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The Alderney Gambling Control Commission: an appalling decision and a disastrous precedent set for online gambling regulation


Monday, July 28, 2008

The Alderney Gambling Control Commission: an appalling decision and a disastrous precedent set for online gambling regulation


The Alderney Gambling Control Commission oversees remote gambling within the states of Alderney in the Channel Islands. In the blurb on the homepage we find the following:


The Commission ensures that its regulatory and supervisory approach meets the very highest of international standards.


Nice.

So, does this have any practical relevance to the player?

As reported at Casinomeister, in early July 2008 a player deposited at PKR Casino, receiving a signup bonus in the process. The next day he was tempted to re-deposit with another bonus invitation, after which he cashed out his balance.

Three days later, PKR Casino revoked his bonuses on the basis of "bonus abuse":


After a thorough review of your account it is evident that you have abused the PKRCasino Reload bonus.

You have now been permanently banned from PKR and all funds gained by abusing the reload bonus have been seized.



Since the player had infringed no terms, he appealeed to the Alderney Gambling Control Commission, who released the following quite breathtakingly atrocious findings:


28th July 2008 05:54 PM

You made two large deposits, $200 and $500. The first deposit of $200 is the maximum eligible amount for a first time deposit bonus. The second deposit is again the maximum eligible amount for reload bonus.

As soon as the bonuses were cleared you requested a withdrawal, each time within five minutes of clearing the specific bonus.

You did not engage in any play between the first withdrawal and the second deposit when the reload bonus became available.

The only game you played was casino hold em.

The vast majority of the bets you made were the minimum $1. This is quite a small bet amount when compared to the amounts that you deposited. Only the basic main bet was played, never the side bet (AA bet).

The total amount you bet on the account was $20,002.00, this reflects the $10,000 bet to claim the first deposit bonus and then a second $10,000 to claim the reload bonus. It is clear that as soon as the bonus was released no more games were played.

Play only occured while a bonus was pending.

The Commission has thoroughly investigated your claims and are found to be in agreement with PKR Limited’s decision to exclude you from their site. On obtaining details of your game play it’s apparent that you have abused the bonus scheme that was offered to you.

In accordance with sections 9 and 10 of PKR Limited’s terms and conditions, of which you agreed to adhere to at all times, they are more than within their rights to close your account and seize all funds.


Here is section 10 of the above-mentioned terms and conditions:


PKRCasino reserves the right to withhold any bonus payment if it believes that the promotion has been abused and/or where the terms of the offer are not fulfilled, or any irregular wagering patterns are found.


So, according to the Alderney commission:

• The player played no disallowed games.

• The player made no disallowed wagers, or disallowed wager sizes.

• The player did not wager less than the stipulated amount.

In short: the player broke absolutely none of the rules of the contract.

PKR does not define "abuse", nor "irregular wagering patterns"; PKR does not, in fact, state that it must be unequivocably sure about this apparent "abuse", only that it must "believe" that the undefined indescretion has occured. And if PKR Casino believes that something which they cannot define may have happened, they reserve the right to confiscate players' money.

This must count as just about the most vague, inadequate and frankly risible condition you could find in a contract. Why not just say "we'll keep your money if we don't like your name"? Or "...if there's a 'y' in the month"? Or "...on Tuesdays"?

Would such absurdities be any more ludicrous than guesswork about a non-defined activity?

And yet, the Alderney Gambling Control Commission endorses this condition.

This is a precedent-setting move, as it sends a message out to players that casinos under Alderney jurisdiction may confiscate their legitimately-earned funds with absolute impunity, safe in the knowledge that the AGGC will do nothing to stop them if a bonus is involved and the casino in question seeks to invoke the undefined, undefinable and absurd "abuse" clause.


As such, I would like to ask the AGCC the following questions:

1) Since a straight observance of all the stated rules is not acceptable to you, precisely what would a player need to do to earn his full cashout at one of your licensee casinos WITHOUT incurring your displeasure? Which additional rules would you have a player observe?

