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 email@example.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 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
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 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.
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
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
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
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
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
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