Thursday, March 6, 2014

Dear Governments, I understand.

Dear governments,

I understand the difficultly of your situation. I do. I may rant and rave about your corruption and your greed, and to a great degree those rants ring true, but I also understand that many in your corpus are not corrupt. They are simply timid. They simply want to survive in an environment that is as unforgiving of them as it is of the rest of us.

I understand that gambling revenue is an easy tax. It is a voluntary tax. If you took all those who lost money in the year gambling, and collected taxes from them in the same amount that they lost, they would be angry. The end result is the same (they lost money), but the reaction is different.

This is arguably a form of stupidity. Different interpretations of the same end result. But these very same stupid people are also your constituents. They can vote you out. I understand how this can breed a sense of contempt for them. If they are so goddamned stupid to be taken in by charlatans of chips and cards, then so be it. Let them. Let them wallow in the prison they built themselves.

But remember, just as they see through different lenses, so do you. They are not stupid. They live a very different life than you. Their decisions seem stupid, but all people make good decisions in a moment. They always make the decision that seems the best, because that is what we do! We are decision machines. We spend every waking moment weighing and deciding. How can any of us righteously judge another person when we know that they make the best decision that they can. No human willingly makes a bad decision.

They do what feels good, what feels right, what feels pertinent, just as you do.

I understand that the system does not make this easy. Modern government, especially government on a national scale, is seemingly designed to encourage politicians who do not fight. It encourages politicians who say what the public wants to hear as opposed to what it needs to hear. It encourages politicians who trick the people and then justify that duplicity by hating them for their gullibility.

You must make your case and make it well, all while other politicians feed these people lie upon lie. But that is why this is a courageous endeavor. That is why this is something that requires leadership.

It is difficult. It is very difficult. I understand.

But we need leaders. We need people who are willing to be courageous and fight for common sense even when lies are so easily made tempting and attractive. Good leadership on a large scale is always a fight. And in this day and age, that makes it more valuable than ever.

The online casino industry needs regulation. Badly. But it needs regulation to protect people, not simply attach another parasite onto their backs. Please, governments, do that for us.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Why Accurate Virtual Games Are Important (Or Why Virtual Lottery Terminals Are Crap)

In an earlier post, I mentioned how a true variable RTP in a game is based on the mechanics of the game, not an artificial variable that does nothing but affect the RTP. A true variable RTP is blackjack, where player choices affect the cards in the shoe that the dealer can then draw from. This puts restrictions on how a game plays. If there are no restrictions, it boils down to a player going to a casino, giving the casino money, and then asking if they will get any money back. The casino then decides, arbitrarily, whether that will happen.

Online casinos don't want you to think that way, though, regardless of the reality. They rely on our cultural history with physical casinos to provide people with a context through which they will view games. Physical casinos were, and mostly still are, restricted by mechanical processes. There is no easy way to dynamically alter the payout of a card game or mechanical slot. And any process by which that happens is almost universally accepted as cheating. If a casino slips cards into and out of a deck secretly, that's cheating.

That is why genuine representation of game parts is important. It's why most regulatory jurisdictions require that a game virtually represent actual game parts. If there are cards on screen, those cards must come from a virtual deck, with a set number of cards in them. Everyone is coming into online casinos with assumptions created by physical games. Artificial, or arbitrary is perhaps a better term, RTPs have no such restriction. They are a breeding ground for corruption.

An artificial RTP is like a slot that increases the RTP the longer you play. This could be changed in any number of ways, such as the addition or subtraction of symbols, changes to the pay table, or bonus games that provide guaranteed wins. When a casino tells you about this, they are not technically being dishonest. They are obfuscating the game's nature, though, and I have a problem with this.

The more that a casino plays around with the RTP, the less that one can easily understand his or her chances. This is bad. Casinos will, and do, take advantage of this situation to provide poor returns, while hiding those poor returns behind abstruse mathematics. Furthermore, it makes casinos think that they don't even need to be honest. If there is no inherent reality understood to be operating behind the games, casinos can do whatever they damn well please.

The recent Spielo/G2/Gtech/Betfred blow-up that played out on Casinomeister earlier last year revealed casinos doing just that, using the excuse that having cards does not mean that they are cards. The visual appearance of the game and the game itself have no connection. Obviously, this was cheating because they lied about the nature of the games and went to great pains to keep those lies hidden, because again, they don't want players understanding how their proverbial sausage is made.

