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Andrew Beveridge
 

Tough but Worth It

20 August 2008

Successful businesses are well-run, professional endeavors that deliver value and respect to customers.

This general rule applies especially to the online gambling industry, where there are few barriers to entry, inconsistent and fragmented regulation across many nations and a consequent range of player options that ranges from the shoddy and at times integrity-challenged right through to well-established, tier-one companies keen to offer the best product and services available.

Until they become more experienced and knowledgeable in the pastime, online gamblers can fall into the hands of unscrupulous operators, risking unfair games, problematical payment issues and the danger of being unjustly penalized for being a "bonus abuser." This is a compelling reason for reputable companies to distinguish themselves from the mediocre and undesirable elements in the business.

eCOGRA, or e-Commerce and Online Gaming Regulation and Assurance, was formed five years ago as an independent, non-profit company based in the United Kingdom with the goal of providing player protection. It does this by ensuring that its members apply the best business and operational standards available, continuously monitored by qualified professionals to ensure ongoing compliance.

The team includes only individuals with extensive audit firm and online gambling experience. To date some 131 tier-one online casinos and poker rooms have committed to implementing the carefully researched standards and submit to continuous monitoring and reviews.

Adding another level of protection, eCOGRA operates an online disputes system for players at accredited venues who have been unable to resolve issues directly with casino management. The eCOGRA fair gaming advocate regularly and transparently adjudicates disputes, in many cases finding for the player where the required standards have not been met.

Those online gambling companies that are accredited under the eCOGRA system are awarded a revocable Safe and Fair quality seal which indicates to newbie and experienced player alike that they are entitled to expect top levels of service and integrity from the Web site bearing the seal. Over the past five years that seal has proved its value through performance and real enforcement.

Serious Commitment

The achievement of seal status starts with a serious commitment by the applicant company to be among the best on the Internet; it's a tough but worthwhile process that provides the operator with quality professional advice on every aspect of online gambling operational activity and software probity.

Provided the product passes its requirements, eCOGRA accepts applications from operators no matter which software package they use.

The first step in the process is for the operator to study eCOGRA's fully documented requirements, consulting where necessary with the compliance teams. From there, the standards -- known as eGAPs -- are implemented, covering software fairness, management probity, administration, finance, customer service and support, responsible gambling, privacy, dispute procedures and marketing systems.

When the applicant is ready, the eCOGRA compliance teams move in, commencing with a thorough study of the software to ensure that the right safety systems and fairness regimes are in place. This often requires physical visits to the software provider. Further on-site visits take place at the premises of the applicant for inspection and verification checks that can last several days.

Where instances of non-compliance are uncovered, the applicant is provided with the necessary guidance and time to make adjustments, culminating in a clean scorecard, and a favourable report to eCOGRA’s independent directors who control all operational aspects of eCOGRA and particularly the award or revocation of the Safe and Fair seal.

The process does not end with the applicant proudly displaying the seal, however. Through an outcomes-based software monitoring regime called the Total Gaming Transaction Review, the fairness of the games is continuously analyzed using a sophisticated methodology pioneered by the auditing industry. And every year, or more frequently if required by the directors, seal operators undergo a further on-site inspection.

Providing the ultimate level of oversight and ensuring that eCOGRA itself is reviewed, the organization has contracted the services of KPMG, an internationally respected business services and auditing group.

Better Business

eCOGRA best-practice standards have been developed through extensive international consultation and wide experience with the top companies in the industry, and therefore provide a powerful foundation for operators that wish to go the extra mile in operational excellence and at the same time improve their business systems.

Safe and Fair-sealed online gambling venues provide the proof of how effective the systems are, boasting high activity and the lowest levels of player complaints and disputes in the industry relative to the massive volumes of business which these market leaders generate.

For players, the seal is a reliable indicator that the venue they are thinking about using is among the best on the Web; for operators, there is improved business and the satisfaction of knowing that their companies can withstand comparison with the standards and requirements of any national jurisdiction.

A research initiative managed two years ago by the Betting and International Gaming Research Unit at Nottingham Trent University, involving 11,000 online gamblers, showed 55 percent wanted to see an increase in online gambling sites voluntarily submitting themselves to effective and credible self-regulation such as that offered by eCOGRA -- something distinct from the necessarily geographic constraints of national licensing bodies in an industry that by its very nature transcends the physical borders of countries.

eCOGRA will always endeavor to compliment (rather than compete with) the efforts of existing jurisdictions and other reputable organizations. eCOGRA's principles and methodologies for ensuring software fairness are now formally recognized by the Isle of Man, Gibraltar, Kahnawake and First Cagayan (Philippines) licensing authorities.

Discussions are in progress with various other leading jurisdictions to achieve similar recognition.

It's tough, but it's worth it!

Tough but Worth It is republished from iGamingNews.com.
Andrew Beveridge
Andrew Beveridge