A new U.K.-based non-profit organization called eCOGRA has come onto the scene with designs on becoming the international standard for gaming regulations and has sent out a call for I-gaming suppliers to join its ranks.
With backing from gaming software supplier Microgaming Software Systems Ltd. and Internet casino operator Virtual Holdings Ltd, the group hopes to provide online gamblers with a new standard of assurance for fair, honest and responsible gaming.
"As the online gaming industry matures, there is a need for responsible software suppliers to take the next step toward increased credibility. eCOGRA is this step."
- Andrew Beveridge
Not only does eCOGRA (e-Commerce and Online Gaming Regulation and Assurance) have the backing of one of the largest suppliers to the industry in Microgaming, but in Virtual Holdings, the owner and operator of Casino-On-Net, the group has the support of one of the world's largest Internet casino operators. In addition to operating its own casino, Virtual Holdings has the biggest affiliate program on the Internet. eCOGRA estimates that Microgaming licensees and Casino-on-Net affiliates represent nearly 70 percent of the online gaming market.
Longtime I-gaming exec Andrew Beveridge has been tapped to lead the group as chief executive. Beveridge was the executive director of games and gaming at E-Company, the parent of LiveBet.com, before joining the association.
Despite eCOGRA's close ties to Casino-on-Net and Microgaming, Beveridge maintains that the group strives to be totally independent. Beveridge is part of a six-member board that includes three independent directors with voting control over board decisions. Having the independent directors, Beveridge said, will ensure that no single company or operator takes control over decision making.
The independent members of the board are Paul Hainsworth, former director of risk management at PricewaterhouseCoopers; Bill Galston OBE, former chief inspector of the Gaming Board for Great Britain; and Frank Catania, a former legislator in the state of New Jersey as well as the state's director of the Division of Gaming Enforcement.
Representatives from Microgaming and Virtual Holdings will fill the remaining two spots on the board.
Beveridge said that in the absence of an international regulatory standard for I-gaming operators, it's important for Internet gamblers to have some type of assurance of quality. If a site or supplier is up to eCOGRA's standards, he said, players will know they are dealing with a reputable operator.
"The organization will provide online gaming software suppliers and their customers with the guidance and tools necessary to adhere to a higher level of integrity and responsibility," he said. "eCOGRA is a long overdue initiative in an industry that has been trying to build credibility with consumers and regulators. Our mission is to prove that responsible companies are involved in online gaming and to make them readily recognizable to consumers and government officials."
The cornerstone for eCOGRA will be a seal-of-approval program through which operators and suppliers will be able to put the eCOGRA seal on their products if certain standards are met. Once the system gains enough operators, Beveridge said, players will automatically look for it when they go online.
"The eCOGRA seal will become the benchmark gold standard," he explained. "It will be an instant symbol to the players that they can trust the site to offer fair games and honest, timely payment transactions."
To obtain the eCOGRA seal, an operator must use software supplied by a member of eCOGRA and must also comply with the group's "Statements of Generally Accepted Practices." ECOGRA's audit panel determines the level of compliance with the group's standards. Sites will also be checked for player protection policies, technical capabilities and anti-money laundering controls.
PriceWaterhouseCoopers is a member of the audit panel, and Beveridge expects other respected accounting firms to join in the near future.
Beveridge said he hopes to publicize the Statements of Generally Accepted Practices within a couple of weeks. The goal, he said, is for the standards to be used as a minimum requirement for jurisdictions looking to regulate online gaming.
The new initiative will help separate "top-level" operators who might be in a loosely regulated jurisdiction from others in the same country as well as give players a measure stick for operators located in different jurisdictions.
"These sites run the gamut from highly regulated to completely unregulated," Beveridge said. "With eCOGRA, the software providers are getting involved in the interest of the gambling public. We will certify operators that players can trust."
Beveridge said eCOGRA is accepting applications from online gaming software suppliers that share the vision toward fair and responsible online gaming. He is hopeful that the industry can send a clear message to international regulators: that it is willing to voluntarily create high standards for its members.
"As the online gaming industry matures, there is a need for responsible software suppliers to take the next step toward increased credibility," he said. "eCOGRA is this step. Consumers will now have a choice. They can play at casino Web sites knowing that their deposits are secure and the casino games are fair. This self-imposed regulation overcomes the difficulties of existing attempts to regulate, which are all based on terrestrial gaming models and do not provide the fundamental advantage of Total Gaming Transaction Review on a continuous basis."
eCOGRA is seeking only suppliers of casino software as members, but will likely expand to welcome suppliers from other gaming sectors.