And even if they hadn't lied, it was still bad. As I mentioned above, casinos rely on people entering the casino with preexisting ideas about how casino games work. Cards are cards. Slots are slots. Dice are dice. People assume that the games work a particular way. Having a game behave in a different way is inherently dishonest.

This sort of trickery is not restricted to online casinos, though. Many casinos operate with games that appear to be slots or video poker but are, in fact, Video Lottery Terminals. As far as the user is concerned, there's little visible difference, but there is no virtual machine taking place. It is the casino arbitrarily deciding "yes, you will receive money."

This is an incredibly obtuse distinction, so I hope I can make it clear.

Video Lottery Terminals, or VLTs, are a form of fixed odds betting. This is, as you could guess from the name, similar to a lottery ticket, where the company issuing the tickets knows precisely how many people are going to win what. There is no chance involved. It is all planned.

A way to demonstrate this is with video poker on a VLT. In real video poker, with a virtual deck, if you are dealt a full house and draw five cards, you will get five new cards from the virtual deck. In a video poker VLT, if you draw a full house then draw five new cards... you will get another full house. You have been chosen to get that full house, and there is nothing that you can do to not get it.

There is actually a way to "scam" these machines. Since a... seasoned?... Can anyone actually be seasoned with this sort of thing? Regardless, since a seasoned player knows how these machines work, he or she can camp out by a stand-alone machine and wait for a person to lose a bunch of money. They then know that the machine will need to pay something out soon to make its fixed odds.

The machine needs to be a stand-alone system, since most large operations link all of their machines together to maintain a house RTP as opposed to a per-terminal RTP. A camper would need to somehow camp out an entire casino floor.

Since things are very similar from the player perspective, why am I upset?

First, this is a semi-moral issue for me. Casinos are parasites. They are shiny and have lots of cool stuff, but at their core, they are parasites. They provide no value to society and yet generate truly garagantuan profits. One of the "payments" that casinos must make to be morally allowed into this position is that they are prisoners of their mathematics. Sometimes, a casino will lose money at the end of the month. That is simply going to happen.

If a casino is loaded with VLTs, they always know how much they will have. They will never lose money. They will always, forever, have a percentage of money at the end of the month. Many online casinos try to argue that their slots are real slots while actually running rigged games that effectively turn the slot into a VLT.

No. No. If you are not willing to lose some money now and then, you are now allowed to be a casino. You are not allowed to be that parasite.

Second, the differences to the player can actually be massive from the perspective of an omniscient third party. For example, let's say that you go into a casino that runs slots with virtual reels spinning. You could pull the lever and net three sevens immediately. There is a non-zero chance of that happening, and that will happen now and then. That's how casinos can lose big over a month. One person wanders in, hits it big, then leaves, never to return.

But if that casino is running VLTs, until you lose some money or until someone else loses some money, that "slot" machine will never pay out. The chances of you pulling three sevens is zero. So while the player may be none the wiser, the players as a collective are worse off.

Another way is to look at lottery tickets. Since all winners and losers are pre-determined, if someone buys the grand prize ticket on day one, there is zero chance that you could win that grand prize until all of the tickets are sold and a new run is printed. For a true slot machine, five players could win grand prizes in a row. The chances of this are low, but it could happen.

For most physical casinos in legitimate jurisdictions, if the game is a VLT, that must be said somewhere on the machine. That's why "Fruities" in the United Kingdom are commonly known as FOBTs, or Fixed Odds Betting Terminals. Everyone knows how they work. Nothing is hidden.

To me, though, that doesn't change anything from a moral perspective. Casinos should be able to lose money. They must feel risk. I don't have enough room or data to go into this fully, but the UK again provides a good example. FOBTs are propagating across the island like a bacteria. This would not be happening if there was a chance of losing money. This is happening purely because they are money-printing machines. A no-risk parasite, increasing in size and reach, as it feeds off of the population.

Or for a historical example, let's look at Las Vegas in the early days. Back then, everyone had slot machines. Gas stations, soda fountains, libraries: slot machines were, again, propagating across the state like a bacteria. They were, of course, all rigged. The mob was good at that. And by rigged, I mean that they never lost money at the end of the month. They always made money... just like FOBTs. And just like online casinos, people assumed they knew how the game functioned when they made a bet.

Once that rigging, once that guarantee, was gone, so too went all of the slot machines. Money-printing machines with no risk produce a surfeit of those machines, and in the case of gambling, place an unnatural strain on society. Taking part in the economy needs to involve risk, otherwise a pure parasite is formed.

