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Alternative Dispute Resolution – What Is It? How Do Gambling Complaint Services Differ?

ThePOGG functions as an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) service for some complaints and manages others in an informal manner. Why? What does that mean? We will try to answer these questions in this article.

Casino Complaint vs ADR

If you have been an online gambler for a while, the chances are you are familiar with several services offering to mediate disputes between players and gambling operators. There are two basic ‘types’ of service helping players with complaints: informal services and Alternative Dispute Resolution services. Let’s discuss the differences.

Informal Gambling Complaint Management Services

There are a significant number of Informal Gambling Complaint management services. These generally take the form of a website that has affiliate relationships with gambling operators. Like ThePOGG they generate their revenue marketing gambling operators. They often have large player communities and assisting players with complaints is a way to get players coming to their websites.

Generally – though there are a couple of exceptions, one of which is ThePOGG - these services will manage player complaints publicly, often simply facilitating a discussion between the unhappy player and a representative of the gambling operator, and this communication chain will ultimately form a published report on the complaint as a record to inform other consumers.

Importantly, informal complaint management services do NOT have any legal authority to compel gambling operators to accept any verdict they reach on any given complaint. They rely on the operator desiring the traffic they can send enough to treat players fairly. This is true of ThePOGG, when we are managing complaints outside of our ADR remit.

Gambling Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Services

ADR services are a far more formal affair. They serve as an alternative to the small claims court systems and are officially appointed under one of a number of licensing systems. Within those systems gambling operators are required by their license to engage with an ADR when a player dispute arises and ADRs can, where they have appropriate agreements in place, issue rulings on disputes are legally binding in nature. This means that the operator has to comply with the ruling given or they may potentially face legal sanction.

ADRs by and large will manage complaints completely behind closed doors. Private communication chains between the player, the ADR and the operator. ThePOGG takes this approach to complaint management both when managing complaints formally as an ADR and informally outside of our ADR remit.

ADRs generally – though ThePOGG is the exception to this rule – do not publish reports on the complaints they manage, providing rulings to the parties privately.

Finally ADRs – again generally and again ThePOGG breaks from the norm in this – directly charge operators to manage complaints. This can be a set fee, or the ADR may charge a fee per complaint, or per set blocks of complaints (i.e. the operator purchases 10 complaints at a time).

Pros and Cons of Informal vs ADR Complaint Management

So what are the advantages of each approach to managing complaints? There are different benefits to each type of complaint management service which we’ll try to outline below.

Limitations on who the service will manage complaints against – Most ADRs will only manage player complaints against a small selection of operators who have actively engaged their services and pay for those services. Informal complaint management services will normally manage complaints against any operator. In this respect the informal complaint management services are far more flexible.

What does ThePOGG do? – We are an ADR service for over a hundred Maltese licensed operators, but we will also manage complaints informally against any other operator. So we offer the flexibility of managing complaints against any operator, with the added authority to make formal rulings against those operators that utilise our ADR service.

Transparency – Most ADRs do not publish any information about the specific complaints they manage. Informal complaint management services, for the most part, will publish reports on every complaint they manage. This allows other players to get some information on all complaints, allowing players to make educated decisions about the gambling services they engage with. Again we would view the approach taken by the informal complaint management services as better for players.

What does ThePOGG do? – We are an ADR, but we differ from all other ADRs in that we publish a report on every complaint.

Private/Public Complaint Discussion – ADRs conduct the complaint management discussion in private. Most informal complaint management services tend to allow these discussions to occur in public.

Why the difference? The informal services are looking to establish a reputation as ‘championing players’. They are marketing to these same players, and each page on their site is another page that can rank in the search engines. Drama, whether justified or not, engages users and drives activity on the website. As such there is an active incentive for these services to want the complaint discussion to happen publicly. ADR services – acting formally for regulatory requirements – don’t have this incentive.

Many players also like the idea of being able to put public pressure on a gambling operator to resolve their issue by trying to shame the operator. The informal services tend to facilitate this motivation by allowing the player to voice their grievance where everyone can see immediately and often allowing the aggrieved player to directly engage with the gambling operator representative.

ADR services tend to approach the problem from the opposite direction, gathering information from both parties privately. The benefits to this are that the ADR is not dealing with a business who is by default on the defensive. This better facilitates a productive dialogue with both parties. Alongside this, many players are understandably very frustrated when a complaint situation arises. This can ultimately colour their communications with the operator rep, and hamper a productive dialogue. By interacting with both parties privately, ADR service and limit the escalation of hostile exchanges.

The above means that while informal services public management approach can be more effective for resolving low level complaints (i.e. “I should have received my payment by now”), the private management strategy employed by ADRs is far more effective when managing any complaint that is of a more involved nature.

What does ThePOGG do? – We feel that the benefits to conducting the complaint discussion privately significantly outweigh any commercial considerations. While allowing players a public platform to attack an operator they feel aggrieved by may provide players a more immediate sense of gratification, the more effective path to recovering funds is a more managed approach. As such we conduct all complaint discussions privately. We do however, publish the complaint dialogue after the case has been closed allowing for the same transparency as the informal complaint management services.

