Are Online Casinos Fixed?
- Harrison Score
- 21st June 2018
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There was a time when many gamblers believed that the “fad” of online casino gaming would never take off. How would it work? How could you regulate it? Where’s the fun if you’re not stepping into the real thing? – lights flashing, coins cascading; a sensory explosion. What’s more, how could you possibly trust it?
Well, 25 years since the first online casinos and it is no longer just a passing fad. In the UK, it is a highly regulated industry by the Gambling Commission. To be honest, online casinos have never been fairer, even though there are a lot of bad ones out there. In this article, we’ll attempt to convince the cynics and the naysayers of this palpable truth, and show them where to find the best casinos. It is a good time to be a gambler…
Legitimate casinos are businesses that make money, no different to any other. They don’t want to fleece you and make you feel unprotected and ripped-off. If they did, then no customer would ever return. The reality is that many casinos maintain amazing brand loyalty from players over the years. And this is where they genuinely compete for your affection. The truth is that casinos do not have to “rig” their games in order to be profitable.
Are online roulette & blackjack rigged?
No. The games’ inventors built-in a house edge which means that in the long-term, the casino will make money. You may argue that roulette and blackjack are rip-offs and “rigged” to their very core. But if you think that, then you probably don’t enjoy gambling. No amount of persuasion is going to change that.
The house edge in table games facilitates profitability – all table games are designed to give the house an advantage. But in a physical casino, sometimes this was inverted. Particularly canny players have been known to count cards to give the players an illegal edge. In online blackjack, this is simply not possible; the house will always win in the end. To what degree in blackjack depends, as the house edge can vary depending on the strategy of the player. For a blackjack player who has learnt the optimum basic strategy, the house edge is about 0.5%. However, the average layperson blackjack player is at a 2-3% disadvantage. This is the casino’s bread and butter, and how they make money. This does not require rigging in the slightest.
Likewise, a physical, mechanical roulette wheel is much easier to rig than an online roulette wheel. A rogue employee could quite easily tamper with it. Or, the mechanics may simply malfunction producing non-random results. Clever punters could quickly notice any machine deficiencies and make bets accordingly. Online roulette relies on the same robust technology as slots, which ensures that they can’t be fixed.
What about online slots? Aren’t they by definition rigged?
Well in a sense, yes. They are programmed to pay out a certain percentage, or Return to Player, over an infinite period. This is then tested by a body like NMi or eCOGRA, and if the RTP percentage is what the developer says it, the slot receives a certificate and enters the market. You could say that while a slot is developed and programmed, it is “fixed” to pay out a certain percentage over this “inifinte period.” However, that is perfectly normal… and legal.
It is important to distinguish between fixing the RTP and fixing the reel results after a spin. A Random Number Generator determines the result of a slot or roulette wheel spin. The RNG is a software that recreates the conditions of randomness to a satisfactory degree. The casino cannot influence slot spins or fiddle with the programming of a slot to make conditions more favourable to them, or to cheat people out of their money. This is the important distinction between a slot’s fixed RTP and the concept of fixing or rigging a game. If a UK regulated casino was caught fixing their slots, they would immediately be stripped of their licence and, quite possibly, face further legal and criminal action.
Pseudo Random Number Generators Explained
To be specific, these games run off a PRNG, or Pseudo Random Number Generator. How does it work? If it’s pseudo, then surely means that is it not actually random? And therefore, all casinos are rigged!
It is correct that a PRNG is not truly random. Rather it is a computer-generated recreation of randomness. Every time that you spin the reels on an online video slot, and even when you are not, numbers are constantly whirring. When you decide to click on the “Spin” button, at that very moment, the “random number” determines which symbols appear on which reels on your screen. Had you clicked the “Spin” button a second later, the software would have thrown up a different result. However, when you spin, the computer doesn’t just “pluck” a random number out of the air. The order of numbers that the PNG throws out is pre-determined.
Imagine a list of random numbers that you are scrolling down constantly and forever. Then every so often, when you hear a beep, you stop on a number. That is the number that determines a specific reel spin. And then you carry on scrolling down until you hear the next beep. Advanced PRNGs, the sort that are required for online slots and games, can “recreate randomness.” A lesser PRNG may repeat patterns that casinos and/or players may be able to pick up on. But with advanced PRNGs, you’d probably have to study one for hundreds of years (and be a computer scientist) to find patterns. Casinos and slot developers also regularly perform checks and tests on their software, to make sure it is functioning adequately. It is recommended that this takes place every 2 years.
The Gambler’s Fallacy
Hold and cold streaks do not indicate that a game is rigged. Streaks are a natural outcome of randomness. It doesn’t mean their statistically likely, but they do occur. Plus, when it comes to streaks, players often seem to fall into fallacious patterns of thinking. Our Gambler’s Fallacy vs Hot Hand Fallacy article explains why it is easy to get caught up in such thinking, based upon non-scientific notions of the “Law of Averages.” A spoiler alert: The Law of Averages is not a real law. It is based upon a lack of understanding of probability, and a misguided sense of “balance” in the universe at any given moment.
