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Grand Prive investigated by eCOGRA: a whitewash to cover the truth?

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Grand Prive investigated by eCOGRA: a whitewash to cover the truth?

As reported in my Grand Privé affiliate problem article, in late 2008 Microgaming casino group Grand Privé decided to close its affiliate programme and stop paying previously agreed lifetime commissions to its affiliate partners. In the intervening twelve months there has been much negative comment which will have had some degree of negative financial impact on the group.

Somewhat out the blue, a year after the histrionics kicked off, the Microgaming / Cassava initiative organisation eCOGRA announced involvement in the matter in a press release of 7th December 2009:

Grand Prive Affiliates Investigation

Following a number of internet-based allegations concerning payments following the closure of the Grand Privé Affiliate Program on 1 December 2008, eCOGRA's professional services have been engaged by the management of the company.

Pursuant to an independent and fair resolution of the issues involved, eCOGRA has been tasked with:

• Independently investigating the manner in which the program was terminated and the reasons therefore; subsequently compiling a full and transparent report.
• Gathering and verifying claims by any affiliate that considers an amount still to be owing by the Program as a result of player wagering activity subsequent to 1 December 2008; and

• Carrying out a full and independent review by suitably qualified staff of the program software and data to confirm amounts owing to claimants at 21 December 2009.

eCOGRA is open to all submissions concerning the closure and payments owed, and urges affiliate watchdog organisations in receipt of this email to assist it in order to ensure that respective affiliate members are informed of this opportunity to submit legitimate claims.

Claims can be submitted prior to 21 December 2009 at http://www.ecogra.org/grandprive.aspx. Former Grand Privé affiliates who believe they have a legitimate and verifiable claim will be asked to complete the Claim Submission Form that they will find on this link.

The following information will be required on the Claim Form, and will be treated in strict confidence:

• First name
• Last Name
• Banner tag
• email address
• Websites
• Physical address
• Telephone number
• Banking details
• Amount of last payment received from Grand Privé
• Date of last payment received

Closing dates for submission of claims is 21 December 2009.

In the interests of transparency, eCOGRA's findings will be publicly released on conclusion of the investigation.

The reference to the dates 1st December 2008 and 7th December 2009 are a bit confusing when the issue at hand is the withholding of lifetime commissions, not commissions owed for just one year after the programme was closed.

On the same day, Grand Prive announced the investigation in an email circulated to affiliates that was posted on the forums:

Grand Privé Group Launches Investigation

eCOGRA commissioned to investigate Affiliates Program closure

London, 7 December 2009 - The Grand Privé group has been following the often inaccurate information exchanges on the internet regarding the closure of Grand Privé Affiliates with interest, mindful of its reputation as a responsible and respectable business.

Management has reached the conclusion that there is a need to present its point of view, and more importantly to address any perceived shortcomings regarding payments to affiliates genuinely impacted by the Grand Privé Affiliates closure. The company has therefore decided to make the following factual disclosures:

• For purely commercial reasons, in August 2008 a decision to close Grand Privé effective 1 December 2008 was taken, and a communication exercise aimed at affiliates commenced.

• This was followed by payment to all affiliates of all amounts owed.

• The termination was, in Management's opinion, conducted according to the terms of Grand Privé's contract with affiliates, and in addition to these Grand Privé also entered into mutually agreeable compensation settlements with all affiliates who at that time had players considered to be reasonably active.

• Following these initiatives, Management has not become aware of one single affiliate claim for compensation being submitted directly to Grand Privé, despite a rising noise level on the Internet.

• Nevertheless, the company is prepared to concede that certain smaller and relatively inactive affiliate accounts may feel prejudiced by the closure, and acknowledges that this needs to be addressed with both an apology and a fair and reasonable financial settlement.

Moving forward from this factual base, Grand Privé proposes to address both reputational and payment issues in a transparent and forthright manner as follows:

• By commissioning the independent, fully qualified and professional auditing services of eCOGRA to investigate the circumstances surrounding the Grand Privé Affiliates closure both within and without the company and issue a public report;

• eCOGRA will additionally facilitate the submission of claims by any affiliate that considers an amount to be owing by the Grand Privé Affiliate program as a result of player wagering activity subsequent to 1 December 2008; and

• Perform a full and professional review of the program software and data to confirm amounts owing to claimants at 21 December 2009.

Grand Privé will cooperate whole-heartedly with this process, and has asked eCOGRA to involve all leading affiliate watchdog organisations in informing affiliates of their opportunity to submit legitimate claims.

We have agreed on eCOGRA's insistence that we will be bound by its findings and recommendations arising from the investigation, remaining at arm's length from the enquiry unless asked for pertinent information.

Grand Privé wishes to emphasise that its primary concern is to address any genuine wrongs in a fair and forthright manner, and it will lend every effort in order to do this.

Why was eCOGRA engaged now?

The answer can be found in almost identical announcents made at two affiliate forums, five days after eCOGRA announced its involvement:

Grand Prive and eCogra - AGD Perspective

In recent weeks, AGD (in partnership with CAP-Warren) began looking into a completely independent audit of the Grand Prive system. AGD wanted to become involved to ensure that the audit would be truly 'independent' and without bias. Grand Prive was involved in the conversations with Warren and progress was being made.

