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G2E 2014 Conference Review

*This article was originally published on Pokerfuse Pro. I just got back from attending the Global Gaming Expo (G2E) last week in Las Vegas. While the show is huge with thousands of exhibitors and sessions covering all topics of gaming, this article will cover the iGaming Congress and the two main keynotes by Steve Wynn and Sheldon Adelson.

The iGaming Congress was on the first day of the show (September 29th) and attempted to provide the audience with an update on the status of iGaming globally. Of course being held in the United States much of the talk was focused on this geographic region. I talked with Chris Grove (editor of Online Poker Report) after the show and he felt that there was little value from the iGaming sessions and little was learned. While I do agree, it may be because if you attend all the major iGaming conferences (i.e. iGNA, GiGse) it is usually the same people on the panels saying the same things. Still I was able to take away several points from the four talks I attended.

State of the US iGaming Industry

The first session was moderated by Lloyd Levenson and covered the changing landscape of iGaming in the United States. Panel members included Lauren Hammond of the California Gambling Control Commission, John Connelly of Bally Technologies, Bill Pascrell III, and Dana Takrudtong of GameAccount Network. Mr. Levenson started off making the point that while iGaming in the United States may not have initially met the financial goals many projected, there has been no scandal of underage gamblers, geolocation, or fraud. He continued stating that regulators have done their job. While factually this may be accurate the sample size is small and a larger test will be as iGaming expands and this sector becomes more of a target.

The subject of iGaming in California was brought up and Lauren Hammond said that we can’t begin to predict what elected officials will do. This same sentiment was echoed later by her colleague—California Gambling Control Commissioner Richard Schuetz—in another panel discussion. She continued to state that the biggest issue in California is suitability (i.e. licensing). From a regulator standpoint they want to see all the usual controls (geolocation, KYC, etc…), additionally computer security was mentioned. And in news that surprises nobody she mentioned that if iGaming comes to California it would be limited to poker only.

John Connelly, who in my opinion always comes across as the most knowledgeable on these panels, views the glass as very much half-full and is bullish on iGaming. He believes the key is mobile. Our children are not going to casinos at the same rate as in the past he stated and we need new avenues to attract them. If you have been attending the iGaming conference circuit this is not a surprise and is something Connelly has mentioned in the past. Pascrell also is very encouraged by the roll out of iGaming in New Jersey.

Levenson than asked the panel which is the better model, poker only or other casino games. The unanimous answer was that from a business perspective casino games are the much more profitable route. However, in certain states it is almost certain that it will be poker only; at least initially. The next question he asked was if iGaming should be limited to brick-and-mortar license holders as in New Jersey. Pascrell pointed out that there is no proof of cannibalization. Others mentioned that off-shore operators may be frustrated with partnering, but that may be the route certain states take.

Point of Consumption

The second panel focused on the point of consumption and what was occurring in the United Kingdom which has been documented here in pokerfuse. It was truly an international panel with representatives from Alderney, Gibraltar, Uruguay, Mississippi, and Maryland. Much of the discussion focused on what was occurring in the UK. Approximately 80% of the operators in the UK are not licensed and regulated there. The point of consumption law was introduced on the basis of consumer protection, however, most on the panel seemed to indicate it was for more financial reasons.

Regarding the the two representatives from the US, both repeated that their states were taking a wait and see approach. Stephen L. Martino, Director of the Maryland State Lottery, said they were looking closely at what was happening in Pennsylvania and that the legislature is not clamoring for iGaming as the results from New Jersey are disappointing. Luis Gama of Uruguay claimed they were looking to be a hub for iGaming in South America.

Know Your Customer

The third session was on know your customer (KYC). Luisa Woods of Tropicana said that they have about a 90% success rate with the initial submission. Much of the conversation was around collection of social security numbers (SSN) and how this can be frightening to customers and hinder growth. There was debate over whether an operator needs all 9 digits or just the last 4. Kim Little from LexisNexis said that if you have other information (name, address, birth date, place of birth, and the last 4 of the SSN) it is the same effectiveness as having all 9 of the SSN. This is refereed to as knowledge based authentication (KBA).

I thought an interesting point was brought up by Frank Pracukowski of Foxwoods. Even though they have only a play money site, they have implemented a KYC process so that they would have clean data in their player database. Another site that has implemented KYC even though it is not required is Star Fantasy Leagues in the daily fantasy sports sector. In my opinion, sites like this and Foxwoods will be ahead of the curve when regulation catches up.