So, in that roundabout way, I hope that I have explained why having games that represent some virtual mechanism are so important. Only through the guarantees of the math is risk created. Only through the protection of the math does the player stand a real chance.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Son of a!... Nordicbet Pulls Out of Nearly Everything

It just gets worse and worse.

Nordicbet, our famous #2 choice for online casino gaming, is pulling out of every market but Scandinavia. This is an epic blow to those who want to play games online. If it had been a standalone event, that would be one thing, but it's not; we have already lost Galewind at Pinnacle and seen it replaced with a crap product. We didn't need the loss of another good casino provider.

I am very close to just saying fuck it and stopping all online play. Honestly, one of the things that stops me is knowing that that is precisely what our governments want us to do. If I believed for one second that they wanted me to stop gambling for my own good, I would have no problems with this. Afterall, they care about me!

But we all know that it has nothing to do with that. My government, your government, anyone's government doesn't give a shit about anybody's well being. Well, ironically, the Scandinavian countries probably care... as does Switzerland... and Canada. Actually, Australia seems to care, too, at least somewhat.

So, I guess, what I'm saying is that the United States and United Kingdom don't care. Unfortunately they are the biggies when it comes to online gaming. And all they care about is that if I gamble, I gamble in the places where they get a piece of the pie. As long as they are getting their cut, they don't care if I gamble myself into oblivion.

That avarice... that greed... that corruption... it drive me into an epic fury. To better visualize this fury, Donald Duck comes close to showing how I act. Fast forward to 1:00.

I've been beating this drum since we created the website. Gambling is a very bad thing in many ways. I'm healthy with my behavior, but many others are not. Gambling is not a simple entertainment like movies, just as alcohol is not a simple commodity like bread. It should be regulated. It should be controlled. It should be taxed. But all of these activities should be done with an eye toward the public good.

Instead, we have governments who use gambling and lotteries as a way to generate revenue without raising taxes. But gambling disproportionately affects the lower socioeconomic classes. There's a joke saying that the lottery is a tax on people who are bad at math. That's partially true. It's actually a tax on people who are receptive to the manipulations of gambling marketing: poor people who wish for better days.

So what do our governments do? They attach yet another leach onto this population, sucking away a bit more of the blood they can ill afford to lose.

Tax gambling. By all means, do it. But one-hundred percent — I don't mean most or some or eighty or ninety; I mean one-hundred percent — of all tax revenue generated by gambling should go toward public enrichment. It should go toward the services that lift people out of the lifestyle that makes them receptive to gambling marketing. All of the money should go toward job development, Head Start and other educational initiatives, food banks, neighborhood construction, and adult education.

But no. The money goes into the general fund to fuel corrupt politicians and their cronies for one more fiscal year. It. Is. Disgusting.

It is thus an absurd state of affairs in which I find myself. I want to stop gambling, but the attempts of governments to make me do precisely that are what goad me into continuing my activity! I want to stick it to the proverbial man by not stopping my play. There's a part of me that feels bad because my behavior seems so similar to those who indignantly continue to smoke in spite of increased regulation and taxation. But at least in that regard, the last thing many governments actually want is for people to quit smoking. So one would actually damn the man by quitting.

In my situation, I damn the man by funneling more of their precious money out of the country and into other countries. This is something that major corporations get to do with abandon, but the instant us normal people do it, the hammer comes down!

Well fuck you, governments. I'm going to continue doing precisely what you don't want. I'm going to keep playing. I will find new casinos. I will find new companies. I will follow Galewind, really, wherever they go. You will not stop me. You will never stop me.

That's the wonder of this brave, new, modern age: you have been stripped of some of your power, and I am going to revel in it.

Monday, December 16, 2013

How Online Casinos And Cell Phone Companies Are Similar

I get Google+ messages from readers every now and then asking about bonuses. I'm not surprised. I have been a vocal critic of bonuses yet they are the very foundation of the online casino industry. Most people want to know whether a specific bonus is a good deal. Some people want to know if I have any tips on how to beat bonuses. A few people want to know what the best bonuses are.

Well let me say in no uncertain terms that bonuses are bullshit. Say it with me, bonuses are bullshit!

Now how does this apply to cell phone companies? Because both industries are utterly built upon a trick. For cell phones, it is the $200, or $100, or free phone that you get at the beginning of your contract. The contract is critical but we'll get to that in a moment.

