Call it what you will—bonus hunting, casino whoring, or just plainly bonus abuse—it all describes the act of taking advantage of the bonuses casinos are offering, in a different manner than in which they were intended to be used. It is by far no new phenomenon; on the contrary, it is almost as old as the industry of online gambling itself. And throughout the times, it has remarkably shaped the way the industry—or at least certain parts of it—has evolved in effort to battle the unfair behaviour. But has this effort been directed in the correct way?
Only some sin but everyone pays
Imagine the industry as a class. A couple of classmates misbehaves and the teacher is forced to take measures to regain the control over its class by either cutting short its recess or giving everyone extra homework or by any other means they deem appropriate. The key word is everyone. Though only a few were guilty, the whole class faces the consequences, which puts the well-behaved students (of whom there is a majority) into a rather disadvantageous position.
You could apply the same to employees in a business, citizens of a country or even passengers on the same flight. It seems to be a recurring theme in the world. That, however, does not make it right. After all, in any of these environments, the result will be the same—the loss of enthusiasm and motivation and a negative impact on the culture of the institution.
Why should online gambling be any different? It is not. While most players enjoy their bonus as what it is—a bonus—some will abuse it and be like the misbehaving students in class. And just like in the class the teacher—now in the form of the casino operator providing the bonus or the regulator or any other relevant authority—will step in and effectuate the punishment; whether it be stricter rules on bonuses, more elaborate sign-up procedures or more thorough investigation of the players’ activity. Once again though, it falls on the heads of the innocent as much as the guilty.
The more they stretch the boundaries, the narrower they get
If we went back to the beginnings of online gambling when the bonuses first appeared, we would find that they were much looser than today. We would not have to go through ten pages of Bonus Terms and Conditions just to find out what we are getting. We would not be restricted to only very specific games with very specific wagering requirements while meeting very specific conditions. Sure there were some but they did not get anywhere close to what we see today.
However, having experienced repeated abuse from some of the punters, new clauses had to be added, new safeguards implemented to protect the bonuses and casinos themselves. And so the bonuses got more complex, the rules stricter, the wagering requirements higher, the process of getting them more difficult. For everyone. Regardless of how many players used the bonuses genuinely for the purposes that they were intended for, the few that took free money and ran deprived them of that asset, at least in its most natural form.
Nowadays, in order to not become an easy prey of bonus hunters, the casinos require detailed personal information just to allow a sign-up that has to be proved by providing verification documents. They have narrowed down to which games the bonuses apply, while they greatly expanded the T&C’s to include every possible eventuality and patch up any tiniest loophole. Users’ playing habits and patters are monitored, their devices scanned for data that is saved, investigated, updated and investigated again, so that if you are a bonus abuser, they can catch you before you can cause too much damage. And if you are not? If you are an honest player? Well… Sorry for the inconvenience, it is all just a standard procedure.
It is all about what you do
A crucial part of any contemporary online casino is a system to follow each player’s on-site behaviour, their playing patterns, their habits, their activity—every move is carefully monitored and assessed to decide whether you are trying to get one over on the casino or not. The bottom tier of this arrangement is the actual technology that will raise a flag if it “thinks” you are acting suspicious. The top tier is the manager who can overrule anyone else in deciding whether a person is demonstrating abusive behaviour or not.
This can be a dangerous tool in the wrong hands as any player can get caught in the cross-fire, should they put their trust in a dubious casino governed by not-so-reputable jurisdictions. Thus, some gambling establishments purposely forget to state the fact that users are not allowed to double up on video poker with bonus money. It is then easy to make prey of any player, dishonest or not.
You could say the system for prevention of bonus abuse is complicated, time-consuming and prone to misuse and you would not be wrong. Just too mild.
The stakes are high and growing higher
Considering this battle is taking place in an industry worth nearly $56 billion, it is safe to say there is a lot at risk. Add to it that this number is expected to continue to grow in the coming years and it becomes obvious that neither the bonus abuse, nor the war on bonus hunters is likely to end anytime soon.
Besides, with the gambling being legalized in more and more parts of the world, the focus is shifting to better player protection, responsible gambling, preventing the exposure of minors, promoting fairness and fighting any illegal activity, such as frauds, money laundering and others. Taking into account the whole picture shows us that most important segments of well-governed online gaming industry intersect at casino bonuses, where improving one benefits the other.
The progress must go on
Living in the age of technological advancements and revolutionary innovations, it is only natural that new solutions should come from that area. Neither is it surprising that software companies are where casinos would seek help. With several such companies working on developing systems that would be able to transparently, inexpensively, reliably, securely and efficiently identify who is an abuser and who is an honest player, there are a few now which can do this reasonably well.
A good example is FraudForce, an automated solution created by the U.S.-based TransUnion Company, iovation. The program was created in response to an iGaming industry research which showed that online casinos’ bonus abuse increased by staggering 257% between 2015 and 2018. Thus, striving to make the internet a safer place, the company crafted a tailor-made solution to help casino operators distinguish between the abusers and genuine players.
How does it work? Basically, FraudForce quickly (in about 100 ms) analyzes thousands of attributes of a device and recognizes it immediately. It can detect various fraud patterns and stop cheaters from doing their dirty job from behind the shield of anonymity provided by VPNs, emulators, proxy servers, etc. As soon as FraudForce becomes convinced the user’s behaviour is suspicious, it blocks the device, effectively taking it out of action.
As the software monitors the player’s session at the online casino at multiple points, it can not only stop a potential account takeover or fraud, it can also serve to safeguard responsible gambling by identifying problem gambling patterns and making sure that self-excluded users cannot access the casino again. FraudForce’s service is therefore beneficial for both sides—it aims to protect the players and enhance their playing experience, while helping casinos to catch the abusers and at the same time adhere to responsible gaming practices.
Things might be looking up for the well-behaved students.
Being able to tackle the bad guys in gambling more effectively might take some heat of those that have done nothing to deserve it in the first place. Taking again the example of FraudForce, some of the tedious entering of personal identification information has been eliminated as the system can do it on its own, all, of course, while complying with the GDPR.
Among the casinos who decided to implement ionovation’s software is LeoVegas and it could not be happier with the results. In fact, the casino considered the deployment such a roaring success it went on to apply it in its sports betting division as well.
Mitchell Willoughby, Risk Control Manager at LeoVegas, declared:
“Abusive sports bettors basically take the gambling out of gambling. That’s not fair to our honest players, and not the kind of experience we’re interested in providing.”
According to LeoVegas, the solution helped optimise its business processes, allowed it to better address bonus abuse challenges and freed human resources previously occupied by manually checking players’ accounts to focus their efforts elsewhere.
Of course, at the center of the benefits of advanced software solutions such as FraudForce is that they can “instantly recognize who is an honest player and who is a repeat abuser,” which gives casinos the opportunity to “reward good players with a VIP experience while stopping fraudsters cold.”
Thus the misbehaved students get suspended, while the good ones are saved from unfair punishment. It is possible. If bonus abuse is tackled the right way, no one needs to pay the price for what they have not broken.
And keeping in mind the size and financial value of the industry, it might just serve it well too, making it more resilient and safer, creating space for further growth and refraining from bringing in too harsh an intervention from higher powers.