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SELF-REGULATION SERVICES

Q&A INTERACTIVE GAMING NEWS - ANDREW BEVERIDGE, eCOGRA

by Kevin Smith


Last month officials with gaming software provider Microgaming Software Systems Ltd. and Internet casino operator Virtual Holdings Ltd., which handles the massive affiliate network connected to Casino-On-Net, announced the formation of eCOGRA (e-Commerce and Online Gaming Regulation and Assurance).

The group aims to give online gamblers a new standard of assurance for fair, honest and responsible gaming. To lead the new initiative, longtime industry executive Andrew Beveridge was tabbed as eCOGRA`s chairman.

The primary goal for Beveridge is to establish a list of accepted standards and practices, which will be used as the benchmark for members of eCOGRA.

Beveridge recently discussed the initiative with Interactive Gaming News.

IGN: What are some of the positives and negatives of having Microgaming and Casino-On Net as the cornerstone members for eCOGRA?

AB: Everyone involved in eCOGRA`s inception recognizes the key task of getting over the message that eCOGRA is truly autonomous and a viable and sensible vehicle for developing credibility within the online gaming industry.

Only by achieving this will eCOGRA achieve its ideals. We need to remove, from the outset, any misunderstanding or misconception that founding members have control over any aspects of how the organization operates. This includes issues such as which software providers may become members and which operators may be awarded the eCOGRA seal.

eCOGRA`s constitution places these decisions purely in the hands of the independent directors. These directors have been carefully selected based on their integrity, industry experience and ability to remain independent. The last thing we need is for people to think that this is an exclusive `club` organized solely for the benefit of the founder members. It is absolutely constituted to embrace as broad a membership as possible that can comply with the high standards of performance embodied in its codes of practice.

The founding members already have a reputation for setting a high standard when it comes to player protection and fair gaming. As eCOGRA moves forward, the organization will benefit from direct access to the skills and experience of some of the industry`s most innovative and successful minds.

IGN: How hard has it been to draw up the acceptable standards and practices (the requirements for software providers to join and for operators to achieve the Seal of Approval)?

AB: The hardest component of crafting requirements is balancing player protection without disrupting the ability of software providers and operators to run their businesses. We`re fortunate to have the hindsight of more than six years worth of attempted--and in many instances misguided--regulation in the online environment, as well as the knowledge afforded by our founding members and affiliated operators.

In addition, the audit panel has provided an invaluable contribution based on its four years worth of verification and compliance testing experience in this industry. The result is a set of requirements that causes minimal disruption to the operating environment for the software providers and operators, and provides a greater level of assurance to players than traditional testing approaches.

This is a dynamic process, and we expect that the requirements will evolve over time. But eCOGRA is not just about having a solid set of requirements, there has to be an effective means of both initially proving that the requirements are met and then ensuring ongoing compliance. This is where eCOGRA hopes to set new standards for the industry, through the appointment of reputable international accounting firms to its audit panel, which are tasked with independently performing the necessary review work.

IGN: Do you have a target date for releasing the list of requirements to those outside the group?

AB: The latest version was approved by the eCOGRA Board, which met at the end of May, and the resulting requirements should be publicly available soon.

IGN: With voluntary initiatives such as this one, how important is it to get international cooperation?

AB: While many online gaming jurisdictions have done a good job of drafting appropriate rules and regulations for online gaming, in most cases regulators have used a cookie-cutter approach. One of eCOGRA`s many challenges is to work closely with regulators from all over the world to present the powerful technological tools and new concepts that can be utilized to provide consistent player protections.

eCOGRA hopes to be the vehicle to demonstrate that online gaming is a unique industry that can be effectively regulated through a sensible combination of up-to-date technology, due diligence and regulatory oversight.

IGN: Do you see a day when players are as confident about gambling online as they are at land-based facilities?

AB: I don`t think players are always confident about gambling at land-based casinos because trust in the casino depends on the quality of regulations and the effectiveness of the regulators in the jurisdiction in which the land-based casino operates.

Similarly, players` confidence in the online environment will be determined by the regulations enforced by the licensing jurisdiction and by player protection organizations such as eCOGRA.

If the correct approach is taken when regulating online casinos--and by that I mean not trying to force traditional land-based models on the online operators, but rather adopting requirements according to the intricacies of the online environment--then I am convinced that players will someday be confident about the reputability of online operations bearing the eCOGRA seal.

IGN: Do you have a target number of members you would like to see in six months or a year?

AB: While eCOGRA already has the necessary stakeholders to create a successful organization, we are pursuing other online gaming software providers who will comply with eCOGRA`s requirements and add substantial value to our organization. I hope to see a couple of other reputable software suppliers coming on board within the next six to 12 months, and once this happens I think the rest of the industry will feel compelled to apply for membership as it becomes a matter of critical mass.

IGN: Where do you see eCOGRA in another year or two? What direction will it take?

AB: eCOGRA is a non-profit organization, and its primary objective is to ensure that approved operators provide high levels of player protections, including assurances that games are fair and that operators behave responsibly. Until appropriate standards to enforce these tenets have been effectively implemented on a global scale, eCOGRA will maintain its current focus. We will prove our value to the players through the day-to-day implementation of our own high standards.




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