Have you ever looked up the price of your iPhone or Samsung Galaxy on Ebay or some other website that isn't affiliated with a carrier such as Verizon or AT&T? If you have, you'll have noticed that the iPhone that you get for $200 is selling for $700.

Where did that $500 go?

It went into the carrier subsidy. Basically, the carrier sells you the phone for $200. They are losing hundreds of dollars in this act. Their goal is to make their money back and then some over the course of your payments to them. And as you would expect from this arrangement, after the two years are up, they get far more than what they gave you on the phone. They rip you off.

That is why there are contracts. This guarantees the cell phone company your monthly payment for two years. This has become so popular that until T-Mobile began its Uncarrier initiative, you could not start service with AT&T or Verizon without a 2-year contract. They would only offer you their pre-paid phones which are crappy and have inferior plans. The only way to get all of the features of AT&T and Verizon was to sign your life away for two, goddamned years.

And what happens if you try to leave? Why they charge you huge amounts of money, of course! And there's nothing you can do about it because the devil's bargain that people made for cheap phones reduced the markets to only a few major players. They use this monopoly to squeeze profits from people while providing terrible service and customer support.

Online casino bonuses are basically the same thing. Long ago, users made a devil's bargain for bonuses. This handed an immense amount of power over to affiliates and locks users to a specific casino for a period of time and money. The terms are shorter than for your average cell phone contract, but the end result is the same: the casino gets all your munneez.

And just as with a cell phone, the casino is getting far more than they otherwise would. Most bonuses are locked to rollover requirements, meaning that you have to gamble a certain amount before you can take any money out, and these rollover requirements are usually tied to specific games. You usually cannot play blackjack or craps, because the RTP on those is too high.

Oh no. They won't have that! You must only play certain slots, meaning that in the end, the casino actually gets more from you then they otherwise would.

How is that possible, you may ask. Remember, when you spend money, you aren't just spending money, you are spending the opportunity to spend that money on other things. This is called the ooportunity cost in Econ-101 parlance. Basically, if I spend $5 on a move ticket, I also spending the sandwich that I could have bought on that movie ticket.

If you are forced to only play low-RTP slot machines, you are not only spending your money, you are spending the opportunity to play high-RTP games and are thus spending the opportunity to win at those games. The casino gets your money and gets it at a lower risk than they otherwise would if you were able to play high-RTP games. Just as with the cell phone companies, you are getting ripped off.

As I mentioned, the contract is a very important part of this comparison. Go read the legal agreement that you sign when getting your cell phone through AT&T or Verizon. It is a gazillion pages long and loaded with enough legalese to make the Supreme Court shit bricks. These contracts were humorously parodied in the South Park episode, "Human CentiPad."

These contracts are used to screw you like there is no tomorrow. Not only does the cell phone company get may more than they otherwise would in the end, if you step out of line, they are used as a legal cudgel to charge you huge fees.

Every now and then, these fees are comical enough to make news, but as some people have pointed out, with these contracts, the cell phone companies are under no legal obligation to cut the bills. The only thing that forces them to do so is the fact that charging someone $200,000 in cell phone charges would result in enough bad PR to destroy a company.

But for every person who gets charged $50,000, imagine the number who are overcharged by only a few hundred, or maybe a few thousand. The amount of hidden injustice is undoubtedly alarming.

Now, is this sounding familiar at all? Is this sounding a lot like, oh, I dunno'... terms & conditions?

That's because this is precisely like terms & conditions. It is the same, goddamned thing. The only reason why cell phone companies step out of line less often is because they are larger, more visible, and have much more to lose if people turn against their brand.

Online casinos, if their brand gets destroyed, they simply re-brand their casino, send new links out to all of their affiliates, and start anew! This is why the reality of the online casino industry is obscured by the illusion of competition. There is no competition. There are only a few major companies, producing poor products for an undiscerning market.

Also unlike the cell phone companies, online casino companies have the benefit of being seen as somewhat seedy. This means that they can, and always do, rely on the time-tested strategy of smearing their accuser. That is why we have clauses about robots, pattern betting, and cheating in casino T&C's. These are nothing more than tools for a greedy casino to smear their victim.

If cell phone companies could, they would do the same thing. But they can't, so they don't.

I make this comparison because cell phone companies are an excellent example of online casino greed and evil writ large. Cell phone companies are horrible creations and regularly make it to the top of Consumerist's Worst Company in America list. But in those companies, which are forced by exposure and legal fights to be somewhat upstanding, we have lessons that we can apply to the online casino industry.

