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

Saturday, March 26, 2016

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.


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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