Who actually runs the casino/sportsbook/poker room I'm playing at?
Sometimes it's hard to tell from the name exactly who operates the site you are trusting with your money. If you click on any of the links in the "Reputable Poker Sites" area there is a clear explanation of what company is behind these sites, and what other casinos, sportsbooks or poker rooms the same company runs. There are literally thousands of casinos on the internet and it would be impossible to list and review each and every one here. You are advised to find a trustworthy company, whose site uses trustworthy software, and then look at the different sites they run until you find one that you like. Most major casinos offer all the most popular casino games, so there really is little reason to stray from the beaten track and take chances on potentially fly-by-night smaller operatives who may disappear with your money overnight.
Is the software fair?
This is probably the most important issue after choosing a site that can be trusted to pay : choose a site whose software has been shown to be fair. Regulation of software is far from ideal - largely for reasons relating to the jurisdictions that the sites operate in - but the sites listed here do at least have their Random Number Generator (RNG) independently verified, which means random shuffles, spins and deals really are random. Some of the casinos on the blacklist are there because they rigged their software in one way or another - often rigging it to pay out more when you play in "free" mode than when you play with real money. This is expressly forbidden by the iGGBA (Interactive Gaming, Gambling and Betting Association) and is against the code of conduct of most other regulators. Although the regulators lack teeth (see below), some regulation is better than none at all and you should look to play at a site which has signed up with at least one of the major regulatory bodies. The best sites should also indicate what their overall average payout is - look for a site which pays out a high percentage - 95% or higher is available at some sites, and this is a far better return than you would get at most land based casinos. The software should be provided by a supplier who is also regulated and can demonstrate a track record in producing fair games - again, in each review in the trusted sites section the software provider is clearly stated so that you know the kind of people you are dealing with. The most popular, and trusted, software providers at the moment are Microgaming, BossMedia and Cryptologic.
Who do the poker rooms and casinos answer to?
Because most of the sites are based off-shore (see legal issues for more details) there is a real credibility problem with the regulation of the on-line gaming industry. Various bodies have sprung up to try and give a veneer of respectability to the industry, but the player's main hope for a fair game lies with the reputation of the site itself. The major sites make millions of dollars from the gambling business and do not want to risk that by gaining a reputation for not being fair with their customers. In short, they make enough money by playing fair, they have no need to engage in any kind of sharp practice. In fact, they are delighted to pay out large sums - it generates publicity, and also gives customers confidence in the site. Although forums and message boards are often full of claims that sites are rigged or that "site x did not pay me when I won a progressive jackpot" the truth is that disputes between players and the major sites are rare, and more often than not it turns out that the player was trying to screw the poker room / casino, not the other way around. That said, it helps to have some formal appeals process to turn to if the worst happened, and the following bodies might be able to help in that event:
IGGBA - The Interactive Gaming, Gambling and Betting Association
Probably the best of the bunch, based in the UK and most of its members are UK companies or have a strong association with the UK. Recognised by the Gambling Board of Great Britain and GAMCARE, the UK group dedicated to socially responsible gambling. Microgaming and Cryptologic, two of the major software producers, are amongst their members. This is essentially an i-Gaming industry trade association rather than an outright regulator, however their code of conduct is one of the most transparent and rigourous. A full description of the code is available at their website, but one key demand is that companies "must make freely available for regulatory inspection their hardware and software systems and procedures, together with all manual control procedures and practices." The code also ensures that members abide by the laws of Great Britain, which means they must not take bets from any jurisdiction that "specifically, in legislation, forbids its citizens from placing bets". This is a very carefully worded statement, since very few jurisdictions have legislated one way or another for or against internet gambling. It is not yet clear how the iggba views the US states such as South Dakota, which have legislated against internet gambling - some of its members accept bets from US customers, and it is hard to believe that none of these come from South Dakota.... However the association has recently shown it does have teeth - they revoked the membership of the Belize-based company Gambling Federation this year for deliberately embedding Malware in their customers' software. It's worth pointing out that it was the players themselves who discovered the Malware, not iggba, but at least iggba sent a strong signal by revoking Gambling Federation's membership. For more on Malware and how to combat it, see the section "Spyware & Malware".