The last item I want to mention from this panel is something that Luisa stated. She said that the password requirements required by the DGE were too strict and were causing operators and players issues, and that recently they were loosened. Being in the information security field this was disappointing to hear, currently P@ssword1 is a valid password so not sure about her statement.

Bad Actors

The last panel I attended was the “Bad Actors” panel moderated by Jeff Ifrah. Based on the title and the participants which included regulators George Rover from New Jersey DGE and Richard Schuetz of California Gambling Control Commission. The panel had much potential, but as hard as he tried, Ifrah was not able to extract any new information out of the panel. I suppose this should have been expected as the panel members had to be careful with what was said.

Keynote Addresses

The two main keynotes—Tuesday by Steve Wynn and Wednesday by Sheldon Adelson—were entertaining but not very informative. Wynn was a charismatic speaker who kept the audience engaged. Wynn stated that he shares Adelson’s views on iGaming. I must admit, hearing Adelson make the arguments he did, I question who is advising him. Arguing that with online gaming it is impossible to know who your players are and underage players might have access to the games is completely false as we know KYC technologies are present. In fact it is easier to know your player online than live. A fact represented by the multiple time Sands was fined for having underage players in their Pennsylvania casino. He continued using the example that online players may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol while playing. I guess he has never been to the Venetian poker room on a Friday night. More than anything he came across as a man who does not understand the technology and believes that children are smarter than the operators and will be able to bypass any controls that are present.

Overall it was a great experience at G2E this year and I am looking forward to attending next year.

Wireless Security at the WSOP

This article was originally published on Pokerfuse.

It is that time of year again where thousands of poker players descend upon Vegas for the World Series of Poker (WSOP).

“Is it safe to play online poker on wireless networks or public networks?”While legal online poker was live during last year’s WSOP, Ultimate Poker was the only site live and it was still going through its growing pains. This year, online poker is being heavily marketed to the WSOP crowd—to the point that direct marketing is telling players to bring their laptops to the Rio and play online, even while playing live.

An online “grind” area has been setup at the WSOP—on the stage in the Pavillion room—to encourage play. Of course the primary method that players are going to use to play online while in Vegas is via wireless networks in the Rio or at the casino where they are staying.

A question I have been asked many times is: “Is it safe to play online poker on wireless networks or public networks?”

Are Public WiFi Networks Safe for Playing Online Poker?

The answer I typically give: It depends.

There are security concerns to playing online poker in general and I illustrated many of the risks and protection mechanisms you should take in a previous article.

The suggestions in that article will help you stay safe while playing online at the WSOP. The tips include making sure your computer has the latest security patches, using antivirus, turning off file sharing, using a personal firewall, and only using a system dedicated to online poker (i.e. no email, chat).

There are some other recommendations that you could also take, such as using a VPN when connected to an unsafe wireless network or even a wired hotel network.

If you are tech savvy you could setup your own using software such as OpenVPN. If not there are commercial solutions such as HotSpotVPN, WiTopia, and many more. Once connected to a wireless or wired network, these applications allow you to establish a VPN connection in which all of your traffic is tunneled and encrypted.

One caveat is this may change your IP address and cause problems with some of the geolocation checks required by Nevada Gaming Commission to stop out-of-state players from connecting to online poker sites in Nevada. I have not personally tested this and am not sure of any potential issues.

Beware of Spoofing Attacks

The above suggestions will help you stay safe if you are connected to the correct wireless network. What would concern me if playing online in a location where people know a large number of players are connecting to igaming sites is man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks.

In this scenario an attacker causes the victim to connect to his system instead of a valid wireless access-point (AP). All traffic is then sent to the attacker before being sent to the Internet. This allows the attacker to see all traffic, including passwords and other sensitive information.

To help prevent against this type of attack you should turn off the auto-connect feature on your wireless device. While this does not completely stop these types of attacks it does add a layer of protection.

Denial of Service Attacks

Another concern is denial of service (DOS) attacks directed against a specific player.

For example, suppose you are playing heads-up with an opponent and chatting with him online and he discovers your IP address. It would be trivial for him to conduct a DOS attack against you while in a big pot, causing you to become disconnected. This threat also exists on the Internet but is even easier to pull off when on the same wireless network.

A possible solution to this would be not to use the free Wi-Fi but bring your own in the form of a MiFi or other personal hotspot. This could solve many of the concerns I have mentioned, however, I was informed that this will not work in Vegas due to the geolocation restrictions. Once again I have not tested this myself.

So should you play online while at the WSOP? I believe the majority of low-stake players are safe, but if I was playing for any substantial amount of money or had a large amount in my online account I think the risk is too great to play on free wireless networks or hotel networks while in Vegas.