Ten losses in a row is not necessarily an indication of rigging. Say you are flipping a coin with a 50/50 chance of a head or a tail. Say you’ve landed 10 heads in a row. At the beginning of the run, it was statistically unlikely that you would get 10 heads in a row. However, it is perfectly possible, as there is a 50% chance of getting a head every time you flip.
This is where some players get into conceptual difficulty. Surely, if you were to flip for an eleventh time, the coin will more likely land on tails given that it hasn’t happened in “such a long time.” That is the fallacious thinking. The coin has no memory. It doesn’t know that is has just landed on heads 10 times. So, on that 11th throw, there is, once again, a 50% chance of landing a head. Just as there has been the prior ten times.
Believing otherwise due to logic like “This coin has thrown up 10 heads in a row, there’s simply no way that I can possibly land on another…” is familiar to us. It is just not scientific. As we explored in our Gambler’s Fallacy article, there is something innate or biological that means humans see patterns even if there are none. It is part of our nature and has perhaps helped us survive over thousands of years.
Maybe they’re not rigged, but are online casinos fair?
All the online casinos that we feature on Inside Casino are licensed and regulated by official Government bodies. Casinos that make themselves available to UK customers must obtain a licence from the UK Gambling Commission. The UK is the most advanced internet gambling market in the world as well as being one of the most strongly regulated.
In recent times, the Gambling Commission and other governmental bodies like the Competition and Markets Authority have stepped up some of their measures to make sure that gambling is fair for the customer. The CMA’s recent ruling highlighted certain unfair bonus terms and conditions harboured by many online casinos. Thanks to these important guidelines, operators have been forced to step up their compliance and ensure that they are being full and frank with their players. As we said, there has never really been a safer or fairer time to be an online casino gamer.
Bodies such as eCOGRA, iTech Labs, and NMi test slot and game RTPs. Here is an example of a certificate that a casino received, which shows that all it’s software is fair, functional, and as advertised.
What makes a good casino?
As we mentioned, even though the market is well regulated, that doesn’t mean all casinos are as good and well-intentioned as each other. As is the case in any industry, some businesses have excellent reputations, fair pricing, and good products. Others have dubious corporate practices, rip-off prices, and poor ethics all around. This is exactly the same as the online casino market. Some honest online casinos have a good, established reputation. That may be through good PR and a long history. But often it is because they are genuinely fairer and they treat their customers better. A casino that comes across as caring about its players, and which offers an empowering product, is much more likely to engender customer loyalty.
Sometimes optics are incredibly important. A casino doesn’t have to pretend that it is Oxfam – but people expect fair and honest treatment. Here are some of the main things that customers should seek in a fair online casino.
Low/No Wagering Requirements on a Bonus
Players have become jaded by welcome bonuses that come with enormous wagering requirements. Playing through thousands of pounds just to convert bonus winnings into withdrawable cash is a tiresome relic of the industry. Many players became inured to it, but perceptions are starting to change. And the CMA even ruled that in some instances, the welcome bonuses may even be contravening British consumer law.
There are some trail blazing casinos which offer welcome bonuses with no wagering requirements at all. Casinos like PlayOJO and bgooffer spins for every pound deposited. Any winnings that derive from these spins immediately turn into withdrawable cash. There’s no pointless play-through necessary. A gesture like this has really set them apart from the competition. We will see if the majority of casinos follow suit.
Many players find that they can make instant deposits at a casino and start playing immediately. It’s funny that they don’t receive the same courtesy when they attempt to withdraw their winnings. In amongst the various fraud checks, bank checks, accounts processing, casino processing, bank processing, it can often take days for your money to reach your bank account, card, or e-wallet account.
If you have won an obscene amount of money, then it makes sense that a casino would want to do its due diligence. However, too often it just seems petty and a way to put people off withdrawing their money in the vain hope that they’ll decide, “oh, that’s ok, I’ll just spend it on your casino instead.”
Remember, your cash is your cash and the CMA ruling only helped to confirm that. Casinos that make a point of having an efficient and communicative banking service go straight to the top of the list in our eyes.
Responsive & Efficient Customer Service
This is another obvious one. Players want to be able to speak with a customer service representative quickly, and through the medium of their choosing. Therefore, a good casino offers email, telephone, and a 24-hour live chat service with real human beings. Players want to know that they are being heard, and that a casino is resolving any dispute in an efficient, proactive, and communicative manner. A casino that is known to have such a culture will prosper. Players, through forums and the like, communicate their experiences at casinos and word travels fast in this day and age.
The internet is filled with forum posts of online gamblers questioning the integrity and fairness of casinos with varying degrees of accuracy. Later, we’ll explore a case study, and determine when an aggrieved player is absolutely in the right, and when they are reaching a bit too far.
Security and the Wild West
A licensed and regulated online casino has the same security processes in place as any other reputable internet store or service. With encryption technology like the SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) or the RSA (Rivest-Shamir-Adleman), data passes safely and privately between the web server and the browser. These cryptosystems allow the player’s personal financial information, such as credit card details, to be passed securely to the operator without any undue risk of identify fraud.
