Rabu, 23 Juni 2010

Casino games and certificates of fairness

If you walk into a real-world casino in the US, you can be reasonably sure the games are fair. Each state runs oversight of the casinos' operations and, so far as it can, ensures we all have a reasonable chance of winning. Put another way, real-world casinos have a claim to be transparent. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the online gambling world. Most of the virtual casinos are based in countries interested only in taking the licence fees. This produces a real lack of transparency so that, even when there are legitimate complaints made and the regulators "investigate", there's little to explain what the investigators actually do and how aggressively they enforce control over the casinos in their countries. It's all about killing the goose laying the golden jackpots. If the regulators are an effective police force, the casinos will move their virtual operations elsewhere and the state treasury loses out.

Which brings us to the certificates issued by Technical Systems Testing (TST). This is an organization making its living by compliance testing games and it works closely with the regulators in Canada, the UK, Australia and other countries with developed gambling industries. Most recently, it has been certifying the random number generators used online. All the fair and honest sites based in highly regulated countries like the UK carry certificates such as those issued by TST. So how reliable are the TST certificates?

As TST honestly states on its own site, it's not a policing body. It works in the same way as the auditing profession. It looks at what it is given and gives its opinion. Because of the nondisclosure agreements it signs, it can never discuss how or why some certificates are (or are not) issued. You have to take on trust the assertion that TST is an independent body and gives an unbiased opinion. This is rather like the defense raised by the rating agencies in the financial meltdown. They certified the investments issued by the banks as AAA only to see them worth nothing a few months later. When an organization depends on the fee income from a single source, there's an inevitable conflict of interest. If you do not certify, you get no fee income.

But, the real question comes about what happens to the software TST tests and certifies fair. As it rightly says, it's not a policing body and it's not a regulator. It has no power to check whether the software it verified is the software in play a few weeks later. For any certificate to be worth the pixels used to display it on a screen, there should be monthly testing on site. With Bodog and other casino games operators using TST certificates in their press releases, the burden of proof is now on TST to prove its certificates have real value. As it stands, there would seem to be every chance that TST could end up in the same unhappy position as the auditors who declared Enron accounts a fair representation of its trading position. Without regular, routine and random testing on site, there would seem no guarantee the certificates show fair and honest casino games in play.

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