2) You appear unhappy with the playing of just the one game; how many, and which, additional and unstated games would one need to play to earn a full cashout, and why do you not require that the casino list them?

3) You appear unhappy with the betsize; what betsize is acceptable to you, and why do you not require that the casino list it?

4) You appear unhappy with strict observance of the required wagering; how much additional wagering do you consider acceptable and why do you not require that the casino state this?

5) You appear unhappy with the timescale of withdrawals ("within five minutes..."); how soon after requirements are met is acceptable to you for withdrawing, and why do you not require that the casino state this?

6) You appear unhappy with the lack of play occuring outside of bonus requirements; how much additional play is acceptable to you, and why do you not require that the casino state this?

Lastly,

7) Why in the name of heaven can a player abide by all the given rules and not be paid in full?


I hope that at some point the AGCC will address these points, as it seems clear that a player who simply follows the stated rules is guilty in their eyes of an indeterminate indiscretion.


I should add that the complaints manager at Casinomeister took a similar line:


28th July 2008 05:57 PM

Our position on this is our usual position on bonus abuse claims: there is, generally speaking, no such thing. Playing by the strict terms of the bonus in order to take advantage of it is properly called "advantage play." The term "bonus abuse" is often just a euphemism for "we don't like how you play": by calling it "abuse" the offended casino generally hopes to then use is as grounds for withholding monies, etc. Our position is that if the terms of the bonus have been met without fraud or cheating (ie. bots, etc) then the player is due their winnings.

What the casino choses to do after the winnings are paid is a different matter. If they don't like the player's action then we think they're justified in asking them to leave, but they are not justified in confiscating their winnings, at least not on those grounds.

So the bottom line is that we do not support Alderney's affirmation that the casino was justified in confiscating the player's winnings. By the strict reading of the T&Cs PKR can claim the right to do so: we would say those are unreasonable T&Cs and stand by our decision that the player should be payed (sic).



There is nothing new about incentivising bonuses - they occur even in the UK banking sector. Take a look at the Alliance And Leicester esaving account:


Earn 6.50% AER (variable), this rate includes a 0.88% bonus payable until 31 August 2009.


The bank uses a bonus to boost the interest, giving them a nice, catchy headline rate. They may lose money on the bonus, but the idea is that the new custommers they'll gain will more than compensate for the loss. If the customer shamelessly empties his account when the bonus period expires and goes elsewhere, the bank does not confiscate the bonus funds. If they did, it would put them in quite monumental breach of UK law. And at the end of the day, why would they? - they should still make money overall.

So if a profit-motivated customer of a UK bank cannot have his funds unfairly confiscated, why can similarly focussed customers of an operation under the jurisdiction of the Alderney Gambling Control Commission be subject to such outrageous treatment?


Well, here's where it get's interesting.

The answer is that there is nothing in Alderney law which prevents it.

In the UK and across many, if not all, other EU countries, trading standards legislation does not recognise the legality of anti-customer clauses in contracts - take a look at the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999:


A contractual term...shall be regarded as unfair if...it causes a significant imbalance in the parties' rights and obligations arising under the contract, to the detriment of the consumer.

If there is doubt about the meaning of a written term, the interpretation which is most favourable to the consumer shall prevail...An unfair term in a contract concluded with a consumer by a seller or supplier shall not be binding on the consumer...The contract shall continue to bind the parties if it is capable of continuing in existence without the unfair term.


One example of an unfair term is given as:


...giving the seller or supplier...the exclusive right to interpret any term of the contract.


Unfortunately, there is no trading standards legislation in Alderney, and as such nothing that protects the consumer from unfair practice - take a look at the "fair trading" section of the States Of Guernsey trading standards page of the Guernsey government website:


In March 2000 the States of Guernsey approved the introduction of legislation relating to the sale and supply of goods and services, unfair contract terms, misrepresentation and the disposal of uncollected goods. This legislation is at the stage of preparation and subsequent introduction.