Security is all about managing risk: As long as you know about the threats and are able to make informed decisions that is the best you can ask for.

GiGse Conference Review

This article was originally published on Pokerfuse.

Comedy Kick-off

Last week I was in San Francisco attending the Global iGaming Summit & Expo (GiGse), one of the key iGaming conferences in the United States.

The conference kicked off with a debate between Edward Rendell, former governor of Pennsylvania, and Willie Brown, former mayor of San Francisco, on legalization of igaming. If I had to describe the debate in a word it would be comedy.

Mr. Rendell was on the pro side while Mr. Brown—with the backing of Sheldon Adelson—was against legalization. Now I will admit Brown was fighting an uphill battle coming to an igaming conference where almost 100% of the audience was on the pro side. I am not sure how, with all the money Adelson has, all his hired guns come off uneducated on the subject, but Brown was no different—it seemed that all of his points made no sense and he used terrible examples.

At one point he claimed that igaming could not be safely regulated as players identities could not be verified accurately. As we all know, KYC checks are in-place on all regulated sites and are working correctly. He also stated that igaming would cut into land-based casinos, and used New Jersey as an example, while it is clear that the opposite is true.

Rendell was the opposite. He came well prepared and made educated, pragmatic arguments well supported with facts. Rendell stated that legalized igaming has to occur for one primary reason—it is currently going on in an unregulated environment. He continued to state that, while we can’t be 100% perfect, we will be much better than the unregulated sites.

On the subject of Federal versus state legislation, Rendell said “States should have the rights.” At the end it was my opinion and I think most of the audience’s that the good guys won the debate.

Harmony

The next talk I attended was a regulatory strategy talk on creating “harmonization”—the process of standardization across regulatory boundaries. The fear in the United States is you don’t want to end up with patchwork of regulations across different states: This increases the cost and complexity to the operator and in the end limits growth.

Brian Mattingley, CEO of 888, made the point that they have 4 different versions of their software in the EU and three in the United States, all due to regulatory issues. Tobin Prior, CEO of Ultimate Gaming, stated that the United States has a much more rigorous process than Europe. There are certain areas that are well suited to harmonization and standardization. Two that were provided as examples were KYC checks and banking.

Vision

The last talk I attended of significance was the visionary panel. This panel included:

  • Norbert Teufelberger, CEO Bwin.Party
  • Thomas Winter, VP Online Gaming Golden Nugget
  • George Rover, Deputy Director NJ DGE
  • John Connelly, VP Bally Technologies

The panel covered a wide range of topics and held some interesting discussions.

In regards to performance, Connelly mentioned the hardship of funding gaming sites in New Jersey. While it has improved, it is still limiting growth. Winter complained about the fact that off-shore sites are still taking bets from New Jersey customers and they are not having deposit issues.

Rover from the DGE stated he was pleased with the current relationship with operators. He feels good about KYC, geolocation, and responsible gaming and views it as a complete success.

Land-based branding was discussed and viewed as important given that consumer trust is critical. The success of bwin.party/Borgata was given as an example: This branding with B&M casinos is more important in the United States. Norbert stated that casinos in Europe are boring and nobody wants to go to them—the opposite of the United States.

Mobile was pointed to be a key component. As more mobile games are developed and marketed the panel sees revenue going up dramatically. In terms of the demographic of igaming customers compared to land-based, Winter said that the Golden Nugget’s igaming customers where on average 17 years younger than their B&M.

The panel ended with a long and measured statement from George on the DGE’s view on the Amaya acquisition of PokerStars and the probability of licensing in NJ. He was very careful with his words—but I got the impression it was not if Amaya would get licensed, but when.

Exhibition Highlights

I did attend a few more talks, but nothing worth noting. I spent much of my time networking and visiting with friends and colleagues.

I did find two exhibitors in the start-up zone with some interesting products: The first was Neo Poker Bot, which is actually a pretty impressive training tool. The AI is very impressive with multiple levels and learns how you play. Neo was a top place finisher at both the 2012 and 2013 Annual Computer Poker Competitions. By analyzing your results you can find leaks in your game, all without playing for real money. I guess the judges found it impressive too because it also won the award for best new product.

The other product I found cool was RiftSino. This is a Virtual Reality Casino designed for the Oculus Rift. They only had blackjack and a slots game to show, but you can see the potential. I was told that they are working on poker. Obviously this is something you need to see in person to truly appreciate.

Overall it was a good show and I am looking forward to next year’s conference.