eCOGRA - E Commerce & On-line Gaming Regulation & Assurance
Established in 2002 by some of the major businesses involved in Internet Gambling, such as Microgaming and Virtual Holdings (owners of Casino-On-Net), eCOGRA is essentially an attempt by the industry to regulate itself. Although there is a smattering of independence involved (the board of directors that decides how sites are tested and who is awarded the eCOGRA seal of approval are independent of the sites that fund eCOGRA, the auditing of payouts is handled by Price Waterhouse Coopers) it is impossible to have full confidence in a regulatory body that essentially pays its own bills, and willed itself into existence. Source code is never offered up for inspection, unlike with land-based casinos - although eCOGRA does address this concern on its web-site, and points to the distinct advantages of results-based testing rather than source-code testing. However, no part of the ECogra Generally Accepted Practices (EGAP) verification process is truly open, and there is no standardisation of testing. Worse, many of the practices in EGAP are suggested practices, not mandatory practices. The most glaring of these are: Practice 107.P.1 : (with regard to slot machines) "The statistical return percentage for a particular game type should be no less than that of the equivalent game in free play mode." This is listed as a suggested practice, leaving a site displaying an eCOGRA seal to let you win more in free play mode than you would when playing for real money. Practice 108.P.1 :In the event of a game being disconnected through a software problem, it is only suggested that bets be returned to the player. Practice 109.P.1.1 : "Games should not foster false expectations of better odds to a player". Practice 109.P.1.2 : "Games should not have unfair or misleading game rules". Practice 109.P.7 : "....games should not adapt their theoretical return to player based on past payouts". Practice 113.P.2 "All advertising should contain factually correct information".
"All advertising should contain factually correct information" is a suggested practice? All of these suggested practices must surely be considered mandatory for any reputable poker room or casino.
In the event of a dispute with an eCOGRA registered casino, eCOGRA will assign to any player in dispute with a casino a "Fair Gaming Advocate" to try and gain restitution. In the latest available report, the Fair Gaming Advocate dealt with 74 complaints against eCOGRA registered sites, and found that the casino was at fault in 16% of the cases. There is no indication of which casinos were involved, nor of what the nature of each upheld complaint was. There appears to have been no sanction against the casinos found to be at fault, and the web site merely states that "the issues were immediately redressed, and follow-up action suggests that remedial measures were also introduced to avoid recurrences". From the use of the word "suggests", it is difficult not to draw the conclusion that eCOGRA isn't able to verify that the measures introduced will avoid recurrences. All of this is not to suggest that the eCOGRA seal is not worth looking for - it offers basic assurances that the site has the funds available to pay you, will pay out on all games at a rate of 90% or higher, and that the people behind the site are not outright crooks. That's better than nothing, but if all of the suggested practices were mandatory practices, eCOGRA would inspire far, far greater confidence.
eCOGRA's stated seal requirements: *Payment requests/receipts shall be efficiently and promptly attended to and payments/receipts shall be completely and accurately processed. *Seal holders shall be required to adequately record certain minimum information relating to player and game activity.*Information security policies and procedures shall be implemented and maintained to ensure the availability, integrity and confidentiality of gaming operations.*A responsible gaming environment that actively discourages problematic gambling shall be established, enforced and monitored.*Player balances and game funds shall be sufficiently covered by liquid funds.*Player accounts shall be managed and accounted for in a secure, safe and efficient environment. The privacy and confidentiality of all player information submitted at any point in time shall be protected from unauthorised disclosure. *Software shall be developed, implemented and maintained in a manner representative of best practice standards.*Games shall be independent and fair.*Minimum game server connectivity requirements shall be met to ensure that players are protected from losses due to connectivity problems. *Seal holders shall adhere to game characteristics that ensure a fair game for a player.*eCOGRA Seal holders shall be able to demonstrate that they can recover from a system disaster.*Both the player and eCOGRA's Seal holders shall be protected from system and hardware malfunctions.*Preventative and detective controls addressing money laundering and fraud risks shall be documented and implemented according to the relevant points in the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) guidelines.*The Seal holder will ensure that players are not mislead through advertising or promotional activities, and will ensure that the terms and conditions of their promotions are followed. *All key individuals and entities involved with members and operators should be credible and not have criminal records.