We need to force major casinos into the light. We need governments to finally set aside their greed for taxes and regulate online casinos in the best ways they can. Current casino regulations are nothing more than a money-grab by corrupt politicians who want to avoid raising taxes on their rich buddies. We need to vote with our dollars and stop having twenty accounts and twenty shitty little casinos. We need to focus on those who uphold the highest ideals of good business.

We had one in Galewind, but they're now down. Who knows if or when they will reappear. So we're left with the other ugly children from which to choose. Good god, it's an ugly lot, but some of them stand out a bit, and we need to reward that. It is imperative that we reward that. If we don't, the next Galewind will simply appear then disappear, drowned out by corruption and noise.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

China Bans Bitcoin

As I mentioned in my earlier article, the Internet has changed a large number of things. For the purposes of this discussion, it has changed the nature of borders and the nature of systemic control. To wit, it has weakened them — substantially in many ways Now, let's think about this for a moment; who would be most threatened by a loss of border and systemic control?

Oh right! Governments!

The first volleys in this Quixotic war were thrown by totalitarian governments many years ago after the rise of wireless radio communication. Those same governments then followed that up with things like China's Great Firewall. But for the Western World, the most visible example of this behavior is without doubt the UIGEA. With that, the United States tried to clamp down on the system through which money flowed.

Bitcoin has invalidated that power. When money is an abstract mathematical construct that exists without regards to borders and systems, boom, there goes governmental power. In my earlier article I said,
"Governments will of course fight this development. They will tilt against the windmill until their efforts just disintegrate entirely. They will ignore the writing on the proverbial wall for years, perhaps decades, as they puff up their chests in the face of an enemy that they don't understand. It is contemptible, really."
I like to be correct, but rarely am I correct just a week later.

China has banned Bitcoin.

Oh, they are of course couching this in the excuse of protection and whatnot, which is total horseshit. I'm not even sure why China bothers saying it. Everyone out here knows that it is a lie, and everyone in China knows that it is a lie. So why lie? I dunno'. Perhaps it makes them feel better about it or something.

One statement that Chinese authorities made was of special interest to me.
The notice said that Bitcoin was “not a currency in the real meaning of the word” but was rather a “virtual commodity that does not share the same legal status of a currency. Nor can, or should, it be circulated or used in the marketplace as a currency.”
Not only does this ignore that all major nations rely on what's called Fiat Currency and as such no currency is truly "legitimate" in the sense that it is backed by anything other than a system as equally ephemeral as Bitcoin, it also uses all of those principles that we were previously discussing! They call it a "virtual" commodity, implying that unless money is physically printed, by a government of course, it's not real. They then say that it does not share the same legal status! Laws?! That's the point of all this! To side-step laws!

Laws exist only when borders exist. And as I mentioned, borders are much weaker now than they were.

There are two causes for real concern in all this. First is the possible use of this borderless money in illegal activities. That is indeed a problem. But just as the truth will set you free, the loss of lie can imprison you. Many laws are lies, predicated on dogma, fear, and ignorance. The loss of control forces a government to face its bad laws.

Second is that a financial system that is by its very nature unregulated will be an unstable financial system. That's why every major nation has things like FOREX, commodity, and equity laws. And if Bitcoin becomes widely accepted, a Bitcoin boom and bust could take many countries with it.

But regardless of these concerns, this is the reality. Our society and our legal structures have many things that are wrong with them, and the only reason why we have not been hitherto forced to make changes is because the old systems of control allowed society to stumble along like some drunk.

We are losing control, meaning that society can no longer stumble along. We need to fix our problems, otherwise these unstoppable social and technological changes will cause the destabilization of our entire, God-forsaken edifice. While that sounds exciting, it's certainly something that we do not want.

It is time for our politicians to stop being so goddamned stupid, stand up, educate themselves, understand the way the world is and where it is going, and pass good laws. No longer can they be utterly beholden to special interests and blind, dogmatic beliefs. Every party, every politician, and every nation is guilty of these activities in some way. It is truly bipartisan and global.

The Internet is here. The world is one. Deal with it.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Whoa. Pinnacle Sports Loses Galewind

Pinnacle Casino, our number-one pick, no longer runs the Galewind Casino.

I really can't stress how big this is. Galewind has been, time and again, shown to be one of the few good guys. It may seem extreme to say it, but I sometimes feel that they are the only good guy. I know that's an exaggeration, but in an industry that is so utterly overrun with tricksters, fake names, shell companies, and other general scumbags, well... you start to appreciate the upstanding ones.

