I believe this post will be a long one, let me start by apologizing for not giving you any feedback for a couple of weeks. The situation is hard to explain without saying enough and we cannot say too much either as there are information we cannot disclose and we had to prepare a proper answer.
Both SlotsMillion and LadyLucks are currently the target of several bonus abusing fraud rings. LL since mid January, SM since mi February. We are not the first operator to whom it happened, although we have a quite unusual feature on the UK market where players are used to Playtech's mechanics that ties the real money to the bonus, which ours don't.
I said ring, what is it about and what do they look like? We spotted several groups, each one with its specificity, some of them composed of a dozen players, some more "industrial" which we related to more than a thousand accounts. Regardless of the way they do it, they all work on the principle that a mass of people putting in common their cash will eventually beat the casino by abusing its bonus system. Imagine a hundred players depositing to get the welcome offer; some will lose all, some will win with real, some will win with bonus. If they withdraw and share their winnings, they statistically take more money out than they have put in, because of the bonus.
On top of the Welcome Offer, the dozens of losing players might get generous "consolation" bonuses from the casino, maybe worth entering in another loop of depositing, getting the money out and sharing.
For those who don't know, this mechanism of grouping to abuse the bonus is called collusion. It is forbidden by our Terms and Conditions and in theory also by the regulations (MGA and UKGC)
Naturally, in order to have the best chances of result, they also use mechanisms to maximize their chances of turning the bonus to real. We actually have nothing against players who do their best to maximize their bonuses, what we condemn is the collusion behind those mechanisms. While some rings are pretty traditional (real players register in group to a casino to abuse the Welcome Offer and just leave) for some of them the user behind the screen is not the person named in the account; they payed people to provide them with ID and Utility Bills and some mechanical turks use this database of identities on dozens of casinos every week.
Whether we talk about traditional abusers or organized rings, that is not the kind of accounts we want. I can't even call them players, because they don't play, they only follow the same patterns over and over again to grab a little bit of cash in the long run.
Unfortunately, collusion is hard to spot and to stop. Also I must say, we come from other markets less challenging fraud-wise, we clearly weren't ready for the UK market and it was quite a feast when we arrived.
We lost a considerable amount of money (don't worry Lockinlove, we're still doing good
) from the bonus we granted to phantom accounts - while on the other hand real players didn't get as much as they should have, but that is not the biggest problem. The biggest problem is that all this has been