Though rare, hacks and cyberattacks are possible and can even penetrate perfectly robust security systems. The technology is constantly catching up with the nous and know-how of hackers and cybercriminals. They are certainly fighting a winning battle, but it is a process. Remember, registering to a licensed online casino poses no more risk than signing up to a well-known internet business like Amazon. In fact, the notoriety of an Amazon may make you even more vulnerable to an attack.
It is true that the early days of online casinos were a bit of a wild west. Antigua & Barbuda, the dual island Caribbean nation, were the first country to start issuing internet gaming licenses in 1994. Compared with today’s regulation, Antigua & Barbuda were not particularly stringent with whom they granted licences to. As long as a business could pay the fee and meet a minimum standard, they were granted a “legal” licence. It is fair to say that these weren’t always ethical business, and many online casinos ended up being racketeering schemes. For over 15 years, Antigua & Barbuda has been embroiled in a legal dispute with the United States government over the status of online gaming. Still to this day, unless you are in the state of New Jersey, or present in certain Las Vegas or Reservation casinos, online casino gaming remains illegal.
To put that in perspective, the UK did not start regulating the iGaming industry until 2005 with the passing of the Gambling Act. And even then, a UK licence was not necessary to offer a legal online casino to UK customers. Licences from “white-label” countries like Malta, Gibraltar, and Alderney, were all perfectly satisfactory. This changed in 2014, when the UK Government passed the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Act. Casino operators that offer a product to UK players must now obtain a UK Gambling Licence, in addition to any white-label licence it may have. Although there may have been some industry grumbles at first, this move has only helped strengthen the fairness and integrity of online casinos.
Are slots safer online?
For many players, the concept of the RTP, and the concept of randomness can be hard to grasp. As we’ll explore in our analysis of Forum complaints, people have some wild and wacky theories.
However, when it comes to online slots, whether you believe it or not, you are often getting a better deal online than when you play on the ground. Slots on the Vegas floor have a minimum RTP of 75%. Fruit machines in pubs have a minimum RTP of 70%, and on average pay out 78%. So, the 90-98% pay outs of online slots seem alluring in comparison. Obviously, the lower costs involved in running an online casino, coupled with the rampant competition in the sector means that that is possible and necessary.
But that is not all… slots and games are actually more difficult to rig online than in brick and mortar casinos. How come?
In Las Vegas, the casino will often change the RTP of a slot machine at various points to cater to different demographics of customer. In the past, this could be a time consuming and labour-intensive task as it could involve opening up the machine and fiddling with the hardware. At the least, they’d have to close the slot to alter the software, perhaps through a CD-Rom.
These days, a casino can change the RTPs of all slot terminals by the click of a button in the control room. This is a common practice in Las Vegas and certainly doesn’t constitute illegality in and of itself. There are regulations that the casino must adhere to. For example, once they have altered the RTP, they must wait 4 minutes before the slot can be reopened, with the new RTP clearly advertised. Despite the state regulations and consequences, no doubt, that a casino would face if they fiddled the RTPs, the point is that they could do it.
An online casino runs off a software platform and offers games designed by one or many software developers. Now, while a casino operator can change some things, such as the maximum bets their players can make on the slot, they cannot change the RTP. The RTP is set by the software developer, who in turn is also licensed, and has their software tested. Then the casinos will likewise have their slot and games RTPs tested by an independent body to make sure it matches up. Therefore, for a licensed casino, it is almost impossible for an operator to alter the RTP of a slot, even if they wanted to. That’s not to say they couldn’t perform other nasty tricks, like withholding payments for no good reason etc… but that’s one less thing to worry about.
It is true that some casinos have their own in-house software development teams that create exclusive content. So, could they rig that?
Again, they’d have to go through the same testing and licence controls to approve a game. It would be quite a major operation to hoodwink various agencies including the Gambling Commission and an accredited testing agency.
Given that the built in RTP of slot guarantees a profit over the long term to begin with, why would you bother ripping people off illegally when you can do it perfectly legally. (That statement depends on your perception of gambling as a whole).
These forum posts from Sportsbookreview around ten years ago demonstrate ongoing dialogues surrounding online gaming.
“There isn’t an actual ball even,” says gizmo2431. The notion of computerized gambling must have been alienating at first. Unless there were real dealer, or real balls, or actual money that you exchanged your chips for, how could you trust the game or the casino?
Now we are so much more used to the digital presence in our lives, and the normalisation of the internet. But now? With the possibility of human manipulation and mechanical errors on physical tables, casinos are now less likely rigged online. How things have changed!
Gambling should always be fun and every gambler has the right to a fair environment in which to gamble. If you have any questions about this article, or good/bad casino recommendations, don’t hesitate to get in touch via our social media channels.
For other articles in our “Fixed” series, check out “Is Online Bingo Fixed?” at Well Done Winners Bingo.