KGC - Kahnawake Gaming Commission
Founded in 1996 at the Mohawk Native Indian reserve in Canada, the KGC has not demonstrated that it is a serious regulator, and players seeking redress from the KGC have faced far from satisfactory service to date. Most recently the KGC took weak action against the Golden Palace casino, who made international headlines when they organised a publicity stunt at the Olympic Games in Athens. After receiving numerous complaints the KGC essentially told Golden Palace not to do it again, and asked them to make a donation to "Kahnawake organisations". KGC also ruled in Golden Palace's favour when they failed to pay out on deposit bonuses players had earned without breaking Golden Palace's terms and conditions. It is not clear exactly how KGC operates, what checks it performs, or how it monitors the sites registered with it, and as a result ong term players have long since lost faith with KGC. Here are a couple of forum / blog posts on the subject:
IGC - Interactive Gaming Council
A trade association rather than a regulator, as with iggba - it does have a code of conduct for its members but the code is relatively weak and the IGC freely admits on its website that this code is not rigourously enforced by them. However the IGC can revoke membership in the event of a breach of code, and they did exactly that (along with iggba) in the case of Gambling Federation. IGC membership does confer a degree of respectability, and at least if the site is IGC endorsed it gives you someone to complain to. IGC code of conduct:
1. Regulatory Compliance: All IGC members will abide by the law and regulations of the jurisdiction where they propose to do business. Any IGC member issued a bona fide gaming license from a sovereign jurisdiction shall provide evidence of that license and will be presumed to be operating under the authority and within the scope of that license. IGC members shall use best efforts to obtain any binding legislative or judicial determinations which prohibit or limit operation in another jurisdiction and shall abide by those limitations to the greatest extent technically feasible. 2. Accountability: To enhance customer confidence in gaming system integrity, IGC members making their service available in a jurisdiction voluntarily agree to make their systems, algorithms and practices available for inspection and review by any legitimate gaming commission or governmental authority or to any independent testing authority recognized by the IGC, in accordance with generally accepted methods for protecting proprietary information. 3. Consumer Privacy and Data Protection: IGC members will design and operate their services to afford customers privacy and confidentiality and will post their confidentiality practices and procedures. Each IGC member will institute controls to detect and eliminate fraud and to protect data and the system from internal and external breaches. 4. Truth in Advertising: IGC members shall be truthful in all promotions and publish only accurate information about their operations. Gaming and Wagering Operator Member rules, registration procedures and payout percentages will be made available to the public. 5. Dispute Resolution and Audit Trails: In order to provide prompt and efficient dispute resolution each IGC member will retain detailed transaction records which will be archived, accessible and auditable by any legitimate gaming commission or government authority. 6. Limiting Access by Minors: IGC members will institute adequate controls to prohibit minors from accessing their gaming systems. The controls will require customers to affirm that they are of lawful age in their jurisdiction, and the IGC member shall institute reasonable measures to corroborate this information. 7. Controlling Compulsive Gambling: IGC members will implement adequate procedures to identify and curtail compulsive gambling. The procedures instituted shall include posted loss limits, and provision of referral and direct access to help and counseling organizations. 8. Banking and Transaction Processing. IGC members will conduct their banking and financial affairs in accordance with generally accepted standards of internationally recognized banking institutions. Members will follow and adhere to all jurisdictional laws pertaining to transaction reporting. 9. Prize Payouts: Interactive Gaming and Wagering Operators will ensure that there is adequate financing available to pay all current obligations and that working capital is adequate to finance ongoing operations. IGC members will pay winnings and account balances promptly on demand. 10. Corporate Citizenship: IGC members shall endeavor to act ethically and responsibly at all times. They shall not, directly or indirectly, take any action or conduct themselves or their business in any manner that is contrary to the best interests of the public, the industry and their fellow members. All members shall endeavor: to support public service initiatives in harmony with the jurisdictions in which they provide services; to design and implement their services in order that they preserve and protect environmental resources; to avoid depiction of violence; and to be user friendly and generally accessible to the handicapped.
