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Sunday, March 27, 2016

Back to the future


After the brief scare of discovering I'd been hacked a few days ago I decided to set about the task of returning the site to its old look, prehistoric hand-coding and all. I was never happy with the content management solution I switched to in 2013 and I'm very happy to have now set about the task of restoring order to the chaos.

All the blog articles I wrote on the other site have now been transferred to the original blog here, and over the next few days I'll be copying over all the other content I wrote for the other site. There remain a few gremlins to sort out, which may or may not have something to do with the aftereffects of the hack. I hope to have everything up and running in about a week.

It's good to be home again.



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Best site on the web about gambling

By Blogger Steve Boyle, at 9:50 am  


Thank you indeed, Steve.

By Blogger 100% Gambler, at 9:25 pm  


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Saturday, March 26, 2016

Site hack


March 22, 2016

I discovered the site had been hacked yesterday, with many pages getting redirected to pornographic sites. Everything is OK now. I've submitted to Google for a review to remove the "this site may have been hacked" warning and also the bizarre link anchor text which is still showing up in the search results pages. When they get around to testing it I should be fully shipshape again.



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Comps aren't as bad as they seem


Nov 16, 2015

A few days ago I was visiting a casino I hadn't been in for a while. I noticed they had a player rewards desk where previously there had been none, so I picked up an explanatory booklet they had on the desk to see if there was anything on offer for blackjack play.

Non-blackjack play was quite specific:


One point for every £5 played on slots

One point for every £20 played on electronic roulette

(etc)


Table games were typically unclear, however:


Points on the table games are based on the length of play and the amount you bet


So, since blackjack is table game it appears to come under the reward system. But how are the points calculated? I asked the comp manager, who didn't know and pointed me towards one of the table managers. He also didn't know, but he noticed two higher lever managers on the other side of the floor and pointed me in their direction. They also didn't know, but one of them remembered where the information was located in the office and went off to hunt it down.

The upshot was this: £14:30 of play on the blackjack tables equates to one comp point, and one such point is worth one pence (£0.01). On the face of it this seems a derisory comp level, but it's not as bad as it seems: one pence is 0.7% of the £14:30 of play required to earn it. The blackjack game in question has a house edge of 0.45% with perfect play, of which that 0.07% represents a 15% reduction of the house edge, for a total comp-adjusted casino advantage of 0.38%.

For a tight blackjack player looking to eke out as much value as possible, one penny for £14:30 of action isn't too bad a deal at all.



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Pit bosses are a pest


August 13, 2015

Dealer mistakes are very valuable to the blackjack player who uses basic strategy and loses at a rate of about 0.5%, or one bet in every 200. I've gone into more detail on this subject on my Casino mistakes page, but suffice it to say here that just one push that the dealer mistakenly pays as a win can rebate you the entire house edge of three hours' worth of play on a busy table.

I was playing some low-stakes blackjack for fun the other day. One of the pit bosses - the casino personnel who patrol the tables as back up eyes and ears for the dealers - started hanging around my table, evidently in a bad mood as he immediately criticised the dealer for not having her chip tray laid out as it was apparently supposed to be. The dealer wasn't best pleased with the unnecessary interference; having told him she'd found the tray as it was and hadn't wanted to interrupt play, she just carried on dealing. The pit boss, it seemed with nothing better to do, carried on hanging around the table like a bored vulture.

At one point, I received a pair of twos against a dealer two. Both hands ended up with multi-card totals of 18, and when the dealer drew to the same total I was looking at a push on both hands. However, the dealer paid my left hand bet. I could see the pit boss watching, so I took the paid winnings whilst mentally preparing myself to have to give them back. Sure enough, the pit boss grumpily told the dealer she'd paid a push. She was in a bad mood with him, not unreasonably, and actually remonstrated that my hand was actually a 19, a mistake she went on to amplify by pointing to the other hand, the one she had correctly not paid. However, after a careful count the correct total was established and I handed back the chips. I could have made a big play of not knowing what was going on and being disinclined to hand over apparent winnings, but this didn't seem a pathway to a favourable outcome given the clear circumstances, so I let it pass.

This was the first time of many such occasions of dealer mistakes when I've had no choice but to give the money back.

Of course, it's quite possible that the reason the dealer miscounted was the presence of the unpleasant pit boss - without him being there to pick up on the mistake she might not have made the mistake to begin with. And of course, payment notwithstanding, it's always encouraging to see dealers making mistakes. I'll take both that conjecture and that philosophical musing as compensation for failure to secure a rebate substantially in excess of the house edge of my evening's play.



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Roxy Palace now owned by 32Red


July 24 2015

This is good news for anyone looking for safe casinos to patronise - 32Red has bought Roxy Palace, another very long-standing Microgaming casino:


32Red confirms acquisition of Roxy Palace

14 July 2015

32Red has completed the acquisition of remote online gaming business Roxy Palace for a total consideration of £8.4 million (€11.8 million/$13 million).

32Red will take ownership of the customer database, intellectual property rights and certain other assets used in connection with the business via the acquisition of the entire issued share capital of Eucalyptus Investment, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hyperlink Media Limited and Applied Logics.

Ed Ware, chief executive officer 32Red, said: "We have known and respected the business for many years, and share a number of common values. Like 32Red, Roxy Palace is also based on the Microgaming platform, which will aid in making for a smooth integration. This acquisition fits well with our regulated markets growth strategy and will allow us to leverage the expertise that the Roxy Palace team has built up over many years in international markets to the combined benefit of the enlarged business. To that end we will continue to support the Roxy Palace brand along with maximising synergies where appropriate."



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Requiem to a famous forum: Winneronline is gone


July 10, 2015

Doing a bit of spring cleaning the other day of the many external links to other sites listed here, I noticed that Winneronline had gone. Its forum had been defunct for some time, but now the entire site has been removed.

Winneronline was THE online gambling forum in the early years of the new century; between 1999 and about 2004 it was extraordinarily active, and it was the primary public face of many online gambling payment disputes: the Golden Palace furore in late 1999 / early 2000 where an avalanche of advantage players, taking up an unlimited 20% bonus offer, resulted in many disputed confiscations of winnings; the "Pirate Of Caribbean 21" episode in which a player won $1,300,000 dollars at an underfunded RealtimeGaming casino; the SciFi Casino bonus disputes; The ReefClub Casino issue, where a sister casino to a very well known operation offered an excessively generous bonus and realised - too late, as is invariably the case - that it should have been more prudent; The CasinoBar cheating debacle, where it was established that this now-defunct casino was cheating at blackjack; The "Goodfellas" collapse, in which a new Microgaming casino ended up closing after just one over-generous signup bonus.

And many more besides.

The Winneronline forum, or "WOL" as we called it, suffered badly from aggressive moderation in the later years, causing the migration elsewhere of almost all active members and effectively the death of the forum. It soldiered on for a long time as something of a ghost town, ultimately closing its doors along with the rest of the site relatively recently.

Many advantage players aired their bonus complaints exclusively at WOL, and many disputes were settled in its then very much rough-and-tumble environment. In short: it worked, in large part. There were at least two disputes that I had with Realtime Gaming casinos that would never have been resolved any other way, and I'd be poorer today as a result, as would many others.

Thanks, WOL. It was an experience on many levels, and a good laugh as well.



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Paradise Win Casino: playing multiple games affects the RNG


March 9, 2015

I haven't paid much attention to the Casinomeister forum of late. I may have been missing out, because a recent visit revealed a jaw-dropping excuse on the part of a casino for not honouring a €11,000 win, and one I'd certainly never come across before: playing more than one game at the same time affects their random number generator.

Full details in the Paradise Win Casino voided €11,000 thread.

After cashing out the €11,000 win, the player received an email from the casino, quoted in part below:


We have checked your betting history and noticed that you had multiple games opened at the same time.

According to ParadiseWin Casino Terms & Conditions, point 7.17 This is strictly forbidden.

"7.17 Player is allowed to have only one game open at one time. Should the player have more the one game open at once, all winnings will be removed from the account."

Your winnings will be removed from your account.


The player opened additional slot games to play without closing previously open games. If this is classed as illegal activity you might as well disallow drinking a cup of tea while playing, as there is no possible advantage to be gained by playing one game, then moving to another before closing the previous game.

Anyway, the rule is there, and as the player was cashing out a substantial amount of money it's not surprising that a possibly low-funded casino would look to enforce any rule, however absurd, to avoid the debt.