Pinnacle has switched over to a live dealer casino package, which blows my mind. I hate live dealer. Has anyone actually had a good experience with live dealer casinos? I mean that as an honest question to anyone who reads this. All I know is my limited time with two or three packages, and they have been awful. They're slow, buggy, boring.

I heard tell, and I really have no way of confirming this, that live dealer is very popular in Eastern markets. Over there, it's actually expected for gambling houses to be crooked, so players all demand certain things to try to combat this. One of those mechanisms is to see the cards being dealt.

The downside, though, is brutal, unrelenting slowness.

They are running a product from a company that I have hitherto never heard of: Global Gaming Labs. According to a WhoIs lookup, they've been around since early 2009. The WhoIs is not anonymous, which is a good sign, but there's no other information beyond that. No street address and the phone number provided is a cell phone.

Pinnacle's new slot and table game providers are equally anonymous. They are "based" in The Isle of Man, but according to their business address, they are obviously a "phone on a desk" sort of operation. And considering that their web domain is registered in Costa Rica, something tells me that that is where their operation is actually based.

That's a big deal because Costa Rica is about as low as you can go on the totem pole of reputable countries for online gambling. Costa Rican law regulates gambling at the location where the wager is placed. That means that running an online casino within their borders is entirely unregulated. As long as the company pays for its business license and bandwidth fees, it can do almost anything that it wants.

The blowup with Gibraltar and Gtech/Spielo G2 has shown that most countries that purport to regulate their casinos don't actually do so. Gibraltar pretty obviously doesn't (and is corrupt as hell, to boot), and I think it safe to assume that most others do not as well. So think about that. If countries that supposedly regulate their casinos are not actually regulating their casinos, what about the jurisdictions that don't even claim to regulate their casinos?!

That's why if you see an operation out of Costa Rica, you do not gamble there. Both of the companies with which Pinnacle has partnered are now out of Costa Rica. It literally pains me to say this, but you should no longer play Pinnacle's casino. I can say nothing about their sportsbook. I'm assuming that those operations are still 100% in curacao. But their casino is now a casino non grata.

One of the things about Galewind that is great is that they are an actual company, with actual people, with actual telephone numbers. When you do a search on Galewind, you find, shockingly, Galewind. I suppose that you have to be involved in the industry to some degree to understand how amazing that is. I may act all high-'n'-mighty, but I'm not a part of the industry; I'm just an observer. But if anything, that only drives home how corrupt everything is: someone like me can know the score. Everyone has an alias; no one is who they say they are; there are shell companies wrapped inside shell companies. It's a mess.

Even major players like IGT, Microgaming, Playtech: it is very difficult, if not impossible, to find out who owns what and where. They're all based in tax havens with no regulation and owned by silent partners. This is to say nothing of the casinos themselves. Paddy Power, Virgin Casino, 32Red: who owns them? Who knows!

This is partially understandable. Governments love to suck blood from the gambling industry, and they get angry when others come to suck blood from their chattle. And by chattle, I of course mean the citizens of these governments. As such, governments will start doing things like arrest people with no legal justification, arrest more people with not legal justificationviolate international treaties, and invent bad laws. If governments are just as bad as the worst casinos, and I owned a casino, I would want to be invisible, too.

Unfortunately, that creates a world where scum thrives. When governments push stuff into the shadows with their own bad behavior, things get bad and get bad quickly. Look at the drug "war." Oh yeah. That's been a rousing success. Mexico is almost literally a war zone.

Now we are left with a rather large question, and one that will likely never be answered: did Pinnacle dump Galewind or did Galewind dump Pinnacle?

Pinnacle's decision to go with a surprisingly shady company makes me wonder about the future of Pinnacle itself.

Three of Pinnacle's owners were arrested in a multi-state sting in the U.S. late last year. According to some industry scuttlebutt, these guys were not involved with the day-to-day operations of the company, but what they were doing did funnel down to Pinnacle. This lends credence to the idea that Galewind dumped Pinnacle to preserve their good reputation.

But even if Pinnacle went rogue, the damage would be on Pinnacle, not Galewind. And it would seem foolish to drop a client as large as Pinnacle, this lends credence to the idea that Pinnacle dumped Galewind. But then, we're left to wonder why Pinnacle would do something so stupid. Galewind has arguably the best reputation of all major companies in the online casino world. Did something simply go down between the two companies? Did someone sleep with someone else?