I spoke to the Guernsey trading standards office today, and they confirmed that this is still the case - this legislation, though in the pipeline, is still not in place in 2008, fully eight years later!

I also spoke to the State Office of Alderney, and they confirmed that the same applies: there is no trading standards legislation in Alderney.


So where does this leave the player, on the receiving end of an outrageous decision issued by the Alderney Gambling Control Commission?

During my afternoon of phone conversations with the various Channel Islands public bodies, the Alderney Greffier pointed out that there is an appeal process listed in the 2006 eGambling Ordinance (see page 21, "appeals"). However, she acknowledged that this is a potentially very rocky path:

• Acceptance of the appeal request is down to the court itself.

• Alderney solicitors charge upwards of £400 an hour, making the pursuit of anything other than very large sums completely self-defeating.

• Exactly what would happen as a result of a successful appeal is by no means guaranteed in terms of customer satisfaction.

• Lastly, in the case of an appeal against unfair contract terms, when there is no actual law prohibiting such terms in the first place, it requires quite a stretch of the imagination to think that the court might find for the customer on that basis!

As such, appealing against a decision from the Alderney Gambling Control Commission would seem to be most likely a pointless and counter-productive excercise.


None of this should even be remotely necessary; an ostensibly respectable and competent governmental body should not be taking decisions based on what a customer might have done in relation to undefined, undefinable terms - this is grossly unprofessional and grossly unfair. Vague talk about "bonus abuse" is the stuff of the lowest level of online casinos; it's unthinkable that a governmental regulatory body would talk in the same manner. A serious regulator needs to take fair and balanced decisions: did the customer break any clearly defined rules? If so, he should not be paid. If not, he should receive his money; if he does not receive his money having broken no rules, then action against the operator should be forthcoming, up to and including the revocation of the operator's license.

Not so in the case of the Alderney Gambling Control Commission. What did they say? It bears repeating:


it's apparent that you have abused the bonus


What is the lesson that players can take away from all this?

Well, take your chances by all means; a lot of the Alderney-based casinos are decent operations so you'll probably be alright. But remember that if you are NOT alright, if you accept a promotional bonus, on the casino's specific invitation as part of their marketing campaign to snag your deposit, and you cash out only to then find you're the subject of ill-defined accusations of unacceptable behaviour you apparently may have indulged in, then you can expect no quarter given from the Alderney Gambling Control Commission on the basis of their performance in this case.

Additionally, do not make any assumptions on the basis of geographical proximity; The Channel Islands are close to the UK and English is the spoken language, but they are an entirely separate nation with no particular affiliation to the UK, they are outside the European Union and have their own laws. You would not take anything for granted with operations licensed in Costa Rica or Antigua; do likewise with Alderney on the exact same basis. They represent neither the UK nor the EU.


This was, I think, a test case for the AGCC, the first one of its kind that's been in the public domain.

What a shame they fell at the first fence and set standards in online gambling back about ten years.

What is the point of "regulation", if the reality is this?

(I have also written this article for Midas Oracle - see Alderney Gambling Control Commission: you follow the rules but still you don't get paid. Why bother with regulation at all?)



4 Previous Comments


Thanks for posting this article, it's given me a new found hope that I may actually get my $250 back from the reload bonus (removed after betting around €3-6 per hand on Casino Hold'em)

By Anonymous Nick, at 10:16 am  


I have alerted the Alderney Gambling Control Commission to this article, and hope they will see fit to address my questions.

By Blogger 100% Gambler, at 4:07 pm  


The casino has contradictory terms - 1 stating the playthrough requirement, another stating the playthrough requirement is something of a guideline, the details of which the player must take a guess at.

Well done Alderney.

By Blogger Sand Racer, at 9:25 pm  



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