However, the casino went on to justify the term in a subsequent email with this rather astonishing claim:


3rd February 2015, 10:53 PM

We have explained the situation to you before. When player opens multiple games it may affect RNG (Random Number Generator). Our casino created this rule to prevent a possibility of any fraudulent activity and leave more chances to win all other players.


It's hard to know where to start with this statement.

Playing a game while another game is open in another window doesn't affect the RNG, unless the RNG is so hopelessly inadequate and compromised that it somehow falls apart on a whim for no reason whatsoever. This casino uses NetEntertainment software, which is generally regarded as reputable. It cannot be affected in this way. The casino has pulled this excuse out of the ether. It is fantasy.

However, they say that multiple game tags don't necessarily always have this affect, but that they "may" do, which suggests an even more wretchedly inadequate software product that sometimes fails and sometimes doesn't.

In addition, even if it were the case that random player behaviour, be it the opening of multiple tabs or taking frequent toilet breaks, had an affect on the RNG, on what basis is the assumption made that this affect would be positive for the player? If the RNG falls apart on a whim in this manner, why is this advantageous? Any departure from random on the part of an RNG is universally bad for the player as the game is no longer behaving the same as its real-world counterpart. The suggestion that this apparent occasional RNG departure from the norm is a player-friendly eventuality is as bogus as the suggestion that the RNG breaks down in the first place.

In the second part of the statement, "Our casino created this rule to prevent a possibility of any fraudulent activity and leave more chances to win all other players" - which is so poorly worded as to leave it somewhat open to interpretation - they seem to be suggesting that fraudulent activity on the part of certain players leads to less opportunities for winning for others. Is this because those players successfully pulling a heist on the casino so drain the casino's resources that they can no longer afford to pay anyone else? Or are they suggesting a correlation between the apparently "fraudulent" activity of opening multiple game tabs and the playing experience of others? That when the RNG goes into "player positive overdrive", it goes into a kind of compensatory mode which short-changes the less fraudulent types who stick to single game windows?

The other, and far more plausible interpretation of all this, of course, is that the casino concocted the lamest of excuses for not honouring a €11,000 payout.

Paradise Win Casino is one you may consider avoiding.



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A super simple strategy for blackjack


March 25, 2015

I was playing some low stakes recreational blackjack the other day, while chatting to a couple of other players and watching how they played the game. They had almost no idea how to play and were well aware of the fact, so I ended up advising them on correct strategy, advice which, most unusually for gamblers who almost invariably think they know best and cannot be told anything, was well received and appreciated.

This got me thinking about devising a "super simple" strategy that would eliminate a lot of errors and keep the casino advantage relatively low whilst being easy to learn. I have accordingly come up with the following seven-point plan:


1) Hard totals

i) If dealer has 6 or lower, do not hit any hand you can bust with the draw of one card.

ii) If dealer has 7 or higher, hit (or double) up to and including 16.


2) Soft totals

i) Whatever the dealer card, hit up to and including A-6 and stand on A-7 or higher. (see * below)


3) Doubles

i) Whatever the dealer card, double 10 and 11 (see ** below).

ii) If dealer has 6 or lower, double 9.


4) Splits

i) Whatever the dealer card, split 88 and AA (see ** below).

ii) Treat all other pairs as hard totals and hit, double or stand according to rules 1 and 3.


* The "6" and "7" in A-6 / A-7 includes smaller cards adding up to 6 and 7. With A-2, you would hit. If you receive a 4 you now have in effect A-6 (2+4=6), so hit again. If you receive a 5 on the A-2, you have A-7 in effect (2+5=7), so stand.

** If the game is European no hole card, where the dealer doesn't take or check his second card until all player hands are complete, do not double or split against dealer 10 or ace.


This seven-rule strategy contains approximately fifty errors compared to optimal play. The actual number varies slightly depending on whether the game is US hole card, European no hole card, S17, H17 or DAS. The total cost of the errors is a little under 0.3%, again depending on the exact rules of the game.

The most expensive error overall is not hitting 12 against 2, which costs 0.03%.

The most expensive error when comparing the optimal play of the actual hand with the simple strategy play is 77 against 6, where standing is fully 22% worse than splitting. However, as this hand is so much rarer than 12 against 2, the overall cost is lower.

Assuming a generic optimal strategy disadvantage of 0.5%, the house edge for my simple strategy increases to approximately 0.8%. This is clearly worse than perfect play, but the strategy is extremely simple and it eliminates the vast majority of the average gambler's most egregious errors of hitting, standing and doubling incorrectly.



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Phil Ivey refused winnings by court


October 15, 2014

Phil Ivey has lost his attempt to claim over seven million pounds in winnings from Crockford's Casino which the casino refused to pay on the basis that, in their opinion, he cheated.


Top poker player Phil Ivey loses £7.7m court battle

Through his spokesman, Mr Ivey said he was "obviously disappointed" with the decision, but added that it was not in his "nature to cheat".

"I am pleased that the judge acknowledged in court that I was a truthful witness. I believe that what we did was a legitimate strategy and we did nothing more than exploit Crockfords' failures to take proper steps to protect themselves against a player of my ability.

"Clearly today the judge did not agree," he said.

A spokesman for the casino said: "Crockfords is pleased with the judgment of the High Court today supporting its defence of a claim by Mr Ivey.


In another article, the judge's ruling is given in greater detail. In his own words:


Top poker player Phil Ivey loses court battle over £7.7m winnings

If Mr Ivey cheated, he is not entitled to recover his winnings. If he did not, he is.

What Mr Ivey and Ms Sun did was to persuade the croupier to turn some of the cards in the dealing shoe to permit them to know that they were or were very likely to be sevens, eights or nines, and in circumstances where she did not realise she had done so – and, if she had, would have immediately stopped play.

The fact that Mr Ivey was genuinely convinced that he did not cheat and that the practice commanded considerable support from others was not determinative of the question of whether it amounted to cheating.

Mr Ivey had gained himself an advantage and did so by using a croupier as his innocent agent or tool. It was not simply taking advantage of error on her part or an anomaly practised by the casino, for which he was not responsible. He was doing it in circumstances where he knew that she and her superiors did not know the consequences of what she had done at his instigation.

This is, in my view, cheating for the purpose of civil law.


In my own view, this does not represent cheating, in civil law or otherwise. My copy of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines cheating thus:


To act dishonestly or unfairly in order to gain an advantage.


This is simple and logical, and I cannot see there being any additional shades of meaning in the judge's legal textbook that would contradict or meaningfully add to this definition. The decision hinges on the fourth paragraph above:


Mr Ivey had gained himself an advantage and did so by using a croupier as his innocent agent or tool.

It was not simply taking advantage of error on her part or an anomaly practised by the casino, for which he was not responsible.

He was doing it in circumstances where he knew that she and her superiors did not know the consequences of what she had done at his instigation.


Something akin to this stance was my initial reaction to the case, so I have to have some sympathy with the ruling. However, I have changed my initial stance, and judge's opinion here, largely similar, is incorrect in my view.

The crux is not that the casino "did not know the consequences of what she (the croupier) had done", which is self-evident. The crux of the judge's finding is that Ivey went beyond simple observation when he induced behaviour from the casino that would not have occurred in the normal play of the game, vis-a-vis the turning of the cards.

So how closely is "behaviour inducing" correlated to "cheating"?

In truth, not particularly.

In a previous article I compared Phil Ivey's observational skill to that of card counters who also take advantage of the information available to all players to gain an edge for their own game. Card counters, who do nothing illegal and who can be refused a game but cannot be refused winnings accrued before the casino realises that they may be undesirable customers, also use inducement techniques on occasions. They will sometimes ask a dealer to cut out of play fewer cards than would normally be the case, which increases the counters' advantage - just one deck cut out of a six-deck shoe is a lot better for the counter than one and a half. This will not normally happen unless the player is reasonably well known to the dealer and they have a cordial relationship, although a judicious tip might help in other circumstances. The player in this way induces behaviour on the part of the casino that is to the casino's detriment and where that detriment is not known to the casino, as they would not willingly comply with requests that would be against their interests. And this is not illegal. The player makes a request which the casino can either comply with or refuse. If they comply, the player cannot then be held accountable for what amounts to an ill-informed decision on their part.

The difference in the Ivey case is simply one of scale. A blackjack counter is gaining a relatively small advantage with a smaller cut. Ivey gained an larger advantage in percentage terms, but in terms of the actual money involved the advantage was enormous as he was betting around £150,000 pounds a hand. But the principle is no different. Ivey made requests that the casino could comply with or refuse, and the compliance or refusal is the casino's responsibility. And in truth, baccarat is a very simple game and is played absolutely automatically - all the dealer has to do is count the value of the cards in the two hands to determine the winner. It's hardly asking a lot for them to deal a bullet-proof baccarat game.

