on the interview by the author: It’s become obvious to me that the IGC executives had to work within a difficult framework of professional rules to avoid accusations of bias. I had the personal impression that the IGC were becoming more player sensitive as a result of recent events, and hoped that the IGC role was clearer.
Specifically, players should perhaps note that the IGC regards player protection as a key objective, but there are distinct steps which should be followed if a player has a complaint. In summary these are:
1) Don’t immediately run to the message boards with accusations and inflammatory statements. This is plain common sense, as it could make a resolution further up the line more difficult to achieve.
2) Do not be satisfied with a rejection from the casino Support Center. Escalate to casino management. Nine out of ten disputes can be amicably settled at that discretionary level.
3) Only when (2) has failed should the player appeal to the IGC if the casino is a member. That can be done online at the url www.igcouncil.org by filling in a complaint form.
Once a complaint form has been submitted there is a checking and assessment process and the IGC has both influence and remedies which it can apply if a casino does not comply with the findings.
There were two jarring notes in the interview.
One was the IGC delay in responding to the group of Golden Palace complaints submitted to it by the OPA. This is possibly the result of the insufficient resources to which the IGC people referred in the interview. They were candid in saying that responses were not always as fast as they would like but that they were working on this.
I’m also cynical of the value of the so-called regulatory bodies used by many casinos. Having personally tried on several occasions to establish dialogue and obtain information from most of the larger authorities I am doubtful of both their ability and commitment to the player.
In most cases they simply do not respond, and there seems to be a real problem with providing complaint statistics.
The IGC wants genuine government regulation with teeth, and that goal is hard to fault in some parts of this industry which are de facto largely uncontrolled.