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Sign of the Times

Revisiting the Code of Conduct for Responsible Gaming

Every day, 7 million people play Texas Hold ’Em Poker on Facebook, and another 2 million play the “social” slot machine game Slotomania. The online bingo platform Bingo Blitz is attracting 3 million players a month. At the same time, many states are taking steps to allow residents to legally gamble online.These developments tell the story of new platforms that have emerged as significant new forces in gaming. 

The explosion of social gaming and inevitable rise of online gambling are just two examples of how the gaming industry has evolved during the last decade. From the games on the casino floor to the social media marketing tools used to connect with customers, our industry has undergone a revolution in numerous segments of our business. We are continually moving forward and taking advantage of the latest technology to deliver a better, more complete customer experience.

But as any industry evolves, it is important that the systems governing it evolve as well. We must be mindful of how these changes to our business could impact our customers and take the necessary steps to protect them from any potential harm. 

One such system governing our industry is the AGA Code of Conduct for Responsible Gaming. Originally developed in 2003, the code was intended to establish a consistent, industry-wide approach to responsible gaming across all AGA member companies. At the time of its implementation in 2004, the code covered every aspect of our business.

It seems appropriate that, given the significant changes in our industry during the past decade, we should revisit the code to ensure that it accurately reflects the way we do business today. Beginning this month, the AGA will do just that.

As we did when the original code was developed, the AGA is establishing a working group of industry leaders to conduct a full review and update of the Code of Conduct to reflect the modern gaming industry, including new platforms of service and the many new ways in which our industry interacts with its customers.

Our working group will draw from many disciplines, including compliance, marketing, legal and regulatory affairs, to incorporate the various perspectives on these issues. The working group will spend months reviewing and updating the code to address these issues and ensure its provisions are applicable to both AGA operators and equipment manufacturers. We plan to complete this work and launch our revised and updated Code of Conduct in the first quarter of 2013. 

In addition to reviewing existing code language to ensure it reflects the current operating environment, the working group will examine several new issues that have emerged during the past few years. New marketing platforms present particular challenges. While the explosion of social media has certainly enhanced the relationship between the gaming company and its customers, the very nature of these networks makes it difficult to prevent minors or excluded persons from accessing content. The code needs to set clear standards governing online, social and mobile marketing to address these and other issues.

Standards governing free-to-play social games also must be addressed in the code. There are a host of issues raised by these explosively popular pastimes, from accessibility to the availability of virtual and real-money prizes.

Finally, the revised code must address online gambling. Delaware and Nevada already have legalized some forms of online gambling, and more states are likely to follow suit. It is important that the same level of responsible gaming standards that apply to traditional brick-and-mortar casinos will apply online.

Some of this work is already done. In an early step to acknowledge the evolution of our business, last year the AGA introduced a Code of Conduct for U.S. Licensed Online Poker Companies that outlines standards companies must adhere to in order to obtain a license to provide online poker to U.S. customers. The standards focus on keeping minors from gambling, providing tools to help problem gamblers, and creating provisions to help law enforcement identify and prosecute illegal operators.

Key elements of the online poker code include requiring companies to properly identify all online players using geolocation, age verification and other online customer identification tools. These strategies can keep minors from accessing online gambling sites and ensure customers aren’t placing bets from states where it is illegal.

Companies also must implement effective player exclusion processes to deny access to underage players, residents of states where online gambling is illegal, self-excluded players and those who have cheated or otherwise violated laws related to online poker.

Additionally, the online poker code requires companies to submit to regular testing and auditing of online poker software, to submit to extensive background investigations of the company and key personnel and to implement effective anti-money laundering procedures. These measures will help ensure the integrity of the games and the people who run them.

The online poker code also requires the provision of responsible gaming tools in the online environment, including providing links to problem gambling resources, allowing players to access their personal gambling history and providing tools to self-regulate one’s amount of play.

The working group will review these provisions and others for inclusion in the broader Code of Conduct.

The AGA Code of Conduct for Responsible Gaming has served our industry well for nearly a decade. Not only have our members adhered to it, but it has become a model for responsible gaming programs in international jurisdictions and non-member casinos across the country.

This widespread influence, coupled with the remarkable advances seen in technology and the explosion in social media participation, make it imperative that the code remain a comprehensive, up-to-date resource for everyone. We look forward to working with the industry to ensure that the standards governing the industry of today—and even tomorrow—are just as effective as those that have solidified the integrity of our business to this point.

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