10 Standards Every Online Casino Should Be Held To
It’s easy to say and/or think that online casinos shouldn’t be held to any particular standard. It’s also easy to say and/or think that online casinos should be banned outright. But a more realistic and rational approach to the problem of Internet gambling is to look at sensible regulation and legislation.
In many parts of the world, like the United Kingdom, Internet gambling is legal and regulated. In other countries, it’s illegal and unregulated. And in some countries, like the United States, the legal situation is murky and unclear.
The problem with poorly defined laws related to Web-based gambling sites is that players aren’t afforded the protection they deserve. But in the absence of government regulation, watchdog sites and player portals have become popular with players. You can find extensive and active forums on the Internet where players share their experiences at various online casinos.
These sites shouldn’t be confused with the massive number of purely-for-profit advertising portals on the Web. These sites are usually easy to spot. They contain large numbers of reviews and flashing banners, but their reviews are little more than sales letters for the sites in question—and they’re usually poorly-written sales letters at that.
But one thing the legitimate player powered sites and forums have in common is that they have certain standards they agree online casinos should be held to.
Here’s a look at 10 of the standards I agree would be good to apply to any online casino.
1. Self-Exclusion Options
A self-exclusion option is when an online casino offers a player the opportunity to ask the site to disallow and/or limit future wagers from him. It’s a step that’s meant to help protect problem gamblers from their own lack of self-control. This might sound silly, but research suggests that the biochemical activity in the brains of addicted gamblers is just as screwed up as it is in the worst drug addicts and alcoholics.
Here’s how a self-exclusion program usually works:
Suppose you’re a player with a bad gambling habit, and you’ve lost a lot of money. You need to catch up on some bills. But you know that if you get a chance, you’ll blow your money on Internet slot machines in an attempt at getting ahead.
So you contact the casino’s customer service department and ask them to refuse to allow you to play for a specific period of time. You might even ask them to refuse your business permanently.
Another option might be to ask the casino to limit the amount of money you’re allowed to deposit during a given time period, or the amount of money you’re allowed to put into action during that time period. Some players might be able to manage a little bit of gambling, but they might need help budgeting their money.
This kind of responsible behavior should be encouraged by legitimate online casinos. The Internet gambling business already has a less-than-savory aspect to it, and victimizing people with impulse control problems doesn’t help improve the industry’s image. Most legitimate gambling websites will honor self-exclusion requests, although they usually don’t advertise this option.
If you think you have a gambling problem, you should contact the customer service department at the casino and ask them about this. You might even need to think about shutting down your casino account and asking the casino to refuse to let you re-open it.
You should also consider getting professional help. Ruining your life with an addiction to Internet gambling is a sad way to destroy yourself.
2. No Spam
I’m talking about spam in its purest sense, here—unsolicited emails marketing gambling services are stain on the industry. I mentioned the image that the Web-based gambling industry has of being less than savory. Spamming players with unsolicited ads damages the entire industry’s reputation in ugly ways.
One way to do this is to use a specific, one-time email address when signing up at the casino. Don’t use this email address for anything but signing up at that site. If you start receiving marketing messages from other businesses, you’ll know that the casino you signed up with is either spamming you directly or selling your email address to other sites.
But wait, you’re thinking. Would setting up a unique email address every time you set up a gambling account be too much trouble?
It’s easier than you think, especially if you’re a Gmail user.
You can attach any string of letters and/or numbers to your email address after a + sign and still get your email. But that email will show the address to which it was sent.
So suppose you want to sign up at Lucky Bob’s Gambling Hall Online. (That’s a fictitious company I made up just to use as an example.)
You’d take your email address, [email protected], and you’d append “lucky-bobs” to it after a + sign. So your email address for purposes of signing up there would look like this:
If you sign up for an Internet casino that uses your email address to spam, you should close your account, withdraw your money, and complain loudly on as many player forums as possible. This kind of behavior and marketing is reprehensible. If enough players take action, it can also be easily stopped.
3. Fair Games
This isn’t as big a problem with online casinos as many players suspect. For the most part, these sites don’t have a lot of incentive to use software that cheats. But there’s cheating and then there’s also being deceptive, so be on the lookout for this sort of thing.
Here’s an example:
I read a report about one particular company where a player had played hundreds of hands of video poker and never received a winning hand. The chances of that happening are infinitesimal at best. Why an Internet casino would cheat so blatantly baffles me. They’d make more money by offering an honest game and letting the house edge do its work.
Here’s another example:
I know of a site which offers games that LOOK like video poker, but they ACT like slot machines. If a game looks like a video poker game, then the odds of being dealt certain cards are supposed to duplicate the odds from a standard 52 or 53 card deck.
But this particular casino has multiple games, slots and video poker, which tie into a single progressive jackpot. Their video poker games are actually slot machines in disguise.
This is a deceptive practice. It’s not as bad as having a game where your chances of winning are 0, but it’s not fair to the player.
