A Word on Online Gambling Commissions
While the online casino and gambling industry has been around for the better part of two decades now, the licensing and regulation thereof is still in its infancy.
However, since the inception of online gambling, online casinos have always had some form of licensing to operate. In the past Microgaming online casinos were generally licensed in Kahnawake who collected the licensing fees and didn't do much else, but as the years passed and a broader spotlight was placed on the activities of online gaming operations, so the role of issuing authorities has changed.
In recent years certain countries within the EU like the UK passed legislation to license and regulate online gambling, supposedly to ensure that greater emphasis is placed on player protection and online casino transparency, but ultimately to ensure that the various governments get their slice of the financial action.
Still, most players feel far more secure playing at an online casino that is licensed by a government appointed body such as the UKGC (United Kingdom Gambling Commission) ‐ after all surely a license means that big brother is watching the casino carefully and any player disputes will be solved speedily ‐ right?
While there is an element of truth to these widely held beliefs in that online casinos are required to meet a certain set of criterion under their licensing agreements, it does not necessarily mean that the licensing body in question will tend to individual player disputes ‐ unless of course there is enough evidence to prove that the online casino in question is in breach of the terms of its licensing agreement under the Gambling Act in place in the country in question.
So what do Gambling Commissions really do?
Online Gambling Commissions tasked with the licensing of online casinos within the various countries, differ in tasks and authority from one country to the next. In the UK, the UKGC is responsible for the following:
- Assessing licensing applications ‐ this takes place based on 5 criteria including: verifying the identity and ownership of the operator in question, assessing the financial history and circumstances of the business, investigating the integrity and competence of the applicant and ensuring that no criminal records exist for those owning/operating the business.
- Ensuring Compliance ‐ with the Gambling Act of 2005 and regulations under this law, Licensing Conditions and Codes of Practice (LCCP) and the meeting of any technical standards applicable to operating licenses.
- Enforcement of compliance ‐ if an operator does not comply with the regulations set up in the aforementioned compliance codes, the UKGC may launch regulatory or criminal investigation processes which have the potential to result in the imposition of a regulatory sanction and/or the laying of criminal charges against the operator in question.
- Regulatory Action ‐ The UKGC has a variety of powers which may be exercised in the regulation of its licenses including the addition of conditions to licenses, warning of license holders, suspending or revoking licenses and the imposing of financial penalties for breaches.
- Gambling Related Legislation ‐ the drafting and amendments of all gambling related legal policies
- Intelligence ‐ regulating gambling activities through intelligence regarding illegal activities in order to curb criminal activity, ensure fair and transparent gambling practices and to protect minors and vulnerable individuals from harm or exploitation through gambling.
You will note that from the above scope of authority, the responsibility for player disputes and finances does not fall under the Commission's roles unless it is proven that the licensee is in breach of the laws stipulated in the gambling act.
So what does this mean for me as a player?
As a player, playing at a licensed and regulated online casino does afford you some peace of mind as licensees are vetted and monitored based on the aforementioned criteria. It also ensures, amongst other things that a casino will generally respect your wishes to be excluded from any future play should you choose to exercise this option.
However, gambling commissions do not oversee the day to day running of casino operations and do not consider delayed player payments a regulatory matter. The only time payments and player funds come under regulatory review is if it can be proven that the operator accepted bets knowing they would not be able to payout or if they deliberately or recklessly mislead players.
In terms of player complaints, these are also not handled directly by gambling commissions. As a player you will have more success by playing at licensed casinos that are also certified by an independent player watchdog body like eCogra. Other player dispute bodies and sites do exist with varying degrees of success, but eCogra is the most widely known and accepted body for player disputes within the industry.
As you can see from the above discussion, where a casino is licensed is important, but it is not a failsafe assurance that things won't go wrong, although this is highly unlikely with operations that go to the trouble and expense of securing licenses and registering with organisations like eCOGRA. In addition, these online casinos will have to pay taxes in the country/countries in which they are licensed. In 99% of the cases this gives players an indication that a casino is legitimate.
The industry still has a far way to go in terms of regulation, but after two decades it is safe to say that playing at reputable names in gambling that are now licensed does afford you the best possible protection at this time. Still the onus is on you to do the research.