The amazing growth of mobile gaming in both domestic and foreign markets is one of the casino gaming industry’s most talked about trends halfway into 2013. What is often overlooked by industry insiders and the general public alike is the importance of geolocation, the technology that powers the ability to have mobile gaming.
“Location data is a key requirement for any wage-taking gaming website or application,” says Rip Gerber, president and chief executive officer for Locaid, which provides secure and accurate network mobile location data that is approved by the Nevada Gaming Control Board. “Obtaining approvals from regulatory agencies requires that a user’s physical location within a state or territory be verified to allow bets to be placed. GPS location can be easily spoofed, and WiFi or geoIP data are insufficient to provide validated location beyond country level.”
The pressing need for accurate geolocation services is exhibited by the demand from legalized online poker. According to the American Gaming Association, legalized online poker will create 10,000 new jobs and over $2 billion in new tax revenue. It took just over two weeks for UltimatePoker.com to deal a million hands of legal poker, demonstrating a widespread technological demand never seen in the gaming industry.
“For applications like Ultimate Poker we do not do a location fix for every hand played, but per player per session,” says Gerber. “Since the launch of the application at the end of April we are noting that the average number of hands per session is around 12. It is a sign of both the intense demand and breathtaking potential of internet gaming.”
Location, Location, Location
“Geolocation” is the generic term used for the identification of the real-world geographic location of an inanimate object like a computer terminal, mobile phone or radar. The term may also refer to the practice of identifying the location or to the actual identified location. The specificity of geolocation can range from broad targeting, like geographic coordinates, to a more specific target like a street address.
“We recognize that geolocation is a very specialized field requiring custom technology for gaming proposes,” says Anna Sainsbury, chief executive officer of GeoComply, a geolocation services provider. “We work with a wide range of stakeholders in gaming, from operators of casinos and lotteries to platform providers, as well as a number of partners providing services in payments, fraud and other forms of verification. Our team includes very experienced i-gaming operators from Europe’s leading regulated companies, and that helps us work hand-in-hand with our clients.”
The competition among vendors in the geolocation sphere is fierce, especially because there is no one single way to obtain geolocation. The actual locating engine often uses radio frequency location methods, such as time difference of arrival (TDOA) for precision. TDOA systems often use mapping displays or other geographic information systems. In early years of geolocation, radiolocation technologies were used to find a line of bearing to a transmitter as part of the process.
Internet and computer geolocation is performed by associating a geographic location with the internet protocol (IP) address, MAC address, a hardware embedded article or production number, embedded software number, an invoice, WiFi positioning system, or device GPS coordinates. Geolocation usually works by automatically looking up an IP address and retrieving the registrant’s physical address.
IP address location data can include information such as country, city, region, postal zip code, latitude, longitude and time zone. Additional data that can be retrieved are domain name, connection speed, language, ISP, proxies, company name, federal business and industry codes, and if the location is a business or private residence.
“We currently use a third-party partner to provide location verification of the device by the associated carrier coupled with our proprietary technology to ensure there are stringent controls,” says Abe Hong, chief information officer of Station Casinos. “These controls are over the device, the phone number or SIM of the device, the user account, and the location of these attributes together to ensure we are complying with Nevada gaming regulations. We continue to look at enhancing and providing more online or mobile gaming opportunities to our guests, as a way to enhance their experiences with Station Casinos both in and outside of our properties.”
Seeing the ‘Spoof’
The tracking technology of geolocation is ongoing. It starts out obtaining the user’s current location, and then if the position data changes, a callback function sends the new updated position information. While there are various ways to track geolocation, experts agree that the old ways of solely tracking one variable (i.e., IP address) are outdated and ineffective.
“Spoofing” is a technological trick in which the user manipulates his or her location to access regulated mobile gaming. It is on the rise, along with the entire online and mobile market.
“Given that many veteran online players are well-versed in methods to spoof their location, stopping them from doing so is no small task,” says Sainsbury. “However, GeoComply has been in this business a long time ourselves, and we address all possible avenues an unauthorized player may take to breach the system. We check for the use of proxy servers, VPNs and remote desktop programs, as well as other potentially malicious running processes, to ensure the integrity of the location data collected.
“Location and device information is also cross-verified through the many geo databases we use to address any (potentially) suspicious outliners in the data that may indicate a risk or incidence of fraud.”