The audit was to be done with an independent auditor (such as Price Waterhouse or similar) and would be overseen by AGD and with Warren's involvement. We had briefly discussed eCogra as the auditor and determined that their involvement would have put a cloud around the audit (unless AGD/CAP had complete raw data access for the purposes of verification of eCogra findings). The auditor of choice was being looked into until last week when eCogra sidestepped AGD/CAP with their announcement.

We had already discussed a proper investigative method and audit procedure prior to this announcement. Our plan would have included contacting all Grand Prive affiliates (not just those who submitted a claimant form) in the same manner that a class action lawsuit informs all affected persons. The initial investigation would have been an affiliate audit to determine which persons to contact.

Subsequent to the affiliate audit would have been a detailed player audit with affiliate-tag verification and match-up. Upon completion, a compensation/commission audit could be performed. This portion of the audit was to be a 2-part audit: Historic Commissions Audit and Cross-Promotional Audit of tagged players. (This is a rough outline of our plans. Feel free, eCogra, to use this methodology or contact us for a more detailed plan.)

This is the plan we had worked on while waiting for the go ahead from GP.
With all that said, we applaud eCogra's efforts in taking on such a monumental task. We certainly hope their plans are as detailed as our own and that their success benefits the affiliates that should have been compensated. This should extend to all Grand Prive affiliates, not just those who happen upon the 'Claim Form' and (contrary to the claim form) affiliates should not be responsible for determining the legitimacy of their request. The Grand Prive backend has been down for quite some time and verification is just not possible.

See also the Casino Affiliate Programs announcement.

In summary: these two organisations, AGD and CAP, had been pushing the matter over the preceeding weeks, engaging directly with Grand Prive and mooting an independent audit to determine the exact amount of affiliate debt - and also, presumably, Grand Prive's financial standing.

eCOGRA were themselves rejected as an appropriate candidate, as AGD and CAP did not consider them sufficiently independent.

At this point, Grand Privé ended discussions with AGD / CAP and engaged eCOGRA directly, putting an end to any of the kind of affiliate involvement that would have insured a balanced and open examination.

Grand Prive - and presumably Microgaming - appear to have been keen to allow no third-party examination of their databases.

The original format as proposed in the above eCOGRA press release was impossibly restrictive, requiring that affiliates file applications themselves over a period of just two weeks and including such extraordinarily irrelevant and personal matters as "bank details".

This was, however, extended somewhat in the 17th December progress report, where it was proposed...

1) That the communications exercise be expanded by emailing all affiliates who had active players on the Program's records during the 3 months prior to 1 December 2008 when the Program closed.

2) That the deadline for submission of claims be extended to 31st December 2009.

As such, it looked like all affiliates were due to be contacted. But who would independently determine that this was the case, with no third party involvement?

eCOGRA's 4th Januray 2010 progress report did nothing to clarify this. Rather, it confused things - here are the highlights:

eCOGRA had received a total of 58 claims by the cut-off date, and I would like to assure you that these will all receive the personal attention of (etc)...

Our mandate covers:

• Carrying out a full and independent review of the program software and data to confirm amounts owed to claimants.

• Determining a fair settlement for claimants taking into consideration the potential lifetime earnings of each affiliate's respective players...

If eCOGRA were planning on contacting all affiliates as per the Grand Prive database, why the talk of "clamants"? Why is claiming anything necessary at this point?

In addition to which, that only 58 people had filed claims demonstrates the utter ineffectiveness of the initial announcement; Grand Prive would have had many thousands of affiliates. Only 58 of them knew of this investigation?

Many questions / issues were raised and re-raised in the forum discussions, including New hope for Grand Prive affiliates at Casinomeister and Progress update from Ecogra / GP at GPWA. Here are some:

• Since Grand Prive immediately locked all partners out of the programme, matters such as last payment received and its date could not be determined. Nor could the exact amount owed up to that point be determined.

• Does the database still exist, or has Grand Prive destroyed it?

• If it doesn't exist, how will all affiliates be contacted?

• Why is there no third party affiliate representative involved to ensure transparency?

I summarise my take on all this as follows:

• Noone should have been promoting Grand Prive in the first place. They stole $20,000 from a player on the basis of the player being "underage"; funnily enough, she was only "underage" when she won. While she was losing, she was a welcome customer.

• Putting that aside, affiliates were promised lifetimes commissions, which Grand Privé reneged on by implementing the "we reserve the right to cancel the contract at any time" clause. Unfair treatment is unacceptable.

• Grand Prive, facing what looked like an almost inevitable audit, appear to have engaged eCOGRA as an excercise in damage-limitation and cover up. They could have accepted the involvement of a reputable third-party affiliate representative, yet they specifically refused it. Why? One can only surmise that Microgaming, Grand Prive and eCOGRA did not want anyone outside the Microgaming family getting access to the data involved. Again, why? To enable the conclusions to be based on false data? To downplay the extent of the debt? If not, why not give people the kind of representation they want, and engage their full trust?

This makes no sense whatsoever.

I suspect this will turn out to be another eCOGRA whitewash, much like the Jackpot Factory whitewash, with a handful of the most problematically noisy affiliates offered gestural commission payments with the proviso that all negative press cease from that point on.

I'll be happy to be proven wrong. I suspect I won't be.

3 Previous Comments

I think you've said it all.

By Blogger Sandracer, at 1:32 am  

Great article my friend! I think you summarized it really well...can't wait to see how this fiasco turns out.


By Blogger The Gambling Gurus, at 10:30 pm  

Nice dispatch and this fill someone in on helped me alot in my college assignement. Gratefulness you seeking your information.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:08 pm  

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