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Oct 19

GamesOS – Blackjack Switch Issue

Posted by THEPOGG in Blog.

A couple of weeks ago I was approached, via a proxy for privacy reasons, by a player who had notices a fairly substantial issue at GamesOS casino which involved their Blackjack Switch games.

Blackjack Switch is a Blackjack derivative designed by Geoff Hall that’s offered at a small number of online casinos and has been installed in several large offline casino venues. This game involves playing two hands simultaneously and once the initial hands have been dealt offers the player the opportunity to ‘switch’ the second card of each hand. The adjustment to compensate for this is that the payout for a Blackjack is reduced to 1 to 1 and if the dealer draws to 22 it pushes all hands except Blackjack. These rules adjustments make give the game a comparable house edge to that of Blackjack or – depending on the Blackjack game – a bit better. This is one of my favourite table games and you can find the full standard rules and optimum strategy for this game can be found at http://wizardofodds.com/games/blackjack/switch/.

The issue that was brought to our attention was that the GamesOS version of the game had been altered in such a way that rather than all pushes would result in a loss for the player. While we haven’t run a simulation that could provide an exact figure for how much of a difference this change in rules, in a standard Blackjack game this alteration would increase the house edge by approximately 8.86% (as can be seen at the bottom of the list on this page http://wizardofodds.com/games/blackjack/rule-variations/). Given that the switching property of the Blackjack Switch game creates a substantially increased number of player 17-21 hands, it seems reasonable to assume that push situations will occur a lot more frequently and as such the increase in house edge with this rule in the Blackjack Switch game is likely to be notably larger than 8.86%. This results in the Blackjack Switch game changing from one of the most attractive and player friendly games in the casino to a game where only the highest tariff slots games online (less than 1% of online slots games) would charge the player more than this.

The problem didn’t end there though – inside the game help files the game was advertised as having an RTP of 99.39% (or a house edge of 0.61%). Obviously this figure was incorrect and massively misleading to any player who based their decision to play on such an attractive low cost game. In the video below you can see both the help file advertising the wrong figure and the rule itself in action at each of the GamesOS casinos we could find that offer this game.

In the first instance, I approached Geoff Hall the designer of the game to find out if he’d approved the alteration to the rules. The game was designed to offer the player a close to even chance and the rule change clearly changed the product. When alerted to this fact, Geoff made clear that he was not aware of any changes to the rules and as such we subsequently attempted to contact GamesOS directly to discuss the both issues. Unfortunately a week and a half passed with no response from GamesOS.

At this point I forwarded on an email to the management of each of the GamesOS casinos in the above video detailing the issue and asking the them to get in contact with their software provider and have someone contact me asap. At that point we got a quick response from the GamesOS management team assuring us that the issue was now being looked into. Having checked today (one week after initial response from the GamesOS management’s communication) I can confirm that their Blackjack Switch game has been altered to match that of the rest of the industry (see the video below) and is again a low house edge choice for the player.

Reflection

So what can I say about all of this? Let’s start with Geoff Hall.

It is pretty much unprecedented for a games designer to get involved in resolving a game issue like this, but Geoff’s support throughout this process leanded the weight required to get this issue reviewed seriously. His pressure not only to get the figure changed, but to get the rules of the game altered back to the more player friendly setting was absolutely invaluable. I want to publicly thank him for his help and ensure that all users are aware that he has two new games soon to be released online that we will be covering in the near future.

I personally don’t feel this was in any way intentional; the game rules clearly stipulated the alteration, it was only the RTP figure that was inaccurate. The most likely explanation for this is a game programmer who either misinterpreted what the rules of the game should be or made an alteration without realising the impact that this would have on the RTP figure.

It would have been nice to get a direct response from GamesOS regarding this issue without having to get their casino clients to apply pressure to them. That said, I do sympathise with both casino software providers and casino operators – player complaints about the fairness of games are a frequent reality of the business and the vast (and I do mean vast) majority of these complaints do not have sufficient supporting evidence to validate the claims that the player makes. This leads to a ‘Boy Who Cried Wolf’ situation where all reports of issues are treated with a hefty pinch of salt.

So while it would have been nice to see a quicker response, the time frame for the resolution of this situation was actually – once we consider getting the message to management, taking an assessment of the validity of the claims, gaining approval to change the game, altering the code and updating all operators – in the quick and appropriate zone and as such GamesOS are to be commended.

As to the casinos involved, that’s more of a mixed bag. Of the six casinos we contacted, Bet Internet got back to us almost immediately assuring us that the proper steps were being taken and GamesOS had been alerted. This approach was absolutely everything we wanted to see and I personally have nothing but positive things to say about the way their management team approached this. They will be added to the site shortly.

1Bet and AdamEve casino responded to us a couple of days later and again assured us that they have contacted GamesOS. A slightly slower response, but still well within an acceptable time frame and a positive approach to the situation.

The last three casinos – Casino Lucky Win, Grand Wild and Heavy Chips – all owned by Cyberneedle N.V., failed to offer any response what-so-ever. Given the well documented report we provided them with when we emailed them and the fact that the game’s designer and license holder had been referenced and included in the conversation, to my mind this really reflects poorly on their approach and ability to manage negative situations. As such we will be including this in each of their reviews and marking down their Trustworthiness stat.

3 Responses

UK-21
Oct 22, 2013

". . . explanation for this is a game programmer . . . made an alteration without realising the impact that this would have on the RTP figure."

Maybe? Or an order went out from the promoter of the software to make this specific tweak, in the hope that nobody would notice? I find it hard to believe that someone employed simply to do the coding would make such a change without being instructed to do so?

UK-21
Oct 22, 2013

I should have added that it's refreshing to see a prompt response by some of the operators to putting things right as soon as the issue was flagged up. Anything expected from the software developer as to how this happened?

ThePOGG
Oct 22, 2013

I'm very very skeptical that this was in any way malicious.

There are two reasons for this - firstly, while the published RTP figures did not reflect the rules in play, the games rules correctly reflected what was going on. It would seem utterly self defeating to try and trick the small group of player who would actually understand the RTP figure, while spelling out the difference exactly for anyone who actually took the time to read the rules.

Secondly, I know from discussion with Geoff Hall that GamesOS version of this game was low traffic. Interestingly, this may partly have been related to this rule. High house edges are concealable in high variance games where the players are chasing big jackpot payouts where they incorrectly assume that when the jackpot's hit they'll make more than the money they lost chasing the jackpot. It's not possible to hide the decrease in RTP nearly so well in a low variance game like Blackjack - because there is no jackpot to compensate the player, they quickly become demoralized with the persistent downward trend to their bankroll. I haven't run a sim, but I'm pretty sure that with this rule in place the sample needed to generated a guaranteed loss would be remarkably small.

The point to the above is that it's likely to have cost GamesOS casino more in lost repeat play than they'd make in extra revenue from the increased house advantage in the short term.

Alongside this, if you intended to maliciously fiddle with a game to increase your revenue, a game with a poor uptake wouldn't be the sensible game to select. Logically you'd target high traffic games and do so in such a way that it'd be difficult to detect. There just doesn't seem to be many good reasons to see this as anything other than a mistake.

ThePOGG

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