This was a poor judgement and an incorrect one. Ivey did not cheat. He's clearly a trier, an operator and a bit of a rascal. But he did not cheat, and the casino had no right to withhold his winnings.



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Phil Ivey versus Crockfords Casino


October 6, 2014

Renowned poker player Phil Ivey is currently embroiled in a legal battle with Crockfords Casino in London over disputed winnings of over seven million pounds. In the most recent update as reported in The Daily Mail, Woman helped Tiger Woods of poker to cheat London casino out of £7.7million, it seems that the case is now being heard in court, and both sides have started laying out their positions.

In brief summary: Ivey and a female companion used a technique known as "edge sorting" to identify cards and gain a substantial advantage playing baccarat. The casino claims that this amounted to cheating, which Ivey denies.

Apparently:


The company claims that Mr Ivey's conduct defeated the essential premise of the game of baccarat so there was no gaming contract - or constituted cheating.


Ivey's lawyer disagreed:


He said that edge-sorting involved nothing more than using information that was available to any player simply from viewing the backs of the cards which the casino chose to use.

It also involved making requests of the casino - which it could accept or refuse - as to the manner in which play was conducted.


This much is entirely true.

In the lawyer's own words:


Moreover, it is very easy for the casino to protect itself against the technique, not least by checking the cards for asymmetrical patterns before they are used in play, by not re-using the same cards after a shoe (the receptacle holding the decks) has been played, and by the elementary step of turning some of the cards once between shoes.


I would question whether or not going as far as turning the cards would be a reasonable measure to expect on the part of the casino, but the rest of his description is factually accurate.

The lawyer then added some more comments which, unfortunately, don't seem to add anything to the argument:


It (the casino) is an adversarial environment. Obviously, it does not mean you can be dishonest - we do not suggest that. But, you have to look at those circumstances when you consider cheating.

The environment is a highly relevant feature and you have to look at the attributes of the person accused of dishonesty - a professional poker player who has an international reputation as an advantage player.

Our firm position is that the guts of cheating does involve dishonesty. It is the heart of the case. It has got to be grappled with. He (Mr Ivey) regards this as utterly fair play. If the casino fouls up from start to finish, that is something which is the gambler's good fortune . It is not an easy thing to do. It requires a lot of skill.


These don't seem to be the words of a particularly competent or forensic advocacy team. What does the fact that a casino environment is adversarial add to the argument? Ivey's reputation is irrelevant, and the lawyer's patently obvious statement that "cheating involves dishonesty" is risible as a professional defence. Of course cheating is dishonest. I doubt the judge needed to be told that.

Turning to the casino's defence:


The casino's counsel, Christopher Pymont QC, told Mr Justice Mitting that Ivey was not a well-known advantage player at the time of his visit but was, in their eyes, an old VIP customer and they trusted him accordingly.

It argued that edge-sorting was not a widely known or practised way of playing baccarat in the UK and that the casino was not unduly careless in failing to prevent it.


It is the casino's job to protect its business. That it happens to not be aware of an aspect of its business, and that ignorance ultimately leads to its downfall, is the casino's problem alone. Its ignorance is not an excuse. Nor is the fact that Ivey was "trusted" by the casino. Trusted to do what? Lose?

And in the lawyer's own words:


The scheme could have been - and was - cheating, however widely known or practised edge-sorting may have been in other casinos at the time, and however careful or careless the casino may have been to prevent it in this case.

Hence the suggestion that the casino was acting at its own risk is irrelevant, It has no bearing on the core issue in this case, which is whether the scheme was cheating.


I'm left scratching my head once more. It is up to the court to determine whether or not Ivey was cheating; that is the purpose of the trial. It is the casino's lawyer's job to make the case for why this is so, not to simply repeat what we already know to be so. And while I agree that the casino acting at its own risk is irrelevant, I have no idea why anyone, including Phil Ivey, might consider it so to begin with. It has no bearing on the facts of the matter.

It seems to me that neither counsel is doing a particularly good job of representing his client, on the basis of the reported extracts.

My own opinion - which I have already voiced in an earlier article and which I commend to Mr. Ivey's counsel as possibly a more coherent advocacy for the case - is that Phil Ivey did not cheat because he did not do anything to subvert or alter the game as it was delivered to him or to any other customers who might have been playing at the time. All information he gained was from his observational skills, and all requests he made were willingly acquiesced to by the casino. He did not use mirrors or accomplices to see around to the other side of the cards to read their values, nor did he collude with any casino employees to achieve similar ends. In essence, in skilfully using his observational skills to gain a mathematical edge he did exactly the same as a card counter in blackjack does, using observation alongside simple addition and subtraction to chisel out a winning game. Card counting is not cheating; casinos are entitled to deny card counters a game, but if they deal to them they must pay them; they cannot retrospectively deny them their winnings.

Hopefully justice will win through on this, Phil Ivey will receive his money and the casino, seven million plus pounds poorer, will sharpen up its act. However, I suspect that the only winners, in either event, are going to be the lawyers.

Previous articles:

Crockfords Casino denies Phil Ivey millions in winnings

Phil Ivey: is he entitled to his multi-million pound winnings?

Phil Ivey baccarat scheme: trouble at the Borgata



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32Red does the right thing after a wobbly few weeks


September 26, 2014

An unexpected case against 32Red came to light three weeks ago. It was unexpected in the sense that, after fifteen years of almost unimpeachable service and a record like no other in the online gambling business, the casino appeared to be illegitimately denying a large payout to a player.

As described in the 32Red vs Joseph3 - expensive mistake discussion at Casinomeister, the player deposited $1000 for a $1000 new player bonus, but for some reason received a total of $2000 in bonus funds, the additional $1000 apparently being credited by mistake. He went on the achieve winnings of around $25,000, which the casino refused to pay; the grounds they gave were that the bonus amount was $1000 more than it should have been, and that over the course of the play the player's balance dropped below $1000, which, assuming the correct starting balance, would have resulted in the balance dropping to zero and which, in the casino's apparent thinking, justified removal of the winnings.

These were their comments:


I am contacting you in regards to your newly open 32Red account Josephmax44.

A standard check to verify your recent withdrawal request of £24,938 has brought to light an anomaly for the amount of bonus credited to your account when claiming the “100% New Player Big Bank Role Bonus”. This particular bonus is capped at 1000 bonus chips as a maximum as highlighted by point 2 of the terms and conditions. In this case, the maximum available funds to play with is 2000 chips and not the 3000 chips you commenced with.

On review of Gaming activity I can confirm that there was a point during play where the balance decreased to below 1000 chips. At this point you had not met the 30 times wagering requirement of the bonus.

In principle this means that at this point you were playing with funds that were not due. It is with deep regret to see that the subsequent withdrawal request for the above amount came from these invalid funds. In short, I am afraid to say that the pending withdrawal will not be processed by our payments team and these funds will be removed.

As an exception the initial deposit will be re-credited to your account in due course once you have confirmed if you still wish to claim the same bonus for the correct amount of 1000 chips or simply have the £1000 applied to the balance.

Regardless of any mistake on our part, the fact remains that you have used invalid funds to acquire these winnings. In principle the funds you deposited and a valid bonus award of 1000 chips were wagered and lost in the Casino. I am surprised that you did not realise that the bonus amount was incorrect as you have deposited a significant amount of money to claim a very specific bonus. I can see that the bonus terms and conditions link was given to you for your information which I trust you had read as agreed to on live chat.


32Red subsequently offered to leave the $25,000 in his account but with an additional wagering penalty of $750,000.

None of the above was satisfactory. The mistake was made by the casino. The player certainly benefitted, but this is no reason to punish him unfairly. His balance at any given point is down to the vagaries of gambling, and what might have happened in an alternative scenario where his starting balance was different doesn't have any bearing, not to mention that the reason these funds were "not due" in the casino's words was not the player's fault. The $750,000 wagering penalty is one which 32Red does list in its terms, but it is only applicable to winnings accrued from bets that exceed the betsize limit of the bonus in question, in other words where the player is in error. It doesn't relate to mistakes of their own making, and couldn't be reasonably applied here.

