If you visit any of the multitude of online poker forums, you will often see rants on the legitimacy of online poker and Internet casinos. The posts often will question the legitimacy of the random number generators (RNGs) that determine what cards are dealt to the actual rigging of the site by the owners. What recourse does the online player have?
One thing you can look for is the eCOGRA Seal of Approval. The company, e-Commerce and Online Gaming Regulation and Assurance, is based in London, England and offers their official seal to casinos and poker rooms which have gone through their stringent reviews and tests to ensure the validity of the action at the particular online gaming room. eCOGRA also provides the ability for players to pursue actions against member sites, if the player has attempted to resolve their particular issues with the site beforehand and has not been satisfied with the resolution. There is an extensive and impressive list of members of the Board of Directors that represent gaming from all over the world, from Europe to the United States, and the Directors represent the different interests from the financial (accountants) to the owners of the sites to independent members.
Such casinos as Royal Vegas, 7 Sultans and Casino On Net have gone through the process of review by eCOGRA and have received their seal. Other more notable poker rooms have entered into the review process, as we found out when I talked with Andrew Beveridge, the Chief Executive Officer of eCOGRA.
PN: What are the verification procedures that eCOGRA goes through to verify the different gaming sites?
AB: To ensure impartiality and thoroughly professional vetting, eCOGRA outsources all of its inspection and verification procedures to major international audit firms which have been appointed to our Audit Panel.
The first test for members is a thorough verification of both management and financial probity. That is followed by an in-depth and usually on-site inspection regime which looks at every aspect of operational systems and practice, from Customer Service to Accounts, Marketing to Disputes Procedures. A detailed review is also conducted at each operator's software provider, due to the level of influence that these organisations have on the operator's business. This is an extensive procedure that has often benefited applicants by highlighting areas where the business can be improved through professional and experienced input.
After extensive international research, eCOGRA has developed a set of rules (the eGAP) and standards which form the framework for both the inspection and subsequent conduct if the applicant is accepted. Where an applicant has not met the standards, the non-compliant areas are described in detail in an inspection report, and once these have been addressed the applicant can be re-inspected.
The audit firm then submits its findings to eCOGRA's Seals Compliance Committee, comprised of three individuals who have each been carefully selected based on their integrity and industry experience. This Committee is solely responsible for awarding the Seal.
The award of the eCOGRA Seal is not the end of the process, just the beginning, for an independent review and monitoring system is then put in place to ensure ongoing compliance with the eGAP and to the required standards.
eCOGRA also has an independent Fair Gaming Advocate where aggrieved players with a legitimate complaint who have been unable to obtain satisfaction at operator level can present their cases for unbiased reappraisal and solution.
PN: Which poker rooms have so far come forward to subject themselves to this self-imposed regulation?
AB: eGAP inspections have started at three of the most successful poker operations - Poker Room, Prima Poker and Pacific Poker. Seals can only be awarded once we are assured that there is full compliance with the eGAP requirements, and each of these operations appears adequately qualified to make the grade.
Players and other industry stakeholders need to commend these organisations for submitting to this rigorous self-regulation. An enormous amount of effort and expense is being invested by these companies to ultimately provide a superior online gaming experience which assures player protection, fair gaming and responsible operator behaviour.
We are now calling on all reputable poker outfits to submit to the eCOGRA certification process which will ultimately raise the credibility of this industry as a whole.
PN: Does eCOGRA just look at poker rooms or do you look at other full casino sites?
AB: eCOGRA has already awarded its Seal to over fifty top casinos, which command the bulk of the online casino gaming action. We introduced the casino eGAPs in 2002, and over the past year an enormous amount of research has been undertaken to customize this document and related processes to handle poker room certification.
PN: Can a player feel confident in the random number generators and other components of a eCOGRA verified site?
AB: Absolutely. The independent auditors have been involved in the analysis of the RNG results from online casinos over the past seven years, and this expertise is now used to ensure that the fair gaming requirements in eGAP are met by eCOGRA certified sites. This includes ensuring that the payout percentages from all casino games are independently certified on a monthly basis, and exceed industry norms.
More recently, the RNG work has been extended to include ensuring that cards dealt in the relevant poker rooms are dealt randomly so that every card has an equal chance of being selected.
PN: What actions can a player take if they feel they have been wronged by an eCOGRA approved site?
AB: eCOGRA have appointed a Fair Gaming Advocate (FGA) with considerable industry experience. Provided the player has a legitimate complaint that he or she has been unable to resolve at casino or poker room level, the complaint can be lodged online at www.ecogra.org/disputes. The FGA has an excellent record to date for fast and fair determinations, aided by direct contact with appropriate senior managers, an independent approach and access to outside expert opinion if necessary. Every decision is reviewed by a senior executive.
PN: Are eCOGRA certified sites properly equipped to deal with underage and problem gamblers?
AB: We recently formed an alliance with the Global Gambling Guidance Group (www.gx4.com), which is a leading organisation in the field of social responsibility for gambling operators. In consultation with our members and G4, we have prepared an extremely comprehensive set of draft requirements for eGAP specifically addressing the implementation of controls to effectively combat underage and problem gambling at online gaming sites. This, we believe, will set a benchmark standard for the rest of the industry and compel other operators to also address this extremely sensitive area appropriately.
PN: Thank you very much for your time, sir.
AB: Thank you for yours, as well.
I would like to thank Mr. Beveridge for his time and applaud the efforts of eCOGRA to ensure that all poker and casino players are playing the games on an equal footing. You can learn more about eCOGRA and its approved sites by visiting www.ecogra.org.
I would also encourage the major poker rooms and casinos to undertake the review of their sites through eCOGRA. Only through the proper review and certification of an outside source can we eradicate the cries that rattle through the online poker world that the game is "rigged". Through such review by an organization like eCOGRA, maybe these chants will fade away to the point of non-existence.
The next time you go to play your favorite online site, look for the eCOGRA seal. It will be reassuring for you to know that the games you are playing are on fair ground for all those involved!