The two major differences between the new casino and the Galewind casino are the live dealers and the large selection of slots.

The large slot selection is the domain of penny slot players, and these are not Pinnacle's target demographic. Are they hoping to get more of them? That seems unlikely because Pinnacle doesn't offer bonuses, which are basically a requirement for the penny slot crowd. Perhaps this is an indication of Pinnacle's intent to start offering bonuses. But again, that would be odd since Galewind has a bonus casino which we all saw, briefly, during the now-infamous debacle with Hero's Casino.

Perhaps they plan on starting an affiliate network for their casino. Based on the musing of Galewind's president, they appear to be opposed to affiliates because of the continuing damage they cause to the industry, *cough*Casinomeister!*cough*. But affiliate calculations would all take place on the financial side, not on the casino side. Pinnacle could have just bolted an affiliate system on top of the casino.

The live dealers may have been the key element, but I've only ever heard bad things about them. Dedicated online players like speed and that is something live dealers really, truly, horribly do not have. As I mentioned, live dealers are, I've heard, popular outside of Western markets. But again, and for this I have actual supporting data, online gambling is almost non-existent in Eastern countries. Physical gambling is everywhere, but online, not so much.

There is a third, more subtle difference, as well: the RTP of the games. The Wizard of Odds is famous for loving video poker. He's also famous for saying that no one should play games for money, since it's always a losing bet, so to speak. But the hard-core video poker players care more about RTP than almost any other group of players on the Internet, which is why Galewind's video poker games, even though they never had the much-beloved multi-hand games, were held in such high regard.

The RTP of the new video poker games is far lower than Galewind's. That cannot be a coincidence, but what it signifies is still a mystery.

For example:

Deuces Wild
New Casino: 96.77%
Galewind:  98.91%
Difference: 2.14%

Joker Poker
New Casino: 97.47%
Galewind: 98.94%
Difference: 1.47%

Those differences are massive. That's the difference between a place where people will want to play video poker, and a place where they won't.

So we now have another possibility. Did Pinnacle dump Galewind because they wanted to lower their RTPs but Galewind said no?

First, lowering the RTPs is horrible business. They are stupid if that was their motivation. But even then, I can't imagine Galewind saying no to that sort of request. Adjusting RTPs for clients is a common practice in the industry. This answers nothing!

And the final difference, which is arguably subjective, is that the quality of their new games sucks. The slots are slow and their table games are truly awful. They look and play like products from online casinos of many, many years ago. Archaic is a good word to describe them. Galewind's games were never the prettiest, but they are goddamned super-models in comparison to some of these new games. This is especially true of games like blackjack. Their new casino does have multi-hand blackjack, and that is good, but I dislike everything else about their design and interface.

I've posted a comparison of Baccarat. Not only does the Galewind product look loads better, the Multislot version has this horrific voice over that babbles at you with each hand telling you the results of the game. I'm not deaf. I can see the cards. What in the bloody-hell were they thinking? Did someone's wife just want to be involved?

Everything about this is puzzling and disappointing. I'm not a high-roller by any means, so Pinnacle doesn't much care about me, but I only played at their casino. I list Nordicbet and 3Dice, because I did and do like them well enough, but when I voted with my wallet, every vote went to Pinnacle. And now, without a Galewind casino anywhere else, I have nowhere to play!

All I can say is that I hope Pinnacle either reopens their Galewind casino or Galewind opens a new casino somewhere. Because as I'm sure you can figure out from my reduced blogging, I haven't played much recently. But that doesn't mean I don't want to in the future.

This is all so disappointing.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Reality Of The New, Borderless, Digital Age

Online gambling has landed with a thud in the United States. There are so many hands in the pot I'm amazed that there's any actual stew in it. We have some companies hoping to jump on the money train, we have other companies that are fighting it, we have some states that are hoping to tax it, while other states hope to stop it, and still other states that condemn it while still planning to offer it. It is, and this is a scientific term, a fucking mess.

Lost in the hullabaloo is the reality of what is going on: the breakdown of old legal structures in the digital age. Laws are nothing more than rules, enforced with threat of action, on a societal scale. If everyone played Monopoly all day, and anyone who broke the rules would be jailed, than the rules of Monopoly would be called laws.

One of the primary, if not the primary, forms of control is control over an area of land. Basically, law is structured by physical borders. When a person passes a border, they are subject to a set of rules that are grandiosely referred to as the law of the land. If you do something wrong, you can be physically chased, captured, and imprisoned for violating those rules. These are really the oldest forms of laws, since they are the simplest.