On 8th September the player submitted a complaint to Bryan "Casinomeister" Bailey; sixteen days later, on the 24th, he received his full cashout, minus the $1000 that was credited in error, which was apparently given to charity. This was the right outcome. According to Mr. Bailey:


24th September 2014, 06:18 PM

After discussing the issue with 32Red, the consensus was that there was human error involved and that the player should be paid minus the bonus amount given in error. (That amount will be donated to a charity TBD BTW). The reason that the casino changed its original stance is that there were other factors which were ultimately cleared up. Those factors are not free for me to discuss but those factors, in the eyes of the PAB service, were sufficient justification for the initial stance taken.


I don't see these comments as particularly helpful to the casino, which ultimately did the right thing and emerged with its reputation fully intact. There was no suggestion of any additional factors involved, and if there had been such it's likely that they would have come to light. Bereft of any indication to the contrary, this seems to me more of an attempt to justify the casino's initial unjustifiable stance. But since they did the right thing after making an initial bad decision, it doesn't help them much to be seen to be making excuses for their mistake where excuses were not necessary in the light of the correct outcome. Why not limit yourself to something like "after a reappraisal on the part of management, it was decided that the right course of action was to pay the player"?

However, 32Red isn't responsible for the words of its webmaster affiliates. They did the right thing and emerged with their reputation fully intact. This is, as far as I'm aware, unique in the online gambling business, where fair treatment of players is almost invariably a long way down the list of priorities.



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Wizard Of Odds sold


September 19, 2014

Michael Shackleford, aka The Wizard of Odds, has sold both his original site and also The Wizard Of Vegas to the LatestCasinoBonuses group. According to CalvinAire.com:


The LCB Network Acquires Wizard of Odds for $2.35 Million

It is definitely the purchase of all purchases for the LCB Network: the acquisition of WizardofOdds.com (WOO) & WizardofVegas.com (WOV) in a staggering deal worth $2.35 million.

WOO is worth its weight in gold as the go to source for information pertaining to percentage odds on games, casino house edge calculations, and optimal playing strategies.


On what is arguably a day of bad news, the good news is:


The Wizard of Odds, Michael Shackleford, will stay on as a full time writer and advisor working closely with the new owners. Visitors and members can expect the same high quality information they have become accustomed to from WizardofOdds.com. LCB has the tools and the ingenuity to bring WOO to the next level without sacrificing the characteristics or the site that made it successful in the first place.


Whether Michael Shackleford wanted to stay on himself or LCB required him to stay on as part of the deal, I have no idea. It's good that Mike is retaining an active role. This is one key online gambling resource that would never be the same without its founder.

However, with a fresh $2,350,000 burning a fresh hole in his pocket Mike may be lining up some extended down time.



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Gambling addict sues Ritz Casino after losing two million


July 18, 2014

If players don't have to honour their debts to casinos, why should casinos have to honour players' winnings? It works both ways.

In April 2012, the wife of an Arabic politician went into the Ritz Casino - which is a casino, by the way - and gambled - which is moreorless the sole purpose for going into a casino; afterwards, she claimed she hadn't wanted to gamble, and as such does not owe the casino any money.


A gambling addict is suing the Ritz casino after betting and losing £2m in one evening

Nora Al-Daher, whose husband is the foreign minister of Oman, told the High Court someone should have stopped her.

Ms Al-Daher had already suffered substantial losses at other casinos earlier the same day, in April 2012.

Her court action comes after the Ritz sued her for a debt of £1m, alleging that some of the cheques she handed over that night had not been honoured.

The court was told that Mrs Al-Daher had made it clear when she arrived at the Ritz that she was a gambling addict, had lost money and did not want to play.

(more)


My guess is that if she'd won she wouldn't have claimed she hadn't wanted to gamble and therefore had no desire to collect her winnings.

Some players give players a bad name.



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Blackjack conditions improved


May 6, 2014

With the advent of the continuous shuffle machines there was a panic amongst the community of blackjack advantage players that the profitable game as they knew it was set on a fast track to extinction; card counters need a game in which the pack, or typically the multi-pack shoe, is dealt approximately down to the last quarter of the cards, where the best advantages can be obtained, prior to the shuffle; the shuffle machines effectively reshuffle the card shoe every couple of hands, which removes any possibility of advantage.

I've also myself noted the proliferation of the CSMs in my casino visits over the last ten years, so I assumed the panic was justified.

I was in a casino in the UK the other day where I noticed what seemed to be the reversal of this trend. Of the three blackjack games in the pit I'd wondered into, all were being manually dealt from an old-style card shoe. The dealers were dealing to a depth of approximately three quarters of the pack, followed by a five minute manual shuffle, the ritualistic proffering of the cut card to one of the players to make the "cut" and finally the cutting off of about one and a half decks prior to replacing the cards back into the shoe for the next round of play.

All very enjoyably retro, I thought.

I spoke to one of the table staff about it, who said there "might be some shuffle machines upstairs" if I was interested, but that customers preferred the manual-deal games. I'm not sure of the actual extent of the connection between customer preference and the resurgence of manual deal games, but it seemed to at least come into the mix according to this girl.

I didn't come across any shuffle machine games at all as I wondered around the floor.

This was Friday evening, but there was also at least one £5 minimum table, which is obviously good for the informed, casual player who likes to play a controlled game with relatively low average loss rate on the basis of accurate basic strategy play. For that matter, low minimums are good for any player.

All in all, this was a surprising insight into that quite rare phenomenon of improved customer conditions in the gambling industry.



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Fortune Lounge: the beat goes on with this most disreputable of disreputable groups


May 13, 2014

Steve Russo, the mediator from the "Gambling Grumbles" service whose work has not been the subject of any crticism I'm aware of since he took on the job a few years ago, had this to say about the Fortune Lounge group at the end of one of his mediation reports:


We can't help Cesar, but we can help others thinking of playing at the Fortune Affiliates group with one word of advice:

"Don't".


Excellent advice, which I think bears quoting at the outset.

I'll sign off with another quote from Steve later. In the meantime, this article concerns more lamentable behaviour from a casino group that seems to have gone from being one of the best to one of the worst in the space of about ten years.


As reported in the beravek7 VS Fortune room discussion at Casinomeister, a player's four-figure cashout was confiscated, along with his €150 deposit, on the basis of an apparent contravention of the casino's terms & conditions.

The player started out betting €10 on one particular slot machine, changing subsequently to €3 average bets on another slot to finish the wagering for a new player signup bonus. The casino had this to say on disallowing his winnings:


This is not about playing bets more than 30%. It is about you placing 20 bets of €10 on Beach Babes and then moving to Reel Gems playing 1934 bets at €3.18 on average in order to meet your wagering requirements. This is regarded as irregular in terms of the folowing term I already sent you:

"Placing high value bets with the single intention of increasing your balance, thereafter you substantially decrease your bet size, while reasonably not decreasing your bankroll"


There are two "irregular play" terms here. The first the player didn't violate, and since it's entirely specific and leaves no room for doubt it isn't a problem in any event:


Placing single bets equal to or in excess of 30% of the value of the bonus before the wagering requirements for that bonus have been met.


The second is entirely non-specific and gives the casino absolute leeway:


Placing high value bets with the single intention of increasing your balance, thereafter you substantially decrease your bet size, while reasonably not decreasing your bankroll.


The "high value" bet size is specifically covered in the first term and is redundant. The rest contains no information about the bet sizes that fall outside what the casino considers to be "irregular" - the only pointers are a "substantial" decrease without a "reasonable" decrease in the bankroll.

What is "substantial"? What is "reasonable"?

The casino is clearly attempting to discourage profit-orientated players, one of whose strategies is to bet large amounts followed by small amounts for mathematically sound reasons I won't go into. As such, the objective is fair enough. But the way they seek to implement it is completely unfair, as there is no way to know whether or not your play violates the terms.

Such "unfair" terms are unlawful in modern society, and all UK and EU law rules against them.

But not, it seems, in the law of the internet kangaroo court.


After airing his grievance in the thread discussion above, the player filed a complaint. The complaint handler, Max Drayman, dropped some initial hints that things weren't going to work out in the player's favour...


23rd April 2014

the casino has good evidence that the player is "non recreational" and the player is therefore in violation of the casino's Terms. Those are the basic facts and they weigh heavily against the player, for better or worse.


...before delivering his final verdict, replete with invective, hyperbole and infantile language:


5th April 2014

It means that (1) you didn't read my post above because if you had you'd have seen that I don't much like the "non recreational" Terms either and (2) you are talking out of your arse. The records clearly show that you went from casino to casino within that group and methodically used the same advantage play tricks on each of them, consecutively! Look at your play at any one of those casinos, except maybe the one account you didn't leave dormant when you were done, and you'll have a fine definition of a "non recreational" player.

