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Articles
Analysis of the Golden Palace Scandal
by Brian Cullingworth, Online Players Association
Updated 17 Nov 2000

Each week Steve Adkins of the Online Players Association reports on the good, the bad and the ugly in the online gambling scene. WINNERonline welcomes feedback on Adkins' remarks from players and casinos. Send your comments to reception@winneronline.com. Your comments may be published.

This week's OPA column has been written by Brian Cullingworth, an Internet Gaming Consultant and a proud member of the OPA.

GOLDEN PALACE / MICROGAMING

This chain of something like 18 casinos owned by Boomerang Inc. are all interconnected on the backend of the systems, but have no indications onsite that they belong to the same group. It is therefore possible for a player to sign up at more than one of their casinos without knowing it is part of the group.

The Golden Palace scandal has been running for months now, and started when they began offering badly-thought-out signup bonuses and were flooded with players. Their answer was to arbitrarily lock out winning players whom they accused of "bonus abuse" - even though most of these individuals had been playing within the rules framework onsite. In most cases players had their winnings "confiscated". There were hundreds of aggrieved players as a result.

GP have been accused of a number of highly questionable tactics during this period. These included unilaterally and without notice changing bonus rules - retrospectively denying players their winnings; telephoning high-profile and vocal players at home with rude and intimidating content; accusing players of holding more than one account despite the fact that the players had no way of knowing which casinos were in their group; going onto MBs and pretending to be satisfied players in order to spam; treating - or ignoring completely - their complaining players with arrogance and contempt.

Having achieved nothing in their attempts to obtain satisfaction from GP management, players then made approaches to the "regulating" authorities in Antigua and Khanawake to influence GP. These regulating facades repeatedly ignored numerous approaches and were not only almost totally uncommunicative, but eventually sided with GP, in most cases without even seeing the documented complaints. Consequently they, too, are casualties of this issue having totally lost player credibility.

When it became clear that players would receive no satisfaction from the casino management or the supposed regulators, documented complaints were submitted to the IGC, which regrettably fell completely short of its objective to protect players and foster good relationships between players and casinos. In fact the perception created was that the IGC totally ignored the growing number of complaints and took no public or mediating position on the issue.

Players' complaints were by this time being centralized through the owner of the www.yourluckypage.com site, Steve Adkins. The IGC spent much of its time ignoring or professing ignorance of the numerous fully documented complaints Adkins sent them on two occasions, despite promising to review each case on its merits. To date not one player has heard from them. IGC has lost a major opportunity to bind the players to it as a result.

Contigious with the approaches to the authorities, individual aggrieved players and people like Steve Adkins championing their cause approached Microgaming as the software supplier responsible. Initially it appears that the player's hope would be that the software supplier would influence GP into a more professional manner of operating. From the start it seems that Microgaming bungled their player relationship approach, if indeed they ever had one. Their attitude was characterized by what can only be described as arrogance, and most of the time they simply did not respond to emails or indeed telephone calls. This of course merely fanned the already raging flames of discontent amongst the players, as did GP's continued behavior.

By now, the vacuum created by the apparent lack of interest or involvement of IGC, Microgaming or the "regulating authorities" had led to the formation of the Online Players Association, headed up by Steve Adkins and manned on a voluntary basis by prominent players and information site executives. The fact that membership numbers built up so fast is testament to the desperation of the players, who had nowhere else to turn.

Microgaming then made a move which most applauded. They offered to take a batch of 18 complaining players (which had been submitted by Adkins) and have their cases independently assessed by Price Waterhouse Coopers. It seemed to be a breakthrough, and it is astonishing that Microgaming did not turn it to full advantage in recovering their position. The cloak of silence descended again, and it was only after some time and much pressure that it emerged that the findings had seemingly been in favor of the players. A confidential settlement had been reached with the 18, conditional on their silence.

Of course, these things can never be kept quiet and the details "unofficially" became public knowledge. The players' perception was that Microgaming was in collusion with GP in settling with a small group of players rather than the large numbers of others with genuine complaints. Trust and respect for MGS took a major dive about this time. Microgaming then exacerbated the situation by refusing to disclose the results of the agreed PWC assessment, and by ducking and weaving repeated attempts to get them to communicate. This effectively placed them firmly in the GP camp in players' eyes, for by now an "us and them" adversarial relationship was in full spate.

Microgaming's next move was to promise to communicate, only to do so with a lawyer's letter which added nothing to the debate and mainly told players to follow a complaints route which Microgaming knew had already been exhausted. In the light of subsequent events this letter is now widely perceived by players as a stalling tactic.

Those subsequent events centered around an unannounced and abrupt weekend change by GP to its own gambling software, and a brusque, two line announcement from Microgaming that GP was no longer one of its licencees. The implication was of course that MGS was no longer responsible. Unfortunately that position is hotly disputed by the player community and by the OPA. The IGC has typically said nothing.

WHERE DO THINGS REST NOW?

In the face of extreme player hostility and even threats of an Internet-wide Microgaming boycott, Microgaming promised the OPA that it would consider its position if it were given time. The OPA recommended this to the players as a constructive way forward. There has been nothing further, and this is being viewed with increasing suspicion as the deadline for response (end of October) ticks down. GP is already feeling some of the consequences of its actions - it has been dragged into the courts by three big-name land-based groups for brand infringements, and there will likely be more punitive action in the future. Meanwhile there are signs that Microgaming, too, is feeling the pinch.

The tragedy of this situation is that, unlike Cryptologic and Boss, Microgaming does not apparently have the long strategic view and this will come back to haunt it in the years ahead as the industry matures and the large land-based outfits turn increasingly toward internet gaming.

