There have been rumours for months about a new-look Kahnawake Gaming Commission emerging as the regulator discussed the future with its licensee operators in an industry where there is a growing demand for real regulatory compliance.
The first official confirmation that a new approach was in progress was the announcement during the ICEi week by the KGC that it had appointed the independent player protection and standards body eCOGRA to carry out compliance testing and ongoing monitoring on its licensees.
There was further evidence as the KGC manned an exhibition stand and fielded a powerful delegation that included livewire chairman Dean Montour and general legal counsel Murray Marshall.
The duo met and freely discussed their future plans with industry leaders and opinion formers from all sectors.
With them was Micki Oster, a highly respected industry veteran who made a significant reputation for herself as the general manager of what was at that time two of the most popular and trusted online casino groups on the Internet - the Sunny and Trident groups.
Oster's legendary sense of fair play and player sensitivity made her many friends in the player community, and her business professionalism was reflected in the success of the companies she managed back then.
Oster's involvement became clear this week; she has been retained as a consultant to advise the KGC on improvements to player relationship activities, including the timeous and fair handling of player disputes with Kahnawake licensed operators, for which she will responsible, liaising with operators and the KGC board directly.
"In terms of the KGC regulations, operators have 7 days to respond to an enquiry, after which a further three days on final warning are allowed. After that, the issue goes before the KGC board and drastic penalties can be levied in terms of licensing suspension and fines," Oster told InfoPowa.
Dean Montour, chairman of the KGC, said he had full confidence in Oster's impartiality, experience and integrity, and she had the full support of the board.
Questioned on the motive driving the new KGC initiative, Montour said that the online poker scandal involving prominent licensees of the KGC in previous years had made a major impression on the KGC.
"$22 million was returned to players, and heavy fines imposed on the companies concerned, whilst the KGC handed over the comprehensive results of its investigation to provincial police authorities, where we understand complicated enquiries are still being carried out," said Murray Marshall, counsel for the KGC.
The issue also acted as a catalyst for improvement, Montour noted, leading to discussions with licensees and a new and more compliance oriented approach. KGC licensees had been generally positive about the changes, recognising that these added value on several levels.
"There is a strong commitment to be a better regulator and to be more publicly visible," Montour said, recapping some of the immediate actions which are now unfolding:
* Streamlining the player disputes function under Oster.
* Engaging the services of eCOGRA to beef up monitoring and compliance, using that body's highly experienced professional teams.
* A new logo certification program linked to a new logo and a new and informative website at www.gamingcommission.ca.
* The intention is to link the website with the new logo. When users click on the logo it will present a page of information that includes software provider, copy of certificate, brand, url, RNG certificate, RTP (return to player percentage) and other relevant data. The website includes a feedback forum for the use of interested parties.
"These measures are accompanied by a general determination on the part of ourselves and our licensees to do better," said Montour, adding that within the next six months everything will be in place.
Montour recognises that there will inevitably be some cynicism on the KGC's plans.
"We monitor certain player message boards and that is to be expected," he said. "We are quite prepared to stand behind these changes and be judged by our licensees' performance and adherence to our requirements going forward."
Marshall said that the KGC'S relationships with the Quebec provincial government were multi-layered and covered a multitude of subjects, and in the case of online gambling went back 11 years without provincial interference.
InfoPowa's purely subjective opinion is that Montour and Marshall impressed as serious and professional regulators determined to make real and useful changes, whilst Oster's integrity and industry experience is unquestionable in our experience and will be a valuable element in achieving success.
Time will clearly tell - and fairly quickly - if this drive is producing the desired results for operators, regulators and most importantly of all, the playing community.
In Alderney, changes have also been taking place, with a new licensing framework that reflects not only the changing dynamics of the online gambling industry but also the new regulatory environment unfolding in Europe and further afield.
Based on a modular system, where operators need only choose the parts they regard as best suited to their particular business model, the new scheme is more flexible and has reduced costs for many, maintaining Alderney's reputation as the lowest cost online gambling jurisdiction in Europe.
The new Category 1 licence, which has been introduced to cater for the increasing trend for operators to outsource gambling activities, can be granted in as little as 4 to 6 weeks, significantly shortening the licence application phase.
The Category 2 licence meets the demand created by the extraordinary growth in B2B services, where Alderney's superior technical infrastructure is an impressive base from which to provide fast reliable services across the globe.
A third major change has been the introduction of a system which can recognise and licence equipment located outside of the jurisdiction, a move which meets technical requirements such as consistency and performance in game betting products, live feeds, the rise in globally based gaming platforms and the advent of cloud computing.
"However well thought through, a significant revision of the licensing legislation fills you with some trepidation as to how it will be received," said Alderney's director of eCommerce Development, Robin Le Prevost. "But I think we can say, even though it is early days, that the new scheme seems to have hit exactly the right note, and enquiries and applications have shown a significant increase."
"2009 continued a pattern of growth for Alderney as a jurisdiction, but was a difficult year for some - especially the new start-ups, but one can sense a new energy and we are very much looking forward to 2010."