Whatever we may think of those Terms -- and I think I've made it quite clear that we don't like them -- the point is that you agreed to them and are then bound by them. If you don't like their Terms -- and there is no reason you should -- then don't play there. But if you sign on, lay down your money, and take the goodies they offer then you are in the boat with them and their Terms, for better or worse. Too late to say you'd rather walk once the ship has sailed.

Besides, this is semantics. You knew exactly what you were doing when you worked your way through those casinos and your only real beef is that they nailed you for Terms violations. Tough noogies fella: you bought the ticket, you took the ride. Don't moan about the fact that your little plan went to crap part way through.

And while we are at it consider yourself PAB-banned: you've tried to AP the casinos, effectively lied about it, and then wasted my time fighting your BS battles for you. THEN you come on here to distort the truth further AND call us dirt-bags for trying to help you. To hell with you, you can fight your own casino battles in the future.


The language used, "talking out your arse", "tough noogies" , "plan went crap" , "to hell with you" etc hardly needs comment; maybe the mediator in question could aspire to a higher level of professionalism.

The accusations of the player "lying" and "distorting the truth" (which is it?) are also curious, as I can see no corroborated examples of this.

However, putting aside the histrionics and the kindergarten language: you cannot be reasonably bound by any and all terms, however unfair. If that was the case the casino could include a simple catch-all term such as "if you win we won't pay", and the player would have no recourse. That is why unfair, ill-defined terms are illegal in properly regulated societies. You cannot require a player to be "non-recreational", or to wager his money in a certain way, keeping within "reasonable" limits and not being "irregular", without defining what non-recreational, reasonable, irrelgular or any other non-specific terms actually mean in practice, because all this means at the end of the day is little more than a variant of my generic catch-all above: "we'll pay if we want to and we won't if we don't".


One of the standards of accredition at the above site is the following:


Must not confiscate winnings for vague & unclear reasons, such as "irregular playing patterns" or "bonus abuse", without specific T&C violations


There is no specific terms violation here, and yet Fortune Lounge remains recommended at Casinomeister, while being in direct contravention of this apparent requirement.


As promised, back again to Steve Russo's opinions on Fortune Lounge:


We have learned from experience that we cannot help a player there as their casinos refuse to even give us any information, much less to review their decision. Hence, the entire group is in our "Hall of Shame", meaning that when a complaint comes in we do not even waste the time and effort to write to the casino.


Maybe all webmasters would do worse than follow his advice.


Update 13th May 2014: Bryan Bailey removed Fortune Lounge from his "recommended" section a few days ago, with the following comments:


The Fortune Lounge Group was listed in our Accredited Casino section off and on (mostly on) since 2000. Unfortunately, they have vague bonus terms that they've enforced to confiscate winnings and deposits of advantage players. These vague terms violated our policies of accreditation, so they were removed from the Accreditation Section. They are solid casinos - and very well managed, but advantage players should avoid these casinos at all costs.


No longer recommending this wretched group is certainly a good move, but I take issue with some of the above statement: if casinos steal legitimate players' money, whatever the profit-orientated mindset of those players, and whether said mindset be imagined or actual on the part of the casino, they are neither solid nor well-managed, they are disreputable and should be avoided by all players.

But again, this was the right move on the part of a well known webmaster. However, it's unlikely that Fortune Lounge will change their disreputable modus operandi.


Related articles:

Ruby Fortune: crucial bonus term buried

Royal Vegas: a very unfortunate denouement

Royal Vegas: player breaks no rules, casino refuses to pay



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Phil Ivey baccarat scheme: trouble at the Borgata


April 16th, 2014

This amounts to a follow up article on previous Phil Ivey escapade articles I've commented on - see Crockfords denies Ivey millions and Phil Ivey: is he entitled to his winnings?

It seems at the time Ivey was taking on Crockfords casino in London, he was busy elsewhere. Borgata Casino in Atlantic City has now joined the growing list of casinos that have suffered a multi-milion pound loss to the famous poker player's baccarat scheme, and are now seeking redress through the courts. As per Yahoo News, whose title here is arguably a bit misleading:


Borgata casino lawsuit: Gambler cheated, won $9.6M

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — An Atlantic City casino is suing a big-time gambler, claiming he won $9.6 million in a card-cheating scheme in baccarat.

The Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against Phillip Ivey Jr., considered one of the best poker players in the world.



This seems to be an absolute facsimile copy of the Crockfords event:


The lawsuit alleges Ivey and an associate exploited a defect in cards made by a Kansas City manufacturer that enabled them to sort and arrange good cards in baccarat. The technique gave him an unfair advantage on four occasions between April and October 2012, the casino asserted in its lawsuit. The casino claims the technique, called edge sorting, violates New Jersey casino gambling regulations. Its senior vice president, Joe Lupo, declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The lawsuit claims the cards, manufactured by Gemaco Inc., were defective in that the pattern on the back of them was not uniform. The cards have rows of small white circles designed to look like the tops of cut diamonds, but the Borgata claims some of them were only a half diamond or a quarter of one.

The lawsuit claims that Ivey and his companion instructed a dealer to flip cards in particular ways, depending on whether it was a desirable card in baccarat. The numbers 6, 7, 8 and 9 are considered good cards. Bad cards would be flipped in different directions, so that after several hands of cards, the good ones were arranged in a certain manner — with the irregular side of the card facing in a specific direction — that Ivey could spot when they came out of the dealer chute.

The lawsuit claims Ivey wanted the cards shuffled by an automatic shuffling machine, which would not alter the way each card was aligned.

(more)


Since this is a carbon copy of the previous case, my opinion remains likewise identical: the casino was lax in its procedures and should, in all fairness, take the hit. Ivey did not "cheat", as the Yahoo piece incorrectly suggests. At the same time, he might do worse than focussing his attention away from what is hard to not categorise as little more than a gambling scam and back on his poker game.



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Ladbrokes: one billion monthly profits from the high street FOBTs


April 9th, 2014

Ladbrokes, it seems, is doing rather well with the so called "FOBTs", or fixed-odds betting terminals. This from an article in the Daily Mail - One billion in one month: secret document reveals huge profits:


A single bookmakers' chain took £1billion from highly addictive gaming machines in just one month, a leaked document has shown.

An internal memorandum from Ladbrokes has revealed the vast scale of the profits that are made thanks to roulette machines, dubbed the 'crack cocaine' of gambling.



Government action is now in the pipeline, but according to the Mail article it may fail to have much impact:


Downing Street has now signalled that it is ready to crack down on FOBTs – with penalties for bookmakers who fail to limit punters’ losses and enforce limits on playing times. The proposals will also give councils the power to stop the clustering of betting shops, particularly in deprived areas where relaxed planning rules have made it easier for them to open.

But the leaked Ladbrokes document suggests that the plan to cap betting time at 30 minutes and losses at £250 a session could fail to make an impact – as the average spend is £93 and only 8 per cent of punters play for more than half an hour.



One bookmaker manager was surprisingly candid in his opinion:


No one wants to see more any dependence on FOBTs – they are horrendous. They're the worst thing that's ever happened to the betting industry, either customers or staff. Since these machines came in, the industry has totally changed.

They are there for hours like zombies spending all their money. People who bet on the horses or the dogs are stoical if they lose, it's entertainment.

People who play these machines have a totally different mentality. Comparing it to crack cocaine is exactly right.



I've covered the FOBT issue in two previous articles:

Labour proposal to allow councils to ban the FOBTs

Labour parliamentary debate to curb the FOBTs



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The Metropolitan police and "bonus abuse"


February 14, 2014

This is a follow-up to my article The "bonus abuse" innacuracy now being pedalled by the UK police, in which I reported that the Metropolitan Police had achieved a conviction for fraud and incorrectly reported it as "bonus abuse". At the International Casino Exhibition in Excel, London this past week I spoke with the detective constable in the article, and also rather more fully with a colleague of his who was manning the stand with him; he preferred me not to publicise his name, so I'll call him DC A.

As soon as I arrived and without too many formalities on my part I laid out my position in the above article, that fraud without bonuses is still fraud, and bonus play without fraud is entirely legal. Why was the Met conflating fraud and bonus play, and using such a standard, pejorative casino expression? How close were they to the industry? I also gave them a potted history of the definition of "bonus abuse" as per standard casinoese, which I described in the previous article and won't repeat here.