Another aspect of control comes in the form of systemic control. Regardless of what Ayn Rand fanatics would like to think, there is no such thing as a "free" market. All markets are social constructions with systems and rules in place that facilitate transfer of value between people. Those social constructions can be designed such that certain actions are impossible or difficult. This usually comes in the form of control over avenues. For example, the UIGEA. What the law did was block the flow of money from American financial institutions. Without the institutions, which control the avenues by which money can travel, it was difficult for money to go from a person's bank account to a casino's bank account.

The digital age is bearing down on both of these forms of control. The fear that this is triggering can be most visibly seen in the firewalls that exist around totalitarian states such as China, Iran, and Russia, the decade-long freakout about online file sharing, and with the recent revelations about U.S. spying and the NSA. Those who benefited from the old forms of control are scared. They are smart enough to see that there will come a point in the future when their efforts will be for naught. Control will be lost.

As such, a wise legal system recognizes that the system has changed, thus the laws and the mode in which the laws exist must also change. Is gambling good? No. But just as drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes are not good but will always exist, so will gambling. The law must accommodate the realities of the world.

Sadly, facing reality has never been a strong suit of politicians and moral crusaders.

Countries have been semi-successful in handling the border problem. As I mentioned, totalitarian states have massive firewalls that are semi-successful at blocking certain information. It has not been fully effective, never will be, and will likely completely fail at some point in the future, but many politicians (because, again, politicians really are that stupid) feel that they have the issue well in hand.

The UIGEA may seem to have been a huge success, but it was actually a total failure. As with so many laws that squeeze behavior out of legitimate circles, all that happened is that the financial transfers were pushed into the "dark alleys" of the Internet. The amount of money being gambled online in the U.S. hasn't changed much, but it's all going to the seediest casinos. For example, if I want to gamble at Pinnacle/Galewind, I have to use my Canadian bank account and go through a proxy. But there are many other casinos that simply ignore the UIGEA entirely!

But even if the UIGEA persists. Even if nothing legal changes. Yet another form of control is crumbling: money.

Previously, money relied on a government backing it on a global exchange. With Bitcoin, that is no longer the case. I was initially doubtful of Bitcoin, and still am, but that's not why I'm interested in it. I'm interested in Bitcoin because it represents a possible future direction. As the Internet becomes a "nation" unto itself, a currency for that nation that obeys no borders or laws could arise. This makes some things difficult, such as where does one turn in case of a dispute or theft, and I can see no solution. The likely just means that no matter how big this hypothetical online "money" gets, there will always be a place for national currencies.

Governments will of course fight this development. They will tilt against the windmill until their efforts just disintegrate entirely. They will ignore the writing on the proverbial wall for years, perhaps decades, as they puff up their chests in the face of an enemy that they don't understand. It is contemptible, really.

People like to gamble. I like to gamble. Gambling is fun. It will always be here. The Internet has broken down two of the most important systems by which governments can control behavior, meaning that online gambling will always be here. Is that good? Is that bad? It doesn't matter. It's here, and we have to deal with it intelligently. We have to allow people who want to gamble to gamble, and we have to protect those who are at risk of hurting themselves and the fabric of society. Because, I'm sorry, society is never going to be perfect. There will be things that some of us wish others wouldn't do, like drugs, gambling, unprotected sex, and watching Fox News. But guess what? It's going to happen. We cannot deny it. We accept the world as we find it, and figure out how to make the best world that we can.

Unfortunately, as is so frequently the case, taking this path — the correct, logical, rational, not-goddamned-stupid path — allows neither moral grandstanding nor tax collection.

Moral mandates and tax collection rely on the same two forms of control, borders and systems, as laws do. Thus, when those two forms of control are degraded as is happening now, the two favorite things of government are degraded. Politicians can't get on their soap box and make classist and racist statements about the dregs of society and they can't squeeze tax revenue from the process. And seeing as politicians are almost universally complete and utter scum, it's no surprise that they don't have much interest in doing what is actually correct.

But as I hope has been communicated in this somewhat rambling post, it doesn't matter. As technology progresses and leaves behind the old forms of control that we as a species have relied upon since our days of living in caves and eating mammoth steaks, those who fight this progress will simply be pushed by the wayside. This future isn't specifically imminent, but it's much closer than most people thing. Within the next one-hundred years, our entire conception of laws will be upended, gambling and all.