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Friday, January 26, 2007

ICE 2007: a brief visit

I spent the latter part of yesterday, 24th January 2007, at the International Casino Exhibition at Earl's Court in London, the annual and premier occasion in the UK for gambling operations of all shapes and sizes to advertise their wares.

I met with one of the senior managers from Microgaming, for the purpose of discussing the possibility of reopening an apparently closed case of player unrightfully withheld winnings, and also to bring to Microgaming's attention an error in the various graphic displays I had discovered in one of the blackjack games, which advertises a game with rather better rules than the one actually delivered. Both these matters have been discussed publically, in the Jackpots In A Flash and Microgaming autoplay error threads at Winneroline.

Aside from the serious issues at hand, we chatted about the current regulatory environment in which, after the passage of the Internet Gambling Prohibition and Enforcement Act, increasing numbers of offshore operators are seeking the protection and legitimacy of the regulatory bodies under British jurisdiction - Alderney, The Isle Of Man and Gibraltor - and the various non-governmental bodies such as the Kahnawake Commission and eCOGRA. We found agreement that perception is everything in a business with such a colourful reputation as online gambling, and that operator malpractice is extremely counter-productive to the maintenance and gaining of consumer confidence. Operators guilty of misconduct: take note.

It was a useful get-together with a very pleasant and cooperative Microgaming representative. The software graphic problem will most certainly be addressed, and I'm optimistic that the player issue will receive a fair appraisal.

Real Time Gaming were sadly missed - see previous article, RTG cancels ICE attendance. To make up for their absence, however, there was a surprise addition that wasn't on the original exhibitors' list - Mohawk Internet Technologies. The Canadian Mohawk Indians have many online casino servers located within their territorial boundaries, and these operations are "regulated" by the Kahnawake Gaming Commission. The Commission has been to date a notoriously ineffectual regulatory body - see my article on the most recent Golden Palace / Kahnawake disgrace.

I asked the representative I spoke to, Marnie, exactly what happens if a licensee fails to act upon the Commission's recommendations in the event of a player dispute where the Commission finds in favour of the player. The (not especially unexpected) answer was that, after the two week period the licensee has to honour the Commission's requirements, and failure to comply leads to a removal of the license and an end to the casino's residence on Mohawk territory. Sadly, the reality is that the Kahnawake Commission has never to date been seen to take action against its rogue elements, and they have been typically ineffectual in a recent case of player mistreatment on the part of one of the operators they "regulate" - see my most recent Crystal Palace article. However, I picked up a contact here, and just maybe it'll be useful on subsequent occasions when a player applies to them and gets the silent treatment.

There were several regulatory jurisdictions on display - Alderney, Isle Of Man and Malta. I had a chat with one of the Alderney representatives - and ended up possibly more confused about the labyrinthine processes involved in government regulation than I was before we started speaking. However, the important thing is that these ARE governmental bodies and, as such, are extremely accountable. Since more and more operations are heading for the safe haven of genuinely regulated jurisdictions since the UIGEA was passed, this can only be beneficial for the gambling consumer.

My last port of call was with Net Entertainment. I don't recall ever hearing of a player complaint from a Net Entertainment-powered casino, and as such I just wanted to stop by their stand and acknowledge what seems to be a job well done. I was also curious to know why the Cherry group had recently closed down one of their operations, Casino Domain: was it linked to the US legal situation? The rep I spoke to told me that Cherry do not have a strong US focus and as such were not badly impacted by the passing of the UIGEA. The closure of Casino Domain was apparently a result of restructuring - the "Cherry" brand has now been dropped and reabsorbed by the original owners, Bets On.

It was a brief, but hopefully productive, visit.

Articles on last year's ICE:

Gambling Federation.


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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Real Time Gaming (RTG) cancel their attendance at the International Casino Exhibition in London at the last minute

Real Time Gaming have at the eleventh hour cancelled their planned attendance at the International Casino Exhibition taking place from 23rd to 25th January this year at the Earls Court Exhibition centre in London, UK.