To combat the presence of spoofing, Locaid provides multiple location sources to provide a quality of service at or above the “reasonable certainty” level cited in the federal Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act.
“IP location or WiFi location alone is not enough,” says Gerber. “Our secure Network Mobile Location plus IP location or WiFi is the only way to create reasonable certainty. We provide these solutions to our gaming customers with secure Network Mobile Location being the primary resource due to the ‘un-spoofable’ nature of the data.”
Along with expert “spoofers,” the mere challenge of physical presence is also a real obstacle for geolocation. Many of the country’s most popular gaming destinations lie near the border of one or more states. This includes Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe, Kansas City and St. Louis. High-quality geo-intelligence also helps reduce these false positives from accepting bets near these border areas.
“Locaid uses network-based location with carrier-grade security that returns the actual location of the bettor, regardless of the location reported by their mobile device,” says Gerber. “Our location service is not susceptible to malicious applications, end-user manipulation or third-party interception, making it the only secure way to find out exactly where bettors are at any given point in time.”
In addition to location information, Locaid uses a geographic IP lookup technology that provides the internet routing type, which may be from a fixed location, mobile or proxy. By utilizing only fixed IP routing types, location spoofing can be effectively eliminated. Additionally, secondary location information from a mobile device or a WiFi access point can be identified to review any suspect location information.
“Geolocation is only going to increase in importance for this industry,” says Gerber. “And not just for casino-based mobile games but for online betting applications in general.”
For land-based casinos, there is no time like the present as they look to stay in compliance with Nevada and New Jersey gaming regulations.
“We created our four-prong authentication strategy to enable geolocation with our Sports Connection Gaming Platform,” says Hong of Station Casinos. “We deliver this sophisticated authentication method to prevent spoofing of the systems. With our proprietary technology platform and our third-party services, we are able to ensure the device, phone number of the device, the user and the physical location of all of these are where they should be.”
The Reality of Regulation
As with every aspect of the gaming industry, the implementation of regulations will loom large with geolocation in regards to online and mobile gaming. Obtaining approvals from either state or federal regulatory agencies requires that the user’s physical location within a state or territory be verified to allow bets to be placed.
Specifically, the New Jersey regulation states that the online or mobile gaming system must detect the physical location of the user once they log into the gaming system, and check on the location every hour afterwards. The regulation further states that if the user is in an area unauthorized for online or mobile gaming, the system has to stop accepting wagers immediately and disable the user’s account until they return to an authorized location as identified by the law.
“We continue to build products and services that will conform to the evolving state regulations,” says Hong. “Products like Sports Connection, our online sports and racing application, were built with flexibility in mind so we can potentially extend these to other locations and partnerships.”
For GeoComply, there are both consumer and regulatory benefits in keeping its technical product device-neutral. It is a central requirement for an interactive industry that is at the mercy of constantly changing consumer trends, but it helps in the regulation environment as well.
“We are always looking in the long term,” says Sainsbury. “This is not just about getting a solution through the test lab and the regulator. It is about doing that and enabling our customers to operate successfully while minimizing false negatives and customer imitation.”
For many vendors, keeping score of all the regulation requests and guidelines is a difficult task. Gaming Network Solutions, an Atlanta-based software company, is taking a more passive role in observing the regulators to ensure they implement the correct technology developments to their product.
“The U.S. rules are still evolving, along with the technology, making it difficult to ensure full compliance within state requirements,” says John Cramp, chief executive officer of Gaming Network Solutions. “We will follow, not lead this process for working out the regulatory and technical challenges. Geolocation is not a fail-safe solution. We will monitor the situation to see how and what solutions are considered acceptable, and comply with state-by-state rules.”
Tracking the Future of Geolocation
The future of geolocation technology is as infinite as the growing demand will be in our domestic market, not to mention a foreign market that is already years ahead in mobile product implementation. Several state lotteries have already established an online presence by offering ticket sales through mobile devices. The same trends are also occurring in the fantasy sports and sports book sector.
“Geolocation is critical for all of these growth areas because any mobile gaming application that will offer real-money wagering must have the ability to verify the location of the bettor,” says Gerber. “Also, in the next few years I believe we will start seeing the industry incorporate it into their mobile marketing efforts. Much like how retailers are offering mobile coupons and investing in location-based advertising to drive higher visibility, mobile gaming can use the geofences they have set up for regulatory and compliance purposes to add value to their mobile marketing campaigns.”