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Emily D. Swoboda
 

Testing, Contesting and Digesting

5 December 2005

A collaborative research project from three groups that have closely monitored social issues related to Internet gambling revealed in July 2004 that the age verification systems from an alarmingly high percentage of online gambling operators were perhaps not up to par. The study--conducted by children's charity organization NCH, GamCare, which addresses the social impact of gambling, and ID authenticity specialist Citizencard--was an eye opener for many in the I-gaming space, especially considering the prominence and stature of some of the operators that failed the test. Seventeen months later, IGN has taken a firsthand look at how the problem is being addressed.

The NCH study encompassed gambling sites based in the United Kingdom as well as in offshore jurisdictions. The test was simple: A 16 year-old volunteer named Ruby from London (the daughter of one of the researchers) attempted to use her Solo debit card (under close supervision) to register an online account at each of 37 gambling Web sites; she provided all of her own personal information except her true age, which she registered as 21.

The 37 sites were evaluated based on the following criteria: If Ruby was able to register an account, using the false age (21), and was accepted without question, the company failed. On the other hand, if the company required proof of age, it passed. Out of the 37 sites tested, only seven passed: Luckyme.co.uk, skybetvegas.com, virgingames.com, hardrockcasino.com, nationallottery.co.uk, ladbrokes.com and cyberslotz.co.uk all blocked the player at registration. Cyberslotz.com did not even accept Solo cards.

The 30 Websites that failed did so because, according to the study's parameters, they allowed Ruby to register without verifying her age.

Some companies have publicly disputed the method and findings of the study. An article titled "Online bookies reject charity report on underage gambling," published Sept. 8, 2004 on the British news site Netimperative states:

Gambling sites have hit back at accusations by children's charity NCH that minors are able to access gaming sites. They say the charity fails to take into account factors such as the role of the banks in issuing debit cards to minors. . . . While the findings showed that most of the Web sites allowed underage users to start up accounts, NCH has conceded it does not know how many children are actually taking advantage of these flaws. It also failed to address the fact that children would also encounter difficulties further along the line in the gambling process.

The NCH maintains in the report, however, that online gambling operators--equipped with the knowledge that several debit cards are readily available to minors--carry most of the responsibility. This point is made in the first two paragraphs of the report:

For several years now it has been known within the online gambling industry that debit cards such as Visa Electron, Solo and Switch are available to under 18s. Some debit cards from certain banks are even available to children as young as 11 years old. Current figures from APACS (Association for Payment Clearing Services) estimate that 45 percent of all 16 and 17 year olds own a debit card, which is around 675,000 young people. This figure does not include young people between 11 and 15 who may also own a Solo or Visa electron debit card. The overall figure is, therefore, more likely to be nearer to a million under-18 card holders.

This prevalence of debit cards for under 18s is important as online gambling and betting sites accept these cards as means of setting up an account, although there are question marks regarding the operators ability to distinguish between customers under the age for gambling and those over the age. The majority of sites don’t appear to employ any age or ID verification systems, thus potentially allowing children as young as 11 to register and gamble."

A second criticism of the study is that the researches did not test multiple check points. Some sites, for example, employ their age verification systems at the stage of funding the account, rather than at registration. Any site that takes this approach would fail the NCH test, regardless of how effective its age verification system is.

The Industry Answers

Setting the criticism of the report aside, we attempted to contact representatives from several of the sites that reportedly failed the test and received comments from five of them. We asked each of them what they have done to improve their age verification practices since the GamCare study, and here's what they said:

888.com:

888 has recently installed the state-of-the-art "URU" (You Are You) system, a new e-authentication scheme launched by British Telecom and data management software provider GB Group. It is acknowledged as the best currently available system for age and identity verification.

John Coates, bet365.com:

We did (have measures for verification), however, they weren’t at the time effective against the individual in question. Since then, the industry has continued to take the issue very seriously. Just a week ago the Remote Gambling Association (RGA) published its age verification code. I am pleased to say that bet365 is already compliant with the code.

Mark Davies, Betfair:

We always said (the test) was an odd one because it did the test at the point of opening the account rather than at the point of funding. If you can't fund, you can't bet--and our checks take place at the point of funding. A similar test took place recently which we were one of the few to pass, for precisely this reason. We also just won "Socially Responsible Operator of the Year" at the e-Gaming Awards.

Linda Donovan, Celebpoker.com:

Firstly may I say that we have never received any reports from GamCare regarding our standards. It clearly states on our site that you must be 18. We deny more deposits than approving them for various reasons, and have never accepted a bet from an underage player. It is fair to say that GamCare has placed us in their top 30 because we have not paid them a fee. Obviously, this is where they make their money.

Simon Johnson, Jackpotfactory.com:

We require all registrants to provide us personal details upon registration, including name, address and date of birth. For all players who deposit with us, we run checks on national databases--publicly available in virtually every country in the world--which allow us to verify a person's identity based on the details they have provided. These databases record only the names of people over 18, so a negative response (meaning the database could not find anyone who matched the details provided) is a possible flag for an underage player. In such cases we automatically request documents proving the person's identity and age, and if they are unable to produce such documents within the required time frame, we close the account.

In addition, we have flags in place based on a combination of factors including total amounts of deposits, withdrawals and time at the casino. A high amount of deposits within a short time of joining the casino may indicate an underage gambler, for example.

We have closed many accounts based on these parameters given above and will continue to do all we can to prevent minors from gambling. In addition, we are taking the lead in age verification procedures in the mobile space.

Responsibility

The NCH says several age verification systems--including the interactive Age Check (iAC) system, developed by Experian and Citizencard, and VerifyMe--are available to the gambling industry, but only a minority of businesses is taking advantage of them.

The NCH study covered only a fraction of the Internet gambling sites available, and with more and more sites launching, keeping up with legal standards becomes increasingly complex. At the same time, it's not just up to the industry to protect children.

Jeffrey Derevensky, PhD, co-director of the Youth Gambling Institute in Montreal, feels that the responsibility of monitoring children's activities falls not only on the gambling industry, but on parents as well as the educational system.

"Parents have a responsibility to monitor their kids," he said. "I think kids have a responsibility not to play for money. I think our educational system has a responsibility to help prepare kids by developing and implementing prevention initiatives in this domain."

Testing, Contesting and Digesting is republished from iGamingNews.com.
Emily D. Swoboda
Emily D. Swoboda