Enforceability of Rulings – ADRs clearly have the advantage in this respect. ADRs can give legally enforceable rulings, meaning that where an operator refused to comply with a ruling this carries potential regulatory sanction and the player could then engage legal action in the knowledge that the trader has refused to comply with the ruling of an independent ADR. This would likely provide significant additional weight to any legal claim brought.

Informal complaint management services simply do not have this type of authority. They rely solely on the goodwill of the operator to get players paid. No ruling from an informal service is likely to be given any credence in a legal setting.

What does ThePOGG do? – We manage complaints against the MGA licensees that engage our ADR service, and all other complaints we manage informally. This means we provide legally binding rulings for those operators that use our ADR service for their MGA license, and non-binding rulings in all other claims.

Deals with complaint against any operatorYNY
Can issue legally binding rulingsNYY/N
Complaint discussions privateY/NYY
Publishes Complaint ReportsY/NNY

Are Complaint Management Services Impartial?

A common concern raised by players is that any complaint management service they approach is paid for by the industry and therefore should be viewed as bias. We understand this concern, and in an ideal world any arbitration type service would involve neither party paying the arbitrator. Unfortunately arbitration is a labour intensive undertaking and funding to make this type of service available has to come from somewhere. There are pros and cons to any type of funding model so let’s look at the various structures used:

Regulatory Management: - This is the most common approach to the management of player complaints. Under this structure player complaints are managed directly by the regulator. How is this funded? Via license fees and tax revenues.

The downsides to this are that the regulator is likely to have a large number of responsibilities, with complaints making up a lower tier priority, and where the operator is big and the regulator/economy of the hosting country is small (as with many of the island jurisdiction issuing licenses) it is not hard to see how lobbying and political pressure could be exerted to influence the regulator’s actions.

Direct Payment: - This is the funding model that most ADRs use. They charge operators directly for managing complaints (they are prohibited from charging players). Operators either pay a ‘by complaint’ fee, or by job lots of complaints (i.e. a fixed fee for a batch of 10 complaints).

The drawback to this funding model is that the operator HAS to have a formal arrangement in place with any operator before they would consider taking on a complaint. Alongside this, where the operator is large in size, they can represent a substantive proportion of the ADR’s overall income. Where a large operator was to be unhappy with the ADR, the ADR may be financially vulnerable to the operator switching to another service.

Marketing: - This funding model does not charge operator’s directly for complaint management, but instead generates revenue via affiliate marketing and use the revenue generated by this to fund providing players with a complaint management service.

The criticism of this model that many players jump to is that where a particular advertising partner represents a large share of the complaint services’ overall business that this could put pressure on the complaint service not to issue unfavourable rulings.

What does ThePOGG do? - We decided to adopt the Marketing model of funding. We made this decision for a couple of reasons:

i) It allows us to manage complaints against any operator, without any need for the operator to agree to pay us. That means that the operators we do engage advertising for actually fund us managing complaints against all operators. In fact, at least half of the complaints we manage are against operators that we have no financial ties to whatsoever.

ii) We work with hundreds of operators. This means that our revenue streams are diverse and the removal of any one partner would not threaten the integrity of our business. In fact, any time we discontinue a relationship with an advertising partner, another simply slots into the positions they held and the majority of our revenue stream is protected.

Which Regulatory Systems Use ADRs?

Which regulatory systems currently use ADRs to manage player complaints?

UK - The UK was the first jurisdiction to introduce the ADR model of complaint management. The UK ADR system is dominated by two ADRs - IBAS and eCOGRA - whom the vast majority of the remaining UK licensees engage. While we have historically acted as an ADR in the UK jurisdiction, we do not currently offer ADR services to UKGC licensees though we do consult for and will provide second opinions on complex cases being reviewed by some ADR services operating within this market.

Malta - Malta followed the example set by the UKGC in establishing ADR services. The ADRs operating in Malta are far more diverse than the UK. To our knowledge, IBAS has withdrawn from this market after Brexit. eCOGRA and ThePOGG both have a significant presence in the Maltese market, with the rest of the ADR services being mostly provided by small Maltese based legal firms.

Curacao - The Curacao Master License holders have recently (2022) made some token efforts to suggest that their licensing system is deploying an ADR requirement. Our professional opinion is that this is an ADR system in name only, looking to erroneously draw comparison between the Curacao regulatory framework and other more robust regulatory systems. The primary problems with the Curacao ADR system are that the Master License holders do not publish any licensing standards, meaning that there are no regulations with which to compare an operator's practices, and that nowhere is there any stated requirement that licensees have to abide by the rulings of any ADR they choose to list. The result of this is that we are aware of multiple Curacao licensed operators who are listing ThePOGG as their ADR, who have never contacted us or entered into any ADR Agreement with this service and who routinely ignore contacts from us when complaints do come in. Players would be wise to view a Curacao license as a red flag when considering any operator to play with.

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