DC A maintained that "bonus abuse" was the name of the subject in the fraud case as far as the industry was concerned, but he acknowledged that legitimate bonus play and actual fraud were in no way linked, and that legitimate players had nothing to fear. Since I had suggested that the casino industry appeared to have the Met's ear more than might be healthy, he offered the counter that the casino industry had not been at all happy with the revelations that came out of the Andrei Osipau case. It seemed bizarre to me that the industry would not welcome anything that led to the routing of any kind of criminal activity that worked to their disadvantage, but DC A said that the issues of procedural inefficiency that came to light did the industry no favours. In allowing fraud to take place under its nose the industry could be held to be at best incompetent and at worst potentially complicit, allowing practices to take place that damaged the many people who had had their identities compromised as a consequence of the casinos not being sufficiently vigilant in their procedures. In short, it risked putting the industry in a position of possible criminal negligence. I can't comment on the extent to which this possible paranoia is justified, but the industry did not welcome the Met's investigation, that much is not disputed. Again, DC A's point in telling me this was to counter any perception that the Met and the casino industry were at all hand in glove.

DC A also pointed out that this was their first, and to date only, case of its kind. I suspect, or at least hope, that if there were more regular investigations of this kind a more precise (and maybe professional) vocabulary base would be used in reporting them.

We also talked about the recent Phil Ivey case, in which the world's foremost poker player basically duped Crockford's casino in London into giving him an insurmountable advantage, with the resulting winnings being withheld by the casino on the extremely dubious contention that Ivey had cheated. I mention this because DC A showed himself entirely au fait with the difference between casino incompetence and actual player misconduct. We spoke about the fact that Ivey had made various requests to the casino, all of which were granted and which turned out to be key to the advantage he achieved. Although the Met is not involved in this as no criminal investigation has been requested, DC A's take on all this was in tune with mine. He gave me no indication, over the course of this slightly off topic meander, of being any kind of an industry mouthpiece.

I did note a general sense of scepticism from the Met over the course of our talk. I laid out my own position as openly as I could - I gave them my name, my interest in the matter, and the fact that I had been what the industry would describe as a "bonus abuser" for several years, over the course of which I committed no crime worse than taking a certain amount of money from the industry while following the rules to the letter. I also explained, at DC Wake and DC A's request, the mechanics of bonus advantage play, which I pointed out was no particular secret anyway. Notwithstanding my openness, the word "scam" was directed at me on one occasion, and a few other things were said along the way which suggested I was being regarded with slightly raised eyebrows. This is probably par for the course for the police as they work with all kinds of criminality on a daily basis, so I don't feel particularly badly done by.


I must have spent a good forty five minutes with the Met, which at their small stand at the very end of a mighty exhibition hall on the last afternoon of the event must have been the last thing they were expecting. They took it all in good part and I appreciated the time they gave me; thanks, boys.



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The "bonus abuse" innacuracy now being pedalled by the UK police


February 7th, 2016

Parts of The Metropolitan Police Service of Greater London, otherwise known as the "Met", are currently giving me the bizzare impression of having been taken over by the online gambling industry. The casino-speak they are coming out with is remarkable. And not a bit unfortunate.

Representatives from the redoubtable Met are attending this year's International Casino Exhibition in London, and they have some eyebrow-raising targets in their sights:


Police target ICE

The Metropolitan Police Force will be taking a high profile presence at ICE Totally Gaming (4-6th February) as part of its ongoing commitment to disrupt Organised Criminal Networks (OCN'S) which target both land-based and remote gaming operators. Detective Constable Mat Wake of the Met's Gaming Unit, who will be leading activities from stand N14-340 at ICE, believes the opportunity to meet with regulators, operators, suppliers and customers from across the globe represents a valuable contribution in the battle against fraud.


So far so good.

Then:


Our main business area is disrupting OCN'S by arrest and prosecution, along with the investigation of corrupt gaming staff colluding with customers", he added. "We've also ventured into online gaming and have just successfully prosecuted the first Bonus Abuse case which not only affects the operator but innocent victims who have had their identity compromised.


Well, not exactly, Mr. Wake.

The case referred to is the prosecution of one Andrei Osipau:


Plumstead man Andrei Osipau jailed for online gambling fraud

A MAN who made nearly £80,000 from online gambling after using fraudulent passports, identity cards and false utility bills to open various online accounts has been jailed.

In the first prosecution of its kind, 35-year-old Andrei Osipau, from Plumstead was convicted for committing what is known in the industry as a 'Bonus Abuse'.

This involves stealing other people's identities to open online betting accounts and taking advantage of bonus bets being offered by companies.

He also used internet payment organisations to transfer the criminal proceeds from the online betting account to open bank accounts under false names.



This was not "the first bonus abuse case". This was a case of fraud, as the title of the article correctly states. Take away the bonuses, and the genuinely fraudulent aspects - fraudulent passports and identity cards and the false names - are unchanged and all fraudulent. Take away those genuinely fraudulent aspects, and you have bonuses, the use of which is encouraged by casinos - bonuses have always been and will presumably continue to be the industry's principle marketing tool.

I've been online gambling for a decade now. I have no idea how many bonuses I've taken along the way. If it's less than five thousand, I'd be surprised. My playing objective was exclusively to receive bonuses that yielded "positive value", or bonuses which, irrespective of the short-term ups and downs, resulted in a positive return and which were therefore profitable to me. I was largely successful.

I never broke any rules, and I was only ever denied payment once (see Interwetten article), when the casino decided it had lost too much money on the promotion in question and decided to retrospectively reinterpret the rules.


Over the course of those ten years, the loudest cry of any I heard from the online casino industry was "bonus abuse". Bonus abusers were regarded by casinos, obviously enough, as people who "abused" bonuses, doing as I did and turning the casinos' marketing strategies against them for personal profit. Of course, to say that an activity that is entirely legal and in accordance with the rules may be "abusive" is inaccurate by any definition of the word - you might as well accuse the Caffe Nero customer of abusing his loyalty card when he never fails to get his tenth coffee on the house. In fact, in many quarters the term has now fallen somewhat out of favour, to be replaced by the more accurate "advantage play", as well as the poorly-defined "irregular play".

But the inaccurate term "bonus abuse" existed for a long time, and still does. Here's an example from some current bonus rules, where the "abuse" is defined as non-observance of the rules:


Promotional Terms and Conditions:

1. One Bonus amount per account, customer, household, shared computer, shared IP address.

2. New accounts (New player accounts) are defined as accounts that are opened by new players who have never at any stage opened an account at...before.

3. Bonuses pertaining to new accounts are bonuses on a player's first deposit made into his casino account.

4. The casino can at any time run different promotions for new accounts. Only one new player promotion coupon can be redeemed per new player account at any one time.

Promotions are for a limited time only and the casino reserves the right to terminate any promotion at any time without prior notice. Promotions may not be combined, unless otherwise specified.

5. Grande Vegas reserves the right to request further documentation and/or withhold bonus amounts.

6. To receive bonus payments, all casino accounts must have a valid e-mail address and telephone number.


There are some more rules, followed by the predictable chestnut:


15. Non-compliance with the above terms and conditions shall be deemed to be promotion abuse and as such will give the casino management the discretionary right to take the following action against such abusers: All balances/payouts shall be considered null and void. Abusing player accounts may be terminated with immediate effect. Players found to be abusing promotions may be precluded from receiving further promotional offers at the casino.


This is therefore what this casino means by "bonus abuse": a player's failure to adhere to the rules. Why they don't simply call it exactly what it is and forget about the word "abuse" altogether is odd, but maybe this long-standing industry grudge is so deeply rooted in many casino's psyches it's simply too hard to let it go.

But why then is The Met using this eternal casino angst with players who play bonuses for profit, or just plain break the rules, and conflating it with genuine fraud? Why are they reinterpreting an already rather ridiculous concept - you surely cannot "abuse" anything when you follow the terms of engagement - in even more ridiculous manner?

When did "fraud" get downgraded to "abuse"?

The answer clearly lies in where the Met is getting its information. From the above Andrei Osipau article:


...was convicted for committing what is known in the industry as a 'Bonus Abuse'.


It looks to me like the gambling industry has a sound hold on The Met's ear on this one. Vaguely mixing the idea of playing bonuses in with the committing of actual crimes does the casino business no harm at all: players may now think twice before seeking to extract profit from bonuses if they have in mind that "bonus abuse", which they understand as casino-speak for profitable use of bonuses, may be somehow illegal. When a casino confiscates a player's cashin and darkly cites "bonus abuse", the player may be cowed into accepting the situation. This blurring of the boundaries would certainly suit the industry well.