There has been no word from RTG, and an ATE spokesman had the following to say in response to an inquiry:

Clarion ATE can confirm that RTG will not be exhibiting at ICEi 2007 but any contractual arrangements between RTG and Clarion ATE will not be disclosed to third parties.

We are obviously disappointed in losing any exhibitors, but understand that any US-facing remote gaming companies have had to make some very difficult decisions over the past few months.

When it comes to replacement candidates, there has been no problem 'filling space' and I can confirm that we currently have 63 world-class suppliers from 20 different territories taking space within ICEi 2007, occupying net floor space of 1,525 square metres. More than half of these (35) will be making their debut appearance at ICEi. To put this into context, year-on-year the number of exhibitors has increased by 43% (44 in 2006), represented territories by 67% (12 in '06), net floor space by 73% (881.5sqm in '06), and the number of debutants by 150% (14 in '06).

This is a most curious development in light of their upbeat response to last year's event:

2006 ICE Show Great Success for RTG

February 2, 2006

Atlanta, GA - For the eight-man RealTime Gaming contingent that made the trip to London this year, the 2006 International Casino Exhibition was a huge success. The RTG team unveiled their new "Europe" booth, complete with giant plasmas and a moving logo lights, in London last month.

The Exhibition, which caters to both land-based and electronic gaming, made some changes this year to support the e-gaming contingent. Many exhibitors, including RTG staff, remarked on the changes from last year's event.

"The show itself seems to have evolved - there was a much better job of segmenting the e-gaming sector this year. It focused attention on what is going on in the online gaming world," says RealTime Founder Daniel Schultz. "It really helped channel attendees focused on online gaming to the right booths to see what's new and who is up and coming in the industry."

ICE typically is the kick-off event for the e-gaming tradeshow season, and this year is no exception - in the next 6 months, RTG representatives will travel to shows in South America, Canada, and the far East, just to name a few. As Schultz puts it, "Being there on the ground is the best way to see what's happing in the industry across the board, and to best understand the needs of different markets. It can wear you out, but it's worth it in the long run."

So why have they cancelled their attendance at such an important occasion in the online gambling calender, and at such extraordinarily short notice?

The answer may lie in the rapidly escalating farce that the RTG client list is turning into and the potential legal ramifications thereof. In a previous article, "Crystal Palace Casino (Warren Cloud / Oliver Curran): confiscation of $22,718 winnings", I documented the case of a gambler who had a $22,000 winnings cashout confiscated on bogus grounds. The player is currently still unpaid, and considering his legal options as well as a journalistic exposè of RTG, for which plans had been afoot to confront RTG at their booth at the ICE. Other players have also considered legal action against RTG.

It was indirectly suggested above by the ATE spokesman that the recent US legislation outlawing certain aspects of online gambling, the UIGEA, "Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act", may have been responsible for RTG's sudden withdrawal. However, the other gambling software providers, Microgaming, Playtech, Boss Media and many others, are all in attendance as usual. So this does not seem a particularly likely reason.

Are RTG genuinely afraid that the ever escalating number of angry players, victims of winnings' confiscations from RTG's almost excusively rogue client base, could make life so unpleasant for them that cancelling their attendance was the lesser of two evils?

What an unfortunate state of events for a company ranking in the top four most popular online casino software types.

An addition to the conundrum is the current state of the RTG website - the homepage has been pared down to the bare minimum: one sales contact email address! The other pages - the client list, the about us page, the announcements etc etc - are all still there. However, all links to those pages have been removed from the homepage!

(**Update August 2009: not entirely surprisingly, all those pages have now been removed.**)

Exactly what is happening in the rather unsavoury world of Real Time Gaming is currently anybody's guess. However, one thing is for certain: now is not a good time to be patronising RTG casinos.

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