UPDATE

Gambling Software Systems (GSS) is a software provider which has something like 85 casinos online. They have a good Java games suite of up to 12 games, and in most cases they provide a turnkey casino product which includes 24/7 support to certain levels and accounting facilities (these depend on the client having a funded account from which GSS can disburse monies). The notable exception is Pinnace Group, which does its own thing with its 14 or 15 GSS powered casinos. There have hitherto been few complaints about GSS casinos.

Players Fortune is owned by a Canadian. He also has some questionable sex sites. PF came online this year and has been issuing excessively generous bonuses. At first this attracted mere passing professional attention, because the assumption was that they had budgeted for some "loss leader" marketing tactics to ramp up the gambler base fast. Soon, however, player complaints across the internet became noticeable, rising to a crescendo over the past month or so.

Plainly and simply, the players were not being paid and when they contacted Support at the casino they were badly treated by an apparently inexpert staff.

The OPA became involved, and the owner of PF pointed the finger at GSS - saying that they had not fulfilled their contractual obligations to run an efficient Support but more importantly pay the players. GSS immediately attracted flak. In sharp and positive contrast to the manner in which Microgaming handled the GP crisis, GSS were open and communicative - pointing out that they could not cut checks for players if the owner had bankrupted his GSS account.

GSS also correctly closed down the deposit and wagering facility onsite and on an affiliate site called Americana Casino to ensure that a bad situation was not made worse by continued player losses. At the same time the software provider publicly undertook to actively seek a solution to the problems with the owner.

PF, or allegedly one of its employees "motivated by loyalty" then shot themselves squarely in the foot. Part of the intense MB activity following the notification of PF's payout failure was a posting by one of the PF gamblers which identified the owner of PF. The PF employee "somehow" managed to get the gambler's password and hacked into the independent message board site to delete the identifying post. He was almost immediately picked up and identified. The results of this deplorable action are still to be felt, but it created a storm of distrust and revulsion which continues to swirl around the PF ownership.

WHERE WE STAND NOW

The PF owner is widely perceived as a liar and cheat with low morals. GSS's efforts to broker a solution with the players' interest uppermost has stalled pending the outcome of a legal action which PF's owners have now launched regarding the unfunded account and monies owing to players. Prejudice to scores of players is thought to be well in excess of US $60 000.

PF's owner clearly does not have the funds to pay his winners, and GSS cannot issue checks because the PF account is currently bankrupt. GSS can not take their players' initiative further without an allowance document from PF's lawyers. The saga continues....

UPDATE (Modified 17 Nov 2000)

Wind 'n Sea Gaming is a casino management outfit operating from Belize (at present) with a CEO called Craig Williamson (aka Shawn Brady) who is a disgraced former manager from Bingomania who was summarily dismissed last November for misappropriating company funds. He is an articulate and convincing seller of his personal image.

There are a number of casinos which have entrusted their affairs to his company, which supplies both livechat support (Jungle Management) and e-cash processing. The casinos are nicely put together and all come equipped with a comprehensive Java gambling suite from Canadian software provider Chartwell Technology. Chartwell was last week selected by Harrahs to provide Play for Free games on its revamped website - a major software coup.

The old problems - non-payment of winners for extended periods, and Support which is incompetent or uncommunicative have been surfacing with increasing frequency over the past three months and have now reached alarming proportions across the range of Wind 'n Sea administered casino and bingo sites. In addition, Wind 'n Sea stands accused of charging clients when it was advertising itself as up in free-play Beta format. There are unsubstantiated accusations of c/card numbers being misused. Many players brought their problem to the OPA when they joined, and the OPA has been led a merry dance by the fast tap-dancing of Mr. Williamson. An entertaining range of excuses has been deployed - Hurricane Keith when most of the complaints originated before that hit Belize; awful Belize communications and other infrastructure; competitive sites in sinister plots - the list is apparently only limited by Williamson's ingenuity.

However, the OPA pressure on Chartwell as the software supplier, Harrahs, MBs, webcasts and 'zenes is clearly having an impact, because Williamson finally agreed to pay outstanding winners out and furnish FedEx waybills as proof to the OPA. That promise kept him going for around three weeks without action of any sort, and now that pressure is again being applied he has just issued his first waybill numbers - four winners payments!

The players' jury is out on WnS as everyone waits to see how long it takes him to work his way through the scores of outstanding player winnings. At present the cynical belief is that Williamson is simply trying to move the spotlight by paying out a minimal number of players. If he can get players back into his operations he clearly hopes to make his cashflow go the right way.

It is also understood that the cash-strapped Nicaraguan government has been convinced by Williamson that easy bucks are to be made by setting up an internet gambling jurisdiction. You guessed it - it is to be run by this character! To paraphrase an ancient Roman saying "Who Shall Watch The Watchers".

This remains another developing crisis, but Wind 'n Sea currently have a shocking reputation on the 'Net. The major online bingo 'zene "BingoBugle" has been running stories on these scams, and the OPA has Williamson under a microscope at present.

Tellingly, players now have so little faith in the IGC that this issue has largely been prosecuted without reference or hope in their ability to do anything for the player. Another missed opportunity for this august body with such potential for good.

The Online Players Association is an association of casino owners, forum managers, and online players working to "cleanup" the industry, assist mutual parties in earning complete trust, and establish integrity for us all. For more information, or to join the OPA, go to www.onlineplayersassociation.com

You can hear Steve Adkins' webcast at www.casinogazette.com

This column expresses the opinions of the writer. These opinions are not necessarily the opinions of Winneronline.

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