Navigating the maximum stake dilemma

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In the igaming industry, the lure of big bonuses is a major player attraction strategy. While these bonuses provide powerful marketing leverage and affiliate opportunities, they also pose significant financial risks for operators. 

Managing these risks is a huge challenge, especially when the contentious issue of enforcing maximum stakes is in the mix. But there are some potential solutions.

In the context of bonuses with wagering requirements, the higher a player’s volatility, the more they convert to cash as an average. It’s counterintuitive, complicated, and an entire article in itself, so you will just need to trust me on this.

Duncan Garvie says the industry’s way of addressing the risk of bonus abuse is self-interested

The size of a player’s stake significantly influences volatility. Consequently, it’s a common practice to find terms restricting the maximum bet or spin size during bonus play, a strategy to mitigate the operator’s overall financial risk.

There’s just one problem. Operators tend to enforce this term retrospectively, resulting in player confiscations. Duncan Garvie, founder of thePOGG and head of ADR for CasinoReviews.com, sums the problem up best.

“There’s no question that there is huge consumer demand for bonuses. Nor that offering bonuses creates substantial financial risk for operators,” Garvie explains. “Maximum bet restrictions are essential to ensuring that operators can meet this demand and deliver the experience that players want.”

However, he adds, the industry’s approach to addressing this risk is fundamentally self-interested. Restrictions are buried in bonus terms and conditions as a way of mitigating the risk of smart players that are systematically using high wagers to exploit bonuses. 

“But this approach relies on players reading the terms and conditions, which many typical players do not. The result is that non-problematic players breach these terms with regularity, putting themselves in a no-win position.”

“If they lose, the operator retains their deposit. If they win, the operator refuses to pay the win because they have broken the maximum bet term.”

Hidden, complex and obscure terms

Joachim Timmermans, co-founder of Quickspin and director at Print Studios, shares a personal experience that underscores the impact on players.

“Most of us in the industry want to deliver top-notch services and products,” Timmermans explains. “In this quest it’s important to recognise that we aren’t always the typical player. I bridge this gap by regularly signing up with various operators and trying new slot games. Usually, this is enjoyable, but occasionally, the experience is far from ideal.”

“When I tried to withdraw my winnings, a casino accused me of breaching the SEK50 (£3.74/€4.39/$4.77) maximum stake limit.”

Joachim Timmermans points out that complex terms can result in the removal of genuine winnings from players

It highlights a significant issue in the igaming industry, he says. The use of hidden, complex and obscure terms to justify confiscating winnings from genuine players. When challenged, operators are generally unwilling to discuss the matter rationally.

Timmermans says discussions on forums such as Casinomeister and CasinoGrounds show a trend of casinos confiscating winnings from those that unintentionally break one of the many complex rules.

“Often, the community response is dismissive, essentially saying, ‘too bad, you broke the rules, your loss,’ an attitude I find unreasonable,” he continues.

“I eventually managed to resolve the issue, but only after feeling compelled to share my frustrating experience publicly. The resolution came through leveraging the affiliate I used, and it’s likely that my industry position played a role in the outcome. This is a recourse that a typical player does not have.”

Genuine players suffer, bonus abusers profit

Unlike typical players, bonus abusers diligently study the terms and conditions. The primary form of bonus abuse is multi-accounting, where an individual uses multiple identities to exploit an operator.

These multi-accounters often belong to broader bonus abuse networks, forming a highly interconnected counter-industry where information circulates rapidly. Aware of the risks, bonus abusers typically violate maximum stake terms only if they’re confident of evading detection, a scenario requiring just a single test to determine whether the collective will breach the term or not.

Consequently, the operators find themselves stuck between penalising genuine players, or allowing a large amount of bonus abuse.

The negative impact of penalising genuine players is substantial. This is evidenced by the vast amount of critical reviews on platforms like TrustPilot. There is also a huge resource cost to operators that are manually identifying these breaches and managing ADR disputes.

Many UK operators have seen some success with enforcing a maximum stake at the point of play. This prevents harsh retrospective penalties such as confiscations.

“In my role managing player complaints, we have seen a pronounced drop off in the number of complaints we’ve received relating to max bet terms in the last few years,” Garvie adds.

“This is because our user base has historically skewed towards higher levels of UK players, and within the UK market the regulatory system has strongly encouraged the industry to enforce these terms at the point of play to eliminate these problems.

Can collaboration break the cycle?

However the issue persists outside of the UK market, often involving the same operators. Those that have the technical capacity to enforce the restrictions automatically are doing so in the UK while removing these systems for players in other countries.

It’s evident that enforcing a maximum stake at the time of play is more beneficial for genuine players. However, I don’t believe that operators’ hesitance to adopt this method is purely self-serving. 

Implementing such a solution presents several major challenges. Not all game aggregators and studios support the necessary in-game features to block a bet and notify players when they exceed the maximum stake size. 

Richard Hayler recommends real-time pop ups in disputes ajudicated by IBAS

Consequently, operators resort to a workaround that goes like this. If a player exceeds the maximum bet, operators manipulate the wallet balance to signal to the studio that the player lacks sufficient funds. This results in an unrelated in-game popup, which the operator must override with their own pop-up, compelling the player to refresh the page to continue playing.

This process significantly degrades the user experience, especially on mobile applications and browsers.

A solution requires every studio and aggregator to agree on a standardised callback for managing this issue. Without such collaboration, operators will continue to rely on this suboptimal workaround or retrospective actioning.

Deterrence Theory

The solution could be very simple. For example, at Greco we’ve introduced automated real-time popups that alert players when they exceed maximum stakes. This offers them an opportunity to modify their behaviour. 

This approach is rooted in ‘Deterrence Theory’. By notifying players of their actions in real-time, it implicitly communicates that evidence is being gathered for potential penalties if they persist. This strategy significantly reduces violations of terms, leading to far fewer disputes, less time spent on dispute resolution, enhanced brand reputation, and improved margins. All without compromising the user experience.

Our data conclusively shows that providing players with timely notifications at the earliest indication of risk serves as a potent deterrent, and truly distinguishes between the accidents of genuine players and the malicious intent of bonus abusers.

This approach is supported by the Independent Betting Adjudication Service (IBAS).

“Utilising real-time pop-up notifications would serve as a robust defense in disputes adjudicated by IBAS,” managing director Richard Hayler explains. “To further bolster this approach, we recommend mandating player acknowledgment of these notifications via interactive clicks.”

“Additionally, it’s imperative that these pop-ups are clearly labelled and provide supporting evidence to ensure there’s no ambiguity regarding their cause. This will ensure a uniform approach, eliminating any confusion about the pop-up’s origin or the allowance of any action that contravenes the established terms.”

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