But it doesn't reflect particularly well on our dear constabulary and its current representative on the subject, Detective Constable Matthew Wake. Since DC Wake works in the "Gaming Unit" and may therefore be considered an expert, one might expect him to know better.

But then, the tentacles of this uniquely corrupt industry of ours spread far and wide.



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Crooks in the online casino industry. But who are the crooks?


January 14th, 2014

Respected online casino software auditor Eliot Jocobson, who won a lot of brownie points from me and many others in his pursuit of the BetFred rigged games matter, recently discovered cheating in an online casino software product he was asked to audit for fairness. You can read the full report in his blog article Crooks in the Online Casino Industry.

Having identified a problem, he spoke on the phone with the software programmer. Here are some notes he took over the course of the remarkable conversation:


Make the dealer bust less often.
Craps, blackjack, jacks or better.
All games have the main fix.
Every game has a cheating function.
You can't win 85% any time anywhere if the casino is not winning for the month.
The 85% fix is in everywhere.


When contacted, the casino owner had this to say:


Yes in craps there is code in there, and it was put in there a long time ago at the request of a customer.


He subsequently appeared to have a change of heart:


We totally reviewed the craps programme. Data from other customers passed. Running the data through the program which you gave to...the data passed. I would request that you take a second look.


Jacobson concluded that they wanted him to test genuine data, extracted from play where the fix was not in place, in order to get a clean bill of health. Jacobson was not prepared to do this, for obvious reasons.

The matter ended thus:


I spoke with the programmer and owner several more times by phone. The programmer told me that he had asked the owner to stop lying to me. The programmer told me that the owner indicated that the lies would continue in order to protect the company in question.

I spoke with the owner of the software company again on April 13, 2012. The owner indicated that the software company still wanted CFG certification. The owner said that they had paid 50% in advance for it and expected to be certified. I told them no. No certification. No money back.


On a relevant sidenote: it turns out the online industry has lost one of the good guys, as Jacobson has now retired from this role:


I stand by the CFG seal and the casinos and software companies it represents. I'm also relieved to be done with the industry as a game fairness auditor.



The one glaringly telling omission in the report is that we're none the wiser as to the identity of the cheats. It isn't one of the bigger companies, that much is apparent from comments such as this:


As far as the number of casinos that run this software, I did a quick Google search and found 14 casinos. I am not sure of the exact number of casinos that currently use this software.


We also know it's neither of the two big providers, Microgaming and Playtech, as they have certifications from auditors he recommends. Other providers who use his recommended auditors can also be excluded. But we still don't know the identity of the cheating software.

Software cheating has happened before. As such, to be told that there's another gaffed product out there may be interesting, but it's ultimately unhelpful if we don't know the who the perpetrator is. If anything, it spreads mistrust, as we can now say about any casino using software that carries none of Jacobson's recommended audit seals "Was this the software that...?"

That said, if nothing else this does encourage healthy scepticism amongst players, and it'll certainly be a sad day when the online gambling industry is the recipient of blind, unquestioning trust from its paying customers.

It certainly hasn't earned it.


Related material:

Beating Bonuses: Cheating Software

Casinomeister: Crooks in the Online Casino Industry

Wizard Of Vegas: Article on cheating online software



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Labour parliamentary debate to curb the FOBTs


January 7th, 2014

Following on from my previous article Labour proposal to allow councils to ban the FOBTs, there is to be a debate tomorrow in the House Of Commons on the Labour Party's plans to give local councils the power to restrict or ban the FOBTs:


Labour to call a vote in Parliament this week to give councils the power to rid communities of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals

MPs will be urged to back proposals to give local people the right to take control of the number of betting shops and FOBTS in their high streets, after a failure by Ministers to act.

Last month (December 2013) Ed Miliband announced that the next Labour Government will pass legislation on the issue. By contrast, the Government has voted against proposals to put betting shops into their own planning-use class.

Clive Efford MP, Labour's Shadow Minister for Sport, commenting ahead of Wednesday's Opposition Day debate, said:

"Across the country, traditional bookies are being turned into mini-casinos, where people can gamble up to £300-a-minute. The next Labour government will give powers to local communities to ban high stakes gambling machines from high streets.

"Over recent months, we've seen the Tories and Lib Dems posturing on fixed odds betting machines, but totally failing to act. This week, Labour is calling a vote in Parliament to give local people the power to pull the plug on these gambling machines. If the Tories and Lib Dems refuse to back Labour's proposals they’ll have to answer why they are standing up for the large betting companies rather than communities across the country



The announcement is laden with characteristically heavy party-political rhetoric, and political capital is no doubt an objective. But any move to restrict these antisocial machines has to be a good one.

The BBC reports thus:


Labour to force vote on curbing bookies' fixed odds machines

Labour is to force a vote in Parliament on its plans to give councils the power to ban high-stakes roulette machines from bookmakers' shops.

Ed Miliband has said so-called fixed odds betting terminals - where punters can bet up to £300 a minute - are "spreading like an epidemic".

He has vowed to amend planning laws in England, Scotland and Wales to curb their growth if Labour regains power.

But ministers said the last government had allowed their proliferation.

(more)



This issue has been uniting all sides of the political divide; the Daily Mail has been crusading against the FOBTs for some time:


Gambling's crack cocaine: betting machines that enslave the poor and earn bookies billions

As I walk into the first betting shop, a few men glance up from their screens — and give me an unmistakably hostile look. The same thing happens at the second.

It’s early morning, but the atmosphere is threatening. Nor is this just my imagination: in both shops, the manager is protected at his counter by a shield of toughened glass.

The moment I start asking questions, however, the manager storms over and tells me to leave the shop.

(more)



The Conservative / Liberal Democrat coalition is apparently awaiting the results of a survey into this before acting - a survey which has been a long time in coming. I expect this opposition motion will fail, but something will probably happen in the following months. Watch this space.



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Labour proposal to allow councils to ban the FOBTs


December 26th, 2013

Leader of the UK Labour Party Ed Milliband is adding his voice to the generally growing chorus of condemnation of the "FOBTs", or Fixed Odds Betting Terminals, which currently proliferate in high street bookmakers. As reported by the BBC:


Labour would give councils power to ban roulette machines


Ed Miliband has vowed to give councils the power to ban high stakes roulette machines from bookmakers' shops if Labour wins the next election

Punters can bet up to £300 a minute on so-called Fixed Odds Betting Terminals.

Mr Miliband said they were "spreading like an epidemic" causing "debt and misery" and acting as a magnet for crime and anti-social behaviour.

He said Labour would amend planning and gambling laws so councils in England, Scotland and Wales could ban them.

He told BBC News fixed odds machines were "addictive for some people" and the gambling industry targeted poorer parts of the country.

"Somebody has got to step in and stand up to the betting industry," he added.

(more)


There is no small irony in this announcement, Labour itself having introduced the FOBTs to Britain in the sea changes in the gambling industry that occurred with the passage of the 2005 Gambling Act.


The Association Of British Bookmakers is, predictably, unhappy:


Putting 40,000 jobs at risk does not help problem gambling

This announcement has nothing to do with helping problem gamblers; it is simply about playing politics with the jobs of 40,000 people, and the enjoyment of eight million people for no reason.

(more)


Well, they would hardly be in favour of a move that will cut their members' profits. And it can't be denied that there's a certain amount of political game-play involved, as the government has been dithering on the matter. But if the right things happen for the wrong reasons, or for a combination of the right and wrong reasons, that's a lot better than the right things not happening at all.

This will be welcome news to the Stop The FOBTs organisation, which has been campaigning against these machines for some time.


Related material:

• Daily Mail: Ed Miliband declares war on 'crack cocaine' gaming machines

• Daily Mail: Britons pump £46billion a year into gambling machines

• Intergame: Labour promises FOBT reforms

• GPWA: No action on high street FOBTs

• Casinomeister: Crack Cocaine of the highstreet



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Ruby Fortune: crucial bonus term buried deep in the general terms page


December 16th, 2013

Ruby Fortune casino has a bonus term which makes cashing out your full winning amount upon receipt of a bonus almost impossible. Although this is their choice and fair enough as such, it isn't the end of the story. There's currently an unresolved complaint at Casinomeister over this issue.