"Established in 1981, BMM is an Accredited Testing Facility (ATF) according to the Australian scheme for accreditation of independent testing facilities for gaming and wagering systems, and is ISO 9001 certified." BMM is not a regulator, but rather an independent tester of a software's fairness. Many sites have their software (e.g. their Random Number Generator) tested by BMM (links lead to the above address - BMM Australia is a subsidiary of American company BMM),and there is no reason to doubt BMM's competence in performing rigorous and fully independent checks. However, a BMM certificate is not, in reality, any kind of guarantee that the game you are playing is fair. This is because BMM essentially leaves the regulators, suppliers and operators to decide what to test, and how it is to be tested. Potentially an operator could use a "fair" RNG but could still use other techniques to defraud players. From the BMM web-site:
"Modular internet technical standards are now available through independent
testing agency BMM International for Gaming Regulators to tailor to suit their
jurisdictional needs. Suppliers and operators will be able to design, implement
and internally test their Internet gaming, wagering and sports-betting systems
with a high level of confidence of achieving formal certification to these
technical requirements. "Many of the jurisdictions that regulate Internet
gaming, wagering and sports-betting have adopted technical requirements with
which systems must comply before they are permitted to operate," said
Hugh Monypenny, Managing Director of BMM International Pty. Ltd. "Rather
than offering one standard, we have updated, upgraded and re-structured the
technical requirements to offer a total of 28 components to date, with a range
of customised flexible parameters." The first jurisdiction to adopt these
new technical standards will be the Kahnawake Gaming Commission, which
recently engaged BMM’s North American office to develop its standards and
to test and certify the software and control systems of operators in this
Canadian jurisdiction. (.....) "The technical requirements only contain
technical requirements. All operational requirements have been removed in
the interests of streamlining compliance testing." (Note: the KGC currently
appears to employ GA
Appears to be an off-shoot of BMM, and sister site of www.riskassociates.com.au. Currently provides risk assessment to the KGC, which seems to consist of a questionaire to those who seek a KGC license. No details are given as to what questions are asked or what answers are required. As with BMM, GA is not a regulator, and does not provide effective, transparent regulation. It states on its web-site that it does perform monitoring for the regulator KGC, via its Advanced Gambling Evaluation and Analysis Systems (AEGEAS), but the "data definition" required by GA for this process is not stated and "is subject to liason with each permit holder and its vendors". Thus there is no way for players to know which areas of the casino / poker room GA is monitoring - nor are players made aware of the results of the monitoring.
What happens if the site doesn't pay me / goes bust?
If the site doesn't pay you:
Contact the site's helpdesk in the first instance and try and establish what the problem is. Delays are not uncommon when cashing out, and sometimes the delays are for a good reason such as making anti-money laundering checks, or anti-fraud checks. If the delay continues, then contact the relevant regulator and make a formal complaint. You can also post a message on one of the internet forums to try and establish if others have had trouble getting paid by the site - try the forums at www.twoplustwo.com . Usually a few players will have cashed out from the same site (as long as you stick to one of the sites in the "Reputable Poker Sites" section!) and will be able to tell you whether their cash out was successful or not. Notify the site that owes you money of the fact that you have posted details of what has happened on public forums. It is very rare indeed for their to be any problem with cashing out from one of the trusted sites, and almost all of the time any problems can be resolved with their customer support desk - although it may take some perserverence if the problem is software related, you will get paid in the end. The problem is you are entirely reliant on the integrity of the site itself - the regulators will probably not be much use to you (although it doesn't hurt to complain to them too).
What happens if the site goes bust:
In a nutshell, you lose all your money. It has happened before, with Dutch Boyd's PokerSpot site. The entire PokerSpot saga is available at several sources on-line - just enter "pokerspot" into google - but in brief : the site used player funds to pay debts, and then when its credit card processing company ran into problems the player funds were not available to the players concerned, the company folded, and the players lost their money - some as much as $50,000. It is worth bearing in mind that none of the regulators listed above will offer you any kind of compensation in the event of one of their member sites folding, though some may investigate on your behalf and seek to recover losses from a parent company. But the likelihood is that if the site goes bust, you won't see any of your money again. Therefore you should ONLY ever play with a trusted firm, which keeps enough liquid funds in its account to cover player balances, and which has demonstrated over a long period of time that they operate a financially stable enterprise. Choose one of the sites in the "Reputable Poker Sites" section, and get into the habit of cashing out any large wins at the end of your playing session.