Editorial: Crisis Mismanagement 101

20 July 2005

A failure to communicate so often makes ugly situations all the more revolting, and that's precisely what happen last month when U.S. Customs seized $25,000 en route from an online casino to a longtime customer, who was essentially left in the dark for weeks.

The incident, which involved a withdrawal from an account at WildJack.com, can be chalked up as a learning experience for those involved and offers valuable insight into how operators should and should not handle "controversial" matters with their players.

The situation arose harmlessly enough when a frequent player from New Jersey (who claims to have spent an average of $5,000 a week at the site) contacted officials with WildJack requesting that $25,000 be withdrawn from her account. The VIP customer service representative said it would be no problem, and per the player's request, they issued a bank check for the amount and had it sent to her.

The request was made in late June, and on June 28, the player received word that the FedEx package containing the check had been confiscated by U.S. Customs agents in Newark, N.J.

Upon contacting Customs officials, the player was told the package was seized because the check was believed to be counterfeit and that the matter was under investigation.

When she informed Customs that she had been doing business with the company for a while and never had any problems to this nature, they suggested that she was "naive" to think the company was a legitimate operation.

She then turned to Jackpot Factory Group, the operator of WildJack.com, for answers, which is where the situation took a turn for the worse.

The player had never had problems reaching people at Jackpot Factory--and often got directly to decision makers--but this time the lines went cold.

E-mails, phone calls, private messages and pleadings through online message boards went unanswered. Rumors began to swirl in the players forums, where members pointed fingers. Some blamed Customs, which in their minds had no right to confiscate the package, while others focused their distain on the site for not communicating with the player.

CasinoMeister.com's Bryan Bailey said Jackpot Factory has a good reputation and is a member of the CasinoMeister forum as well as an advertiser, but he acknowledged that not responding promptly to a loyal customer was the wrong approach toward dealing with the situation.

"It was apparent that the player was left in the dark from the very beginning," Bailey said. He added that trying to get answers from Customs expectedly got the player nowhere and that she "should have had more assurance from the casino side of the coin."

In hindsight, Bailey said Jackpot Factory should have immediately contacted the payment processor, ProcCyber, and had the checks cancelled, but the VIP office appeared to take no action.

"Sure, the payment was out of the casino's hands--it was the processor's problem--but the casino should have made it their problem since it was their player that was directly affected," Bailey said.

Adding to the players frustration was that the U.S. Customs office can apparently seize whatever it wants without explanation.

As the situation entered a second week, the only real progress made was in the form of a confirmation from Customs agents that the bank checks were fake. The continued lack of action from the operating casino further enraged the player, who took her anger out on the entire online gaming industry.

"I think it's time for the U.S. to ban online gambling totally," she said in a post at CasinoMeister.com. "We all put up our money in good faith, and then we are at the casino's mercy of getting paid should we win. . . . I guess it's time to switch sides and let all these lousy thieves get real jobs instead of feasting off people who believe in them."

A Learning Experience?

The money was finally transferred electronically into the player's account on July 8 (after the original check was cancelled by the payment processor), along with a no-strings-attached $1,000 bonus for her troubles. She seemed pleased with the resolution, but the incident offers some valuable insight into proper customer service management.

"I am not worried about getting paid, and I never was," she said in the forum. "I was more hurt than anything by Jackpot Factory's aloof attitude and lack of action."

Years ago, when the online gaming industry was still in its infancy and when less than desirable operators were more prevalent than they are now, it wasn't uncommon to find a site that had little or no customer service.

Although Jackpot Factory has a good reputation, they clearly dropped the ball in this case. Even Bailey (who handles player disputes through his site) had to wait days to get a response from the operator. And even if they were in the dark as well about what was happening, they still could have contacted the player.

Weeks after the resolution, officials didn't respond to numerous calls from IGN trying to seek comment about the alleged counterfeit check and their inaction in dealing with such a loyal customer.

WildJack.com offers only generic "info@" or "support@" e-mail addresses as contact information, along with a customer support phone number. E-mail requests were supposedly forwarded to the proper personnel, but IGN never heard back from the marketing director or the finance manager, both of whom were said to be involved in the Customs predicament.

Knowing the U.S. government's distaste for online gambling, it is no wonder that many operators shy away from the public light, but in what should have been educational experience, Jackpot Factory's consistent avoidance gives pause to wonder whether the company with the most to learn from the experience learned anything at all from it.

Nobody knows where Kevin Smith came from. He simply showed up one day and started writing articles for IGN. We liked him, so we decided to keep him. We think you'll like him too. Kevin can be reached at kevin@igamingnews.com.