The term in question is:


7.6

Where a Sign-Up Bonus has been granted to you, subject to you being required to have met all wagering requirements, you will be limited to a maximum withdrawal value of 6 times your first deposit amount and any remaining balance will be forfeited. This clause will only be applied at the discretion of casino management. All progressive wins are exempt from this clause.


With a bonus, the only realistic games to play are slots - the required wagering for all others is over twelve times greater and many games are excluded. Slots are very volatile; usually you lose, but occasionally you win. Often, you win big. Assuming moderate levels of depositing and wagering your results will follow accordingly; in other words, most deposits will be lost, but some will result in cashouts, often quite large and certainly greater than just three times your starting balance, which is what you would be limited to in the case of Ruby Fortune's £150 sign up bonus for a £150 deposit.

As an example: playing £5 spins, any win greater than just 120 times your bet would push you over this limit from the point of your starting balance. Slot machines can comfortably generate wins of this moderate size, and many payoffs are much greater. You would lose any winnings which breached the cashout cap of £900.

Still, is this not fair enough, given that it's listed in the terms?

The clue is in the number above, "7.6". Take a look at those bonus terms - there's no number 7.6, nor any sign of that restrictive rule. So where is the mystery Rule 7.6?

Rule 7.6 can be found only in the general terms. There is no mention of it on the bonus terms page, and no suggestion that there are other vital terms elsewhere, ignorance of which could well disadvantage you.

But even if, having read the bonus terms, you have the foresight to successfully make your way to the general terms page, rule 7.6 is not located where you would naturally expect it to be, which would be section 8, "bonuses". It's found in section 7, "payment details and withdrawals".

Why is such a vital term not only placed not on the page where all the other relevant rules are, but also not even in the section where you would reasonably expect to find it, the "bonuses" section, of that general terms page? We can speculate about their reasons. My own feeling is that Ruby Fortune is quite keen for this rule not to be seen, because knowledge of it will deter players, whereas ignorance of it will allow the casino to confiscate any wins greater than £600, progressives aside. In other words: a win - win situation for the casino.

If that is not so, then why hide it thus? There is no possible reason.


Burying key rules in locations you would never expect to find them is not new. Casino Rewards pulled just such a stunt a couple of years ago, and the Kahnawake Gaming Commission ruled partially in the player's favour - see my article Kahnawake Gaming Commission: an unexpected step forward. However, partial, or for that matter, full findings for the player are not the answer; casinos should not be attempting these sleight of hand tricks with the terms to entrap players into disadvantageous situations. The rules are already complex enough, and if they must be yet more complex we need to be made aware of the fact, stated clearly and in the location where common sense expects to find them.

If Ruby Fortune wants a UK Gambling license to deal to the lucrative UK market when the requirement becomes law fairly soon, they will have to rethink this underhand practice. For myself, I hope they don't get one. But in any event: be very careful in any dealing you have with Ruby Fortune casino, or any of the others in the Palace group: Cabaret Club, Mummy's Gold and Spin Palace.



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Royal Vegas: a very unfortunate denouement


December 10th, 2013

This is a follow up to the previous Royal Vegas article, regarding a complaint posted about winnings illegitimately confiscated by Fortune Lounge group member Royal Vegas, and which ended with this rude warning from one of the site administrators after the player requested an update:


Post again before the PAB (**complaint**) is done and your PAB is toast.


Such an aggressive attitude didn't bode well, and things turned out accordingly.

After no apparent resolution to the matter or contact with the mediator after three weeks, the player lost patience and requested an update. There followed the expected response:


Game over: your PAB is toast, though I will send you a final email regarding your case.


Indeed, game over: the player's complaint was dropped, not because of any irregularities within the complaint itself, but because a frustrated player finally broke his silence and requested an update.

For good measure, the player was also banned from the site.

At this point, with the player banned and unable to reply, the nature of the accusations seemed to change direction; this from site owner Bryan "Casinomeister" Bailey:


You should know full well what was going on. We have an extensive reply from the casino rep that describes in detail your activity at the FL casinos and which terms you broke. You received your deposit back, yes? Quit your whining. you knew exactly what you were doing.

Next time, don't collude with other players and you shouldn't have any issues.


This is now very confusing. The allegation was "irregular betting", not "collusion". If "collusion" was the issue, why was it never mentioned? And what exactly is "collusion" anyway? Is it multiple accounts? If so, why not say so? - this is a very standard reason given for non-payment.

A subsequent comment didn't offer any clarification:


Her account is associated with 40+ other accounts. That's all I'm going to say in the matter.


Right, so back to the main point: if this was an issue, why was it never given as such when it should have been, at the outset?

And what is "collusion"? We are no clearer.

The remaining comments from the two forum administrators were rude and patronising.

The player subsequently posted a the final reply he received from Drayman, the Casinomeister complaint handler, on the Beating Bonuses forum:


Given your disregard for our PAB process I respectfully ask that you take any future casino complaints you may have somewhere else: you may consider the PAB process closed to you.

FYI the casino has shown that you have violated their Terms & Conditions regarding bonus abuse. Furthermore they have good reason to believe you are working with other players to do so.

While I may not like those Terms the fact is that you agreed to them and you broke them. I believe the casino has correctly identified you as a Terms violator and as such I believe their actions against you are justified.


So after having had the complaint rejected for posting an update request, we're told that the complaint was also rejected because of "bonus abuse", which evidently relates to the "irregular betting" cited initially by the casino and which we were aware of - a clause specifically ruled as unacceptable in the Casinomeister rules themselves and as such a seemingly quite ridiculous and patently self-contradictory position to take; and also we have the vaguely-worded reference to "working with others", which is what was mentioned as "collusion" after the player was banned.

I do not find this resolution credible. If there had been issues of multiple accounts the casino would have stated them at the beginning, as they are a reasonable, if almost invariably unverifiable, reason for confiscations. They did not do so, and we can reject them as bogus accordingly. Undefined "irregular betting" (the "bonus abuse" of the above letter) is also not a reasonable excuse for confiscating winnings, and as noted above it is not apparently considered acceptable by even the site itself which now cites it as reasonable - extraordinarily.


Interesting to note is that Steve Russo of the Gambling Grumbles complaint service has an altogether different opinion of Fortune Lounge; at Casinomeister they are "accredited" as the best of the best; at Gambling Grumbles they belong in the "Hall of Shame". Steve has this to say:


Gambling Grumbles is never happy when it receives a complaint about any of the casinos in the Fortune Affiliates (Fortune Lounge) group. We have learned from experience that we cannot help a player there as their casinos refuse to even give us any information, much less to review their decision. Hence, the entire group is in our "Hall of Shame", meaning that when a complaint comes in we do not even waste the time and effort to write to the casino. Instead, we simply post the complaint here.

We can't help Cesar, but we can help others thinking of playing at the Fortune Affiliates (Fortune Lounge) group with one word of advice: "Don't".


Obviously good advice, but the more pressing question is: why was the complaint rejected at Casinomeister? To do so as "punishment" for posting an update request is petty and childish; the allegations of bonus abuse are false as there were no terms' breaches beyond undefined and patently unacceptable "irregular betting"; and the accusation of "collusion", made after the player could no longer defend themselves, is too vague and undefined to be credible.



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Russia illegalises gambling and shuts casinos


December 10th, 2013

I am, in truth, a tad late to this piece of news. Over four years late to be precise, as the shutters came down on Russia's casino industry in July 2009. I only heard about it last week, while talking to a Russian dealer in an East European casino.

This Reuters article gives as good a report as any - selected highlights below:


The July 1 ban shut gaming halls, from gaudy casinos crowned by extravagant neon structures to dingy dwellings containing a handful of slot machines.

Vladimir Putin, now prime minister, came up with the idea in 2006 when he was president after the Interior Ministry linked several gaming operations in Moscow to Georgian organised crime.

The Kremlin plans to restrict gambling to Las Vegas-style gaming zones in four rarely visited regions deemed to need investment, including one near the North Korea border, but nothing has been built and critics say the zones will fail.

Moscow deputy mayor Sergei Baidakov...said the ban was to protect the health of society. Many critics in the gambling industry say it has more to do with Russia's poor ties with Georgia. Georgians are thought to run many Russian gaming halls.

Each year gaming brought in up to $7 billion and paid $1 billion in tax, a gap the industry says will cause the state a budget headache.

But some addicted gamblers thought the ban might help them.

"Maybe this is all a good thing. I'm a family man and I come here every day and lose all my money. I'll be happy to see them go," said a 40-year-old Muscovite near the flashy Shangri-La casino in the city center.



There's something almost un-Russian about not gambling.



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