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.