London-based ID verification firm 192.com Business Services is helping UK's online gaming operators prepare for compliance with the Gambling Act 2005, part of dictates that gaming operators must have reasonable belief about a person's age.
In 1997, 192's parent company i-CD Publishing started out publishing electoral roll database information on disks, and by 2000 they were publishing disks containing photo databases and national telecommunications directory inquiry files. As the world began turning to the Internet more and more, i-CD Publishing followed suit.
"During the dot-com boom we turned ourselves into a public access Website, which then was called 192.com," said David Pope, marketing and sales operation manager for 192.com Business Services. "It's a public access Web site, which at its peak had 4 or 5 million registered users, which were a mixture of consumers and business users."
192 is the directory assistance telephone number in the UK, much like 411 in the U.S. and Canada.
192.com is still in business providing customers with names, addresses and telephone numbers of residents in the UK, but since 2000 it has expanded into other service areas as well.
"At the end of the dot-com boom we found that there was a massive need in the business community for verifications and people finding," Pope said. "So we started out as ID verification specialists serving the retail market and the finance market and a number of other vertical sectors."
192.com Business Services' client list includes retail businesses such as discount travel company Last Minute, computer retailer Dell, Internet shopping site Amazon and online auction company eBay.
But in the last couple of years, Pope said, they started to notice a need in the online gaming sector to do identity verification for a number of purposes, of which age verification is one of the most important.
192.com has seven ID verification products in its catalog, including 192 Player ID, which is a product that launched just a year ago and is tailored to meet the needs of the online gaming market.
192 Player ID consists of a name and address check, which is based on the information the gaming operator collects during the account creation process. 192 can then check names and addresses against all the national telecommunications providers.
With the nature of the Internet being a global market, 192.com not only has a UK solution, but also global solution. Otherwise, Pope said, it's meaningless.
"192 has databases we can check against all the way across the globe and that makes us the only identity verification provider in the world that can do name and address check in lots and lots of different countries around the world," Pope said.
192 begins their ID checks by taking a very minimum amount of information from the customer during the account creation process, such as name and address, and doing a quick check in their available telecom databases. Once the identity has been verified, which Pope said takes just a matter of seconds, they send a signal back the gaming operator to let them know that the customer is legitimate and at least 18 years of age.
But if further checks are required, 192 can check names, addresses and dates of birth against passports and driver's licenses.
192 has two philosophies about identity verification, Pope said. The first philosophy is that the match rate is key.
"Say for example if an online operator wants to verify names and addresses in the U.S. or France or the UK, they have to be able to do that as successfully as possible," Pope said. "If they can't verify a name and address, they can't just turn that customer down because of it. So what we do is we take as many different databases as we can and run checks against them."
Their second philosophy is that customers should have a plan B because otherwise they might be turning away a real, valid customer.
"You have to be prepared for when a person isn't in the database," Pope said. "Sometimes people just aren't on databases because they've just moved, or their surname has changed because they've been married or they're coming from a country for which we don't have a database. So there is another way around it."
The way around it is a safeguard product called 192 Safe Bet. Operators can choose, during the account creation process, to have the 192 server place an automated call to a customer on their phone, land line or cellular. A script is then read asking the customer to state their name and whether or not they are 18. When the person answers back, the computer captures a voice print of that person saying they are at least 18 years of age.
Further, gaming operators can configure Safe Bet any way they see fit. For example, they can set it up to place a call to their customers each time they log on or randomly.
Pricing for these services is tailored to each individual customer's needs.
"Our customers pay on a per-identity-check basis," Pope said. "So, for instance, if a customer wants to run 10,000 age and identity checks a year, we charge them a set number of pence, or a set number of euros per check they do. So some of our customers do millions of checks a year, in which case it comes down to a matter of mere cents, or pence, or euro cents that you can count on two hands.
"The key thing is that the cost has to be decided in relation to the value of the transaction. In other words, say a sports book is signing up a customer that is going to spend only five to 10 dollars per year, then clearly for these customers the cost of it has to be small enough to fit those people in the business model."
The UK Gambling Act goes into effect July 2007 and online gaming operators have until Sept. 1, 2007, but 192 has seen an increase in companies and gaming operators gearing up for that process. But Pope said companies aren't just doing this because of the legislation. There is actually a pressing commercial need for gaming operators to do this.
"From time to time you'll see some media exposé about children being able to register accounts with gambling Web sites," Pope said. "The industry as a whole doesn't want that to happen because it just pours fuel on the fire, especially with people like Senator John Kyl wanting to outlaw gambling full-stop."
But operators need to protect not only their reputation but also their brand, says Pope.
"The massive success of online gaming at the moment is that everyone is working towards an exit strategy," Pope said. "Shareholders want their businesses to be bought out, or to float on NASDAQ, or the London Stock Exchange or AIM or some other stock market. So what gaming operators want to do is not only please the regulators, but they want to please the shareholders, making them safe in the stock markets."
"Online gambling is a fast-paced, jam-packed, instant gratification oriented industry and people don't want to be bogged down in excessive security checkpoints.
"This industry doesn't want real difficult and heavy verification processes that eliminate some valid customers," Pope said. "What they want is a solution to be able to get around that situation and still verify people, even though they can't match tem to a name and address."