The same problem would exist if you had a game which looked like blackjack but didn’t duplicate the odds of a blackjack game dealt from a deck of cards.
A roulette game has a known set of odds. You have 38 numbers on the wheel, and your odds of landing in any one of them are 1/38. If an online casino doesn’t duplicate those odds, it’s cheating.
Slots games are different, because it’s an industry standard for the odds of winning a slots to be more or less hidden from view. Of course, it’s unheard of that your chances of ever winning on a slot machine are 0, but no one but the manufacturers know the real odds of any particular symbol turning up on any given reel at any given time.
Offering fair games is one area where most sites in this business have no problem, but it’s something that should be on any list of the minimum standards.
4. Must Pay Winners
A much bigger and more common problem in the industry is that some sites don’t pay their winners or they don’t pay their winners in a timely manner. The reasons for this are usually trumped up nonsense. More regulation and standards would help eliminate this problem, but that’s unlikely to happen soon.
Here’s a common problem with sites in this business:
You get lucky on a slot machine game and win $6000. You quit playing, because you want to pocket your winnings. You go to the cashier section on the site and withdraw your funds.
You get a message explaining that it will take 5-7 days or process your withdrawal.
That’s not great news, but some processing time is acceptable.
But then 5 days later, you check the status of your withdrawal, and it’s been canceled pending a “security check”. When you contact customer service, they explain that they need further documentation from you proving your identity before releasing your funds.
You send the documentation over, and re-initiate your withdrawal. Now you have to wait an additional 5-7 days.
Here’s another situation you might run into:
You claim a bonus on your signup. Let’s say the site offers a $1000 bonus on a $250 deposit, and they require you to wager the bonus plus the deposit 25 times before letting your cash out.
25 X $1250 = $31,250
For the sake of this example, I’ll assume that the casino has a 10% house edge on their slots games, or a 90% payback percentage. That means your expected loss is $3125. Since you started with $1250, your odds of walking away a winner are slim at best.
But let’s say you hit that $6000 jackpot we were talking about earlier on your first spin. You carefully continue to make your wagers and fulfill the bonus requirement to the letter, and you do lose $3200 before finishing.
You still have winnings of $2800.
And you wagered EXACTLY $31,250.
You know because you tracked it carefully, because for once, you wanted to walk away from the casino a winner.
You go to the cashier and input your $2800 withdrawal.
A day later you get an email from the casino saying that your withdrawal has been canceled for “bonus abuse”.
In their terms and conditions, the casino had a clause about using your signup bonus within the “spirit of the bonus”. Vague terminology, at best.
This is criminal behavior. Vague terms and conditions are worse than bad terms and condition.
This kind of arbitrary behavior from an Internet casino is abhorred by players, but it happens all too often.
And the casinos act somehow hurt when they do this, because they feel like the player has taken advantage of them.
Meanwhile the math behind all the casino games and the bonus offers are systematically geared to make the casino a winner in the long term.
If you’re not willing to accept occasional wins from your players, you shouldn’t be running a site in the gambling space at all.
Here’s a final example:
You win some money. You withdraw it.
The funds go into a “pending” category while the withdrawal is being processed.
At any time, you’re allowed to cancel that withdrawal in order to free up those funds to play with.
This is less shady than some of the other behaviors I’ve pointed out here, but it’s far from ideal. When a player makes a withdrawal, those funds should be gone from her account and on their way via whatever payout method the player chose.
The bottom line is that online casinos should pay their winners in a timely fashion without any delays or trouble.
If a casino doesn’t pay your winnings, you should raise hell about it at as many player forums and player advocate sites as possible.
5. No Underage Gambling
Laws vary by jurisdiction regarding what the legal gambling age is. In some jurisdictions, if you’re 18 years old, you’re old enough to gamble. In others, the legal gambling age is 21.
Online casinos operate internationally, so they might be able to argue that the laws from where their company is located should be the laws that apply.
I think that’s fair enough.
But all casinos should have ironclad processes in place to prevent underage gambling, regardless of whether that’s 18 years old or 21 years old.
Doing anything less than that is horribly irresponsible.
When I was a much younger man, a lawyer explained to me that certain decisions were beyond the capacity of an adolescent in the eyes of the law. For example, in the state of Texas, you’re not considered mentally competent to consent to sex with someone else unless you’re over the age of 17. If you take advantage of someone younger than that, you’re breaking the law.
The same theory applies to online gambling. Taking advantage of youth is just sleazy.
Most casinos have their age requirements prominently posted, at least in the footer of their site. If you can’t find the age requirements on a site, reconsider whether or not you want to play there. If they have no respect for this standard, you could easily run into other problems there.
The variety of countries offering gambling licenses online is staggering, and some of those licenses mean more than others.
But run, don’t walk, away from any online casino that has no mention of any kind of license on their site.
No online casino should ever be operating without some kind of license from some kind of government body. That’s just a minimum standard that every player should insist on.
Frankly, it’s not that hard to get an online casino license from some of these licensing bodies. A site that operates without even getting a license from one of these easier government bodies is demonstrating laziness at best and contempt for their customers at worst.
Heck, I’d be surprised if such a site even offered a fair game. Who knows what kind of random number generator they might be using.
On the other hand, don’t put too much credence into licensing issues. Strict licensing bodies sometimes let large companies get away with behavior that would raise eyebrows at the least.
Reputation is more important than licensing, but licensing shouldn’t be ignored.
7. Clear Terms and Conditions
Signup bonuses seem to cause more trouble than their worth. It sounds like a great deal to be able to gamble with a bankroll of $5000 if you only deposit $1000, but the terms and conditions for these bonuses are often draconian in substance. Worse yet, many sites don’t post the rules as prominently they should.
Sure, it’s your responsibility to understand the terms and conditions of the casino. But the site has a responsibility to make it easy for you to do so, too.
Here’s an example:
You sign up for the $4000 bonus on the $1000 deposit, and you realize that the wagering requirement is 35X. But the casino has a clause that ANY play on any disallowed games invalidates your bonus.
Blackjack is one of the most commonly disallowed games when it comes to clearing your bonus requirements, but most casinos simply don’t count wagers made on blackjack.
But some properties will just invalidate all your winnings. They might return your deposit; they might not. Either way, the problem is that terms like these are unreasonable, but they’re often hard to find and/or understand.
You should look closely at the terms and conditions of any bonus at any casino. Before you spin the reels on a single slot machine, make sure you okay with the terms and conditions of that bonus. If you’re not, then ask that the bonus be canceled.
Casinos should also be willing to cancel bonuses upon request if you ask them to. Any casino which refuses to do so doesn’t deserve your business. Feel free to close your account and ask for your deposit back if they behave in this way.
8. Progressive Jackpots
Cash flow problems are common in any business, but imaging being in a situation where you suddenly have to pay a customer a huge sum of money. That’s exactly what happens to an online gambling site when a player wins a progressive jackpot.
Most casinos don’t pay this money out in one transaction. In fact, almost all of them pay these winnings out on an installment plan of some kind. I don’t have a problem with that, and you shouldn’t either. That’s just how the business works.
But sites that pay out on an installment plan should make these payments religiously, and the payments should be large enough to matter.
A site that misses a scheduled payment isn’t living up to the simple standards everyone should expect from them.
A site that pays out a tiny sum of money on a weekly or monthly basis isn’t being fair to the player.
The casino has the edge, even with huge, life-changing jackpots. They should use their money responsibly, not get too greedy, and live up to their end of the bargain. They should be making a profit easily, even if they’re making payments on a progressive jackpot that you just won.
9. Affiliate Terms and Conditions
This won’t apply to most players, but webmasters need to hold casinos to standards, too. Almost all online casinos have affiliate programs, and how they treat their affiliates matters. The industry has seen all kinds of awful behavior toward the Webmasters who operate online gambling information sites.
One of the most obnoxious things an online casino can do is retroactively change their terms and conditions. Here’s an example:
You sign up at an affiliate program, and they agree to pay you 25% rev share on your customers. Then a few months later, they send you an email complaining that you’re not sending them enough new players, so they’re closing your account.
The terms of your agreement with the property included some vague language about how the affiliate program can change these terms at any time, but let’s be real. You didn’t expect to stop getting your commissions on those players just because your site got a Google penalty and traffic took a nosedive.
Arbitrary enforcement and changing of terms and conditions for affiliates is a blight on the industry. Casinos which mistreat players will also mistreat webmasters, and vice versa. Players should consider reading gambling webmaster forums to see if webmasters are complaining about the casino at which they’re considering playing. Webmasters should read player forums, too.
10. Links to Responsible Gambling Sites
Legitimate, trustworthy casinos offer prominent links for problem gamblers to sites where they can find help. I don’t have an opinion on which treatment modalities are best for gambling addicts. 12 step programs work great for some people, but other people often need some other kind of help.
Casino sites which don’t offer these prominent links are the exception, not the rule. It’s such a standard part of an online casino website design that the lack of these links should raise eyebrows. I’m not sure I’ve ever clicked through to any of these sites linked to in the footer.
But I don’t think I’d want to play at a site which neglected to include these links, either.
This is one of those easy, no-brainer ways of demonstrating that you care about your customers. It’s so easy that it’s worth doing even if you’re faking that you care.
A site that doesn’t even want to pretend that it cares about gamblers and problem gambling is probably site you shouldn’t patronize.
The online gambling industry is largely unregulated in much of the world. Even in the jurisdictions where it is regulated, the standards might not be what I’d hope for. Luckily, enough player and webmaster forums look out for players’ interests that you can investigate reputations.
But new online casino gamblers might not know what behavior to look for from these companies. The purpose of this post was to give you some easy standards to apply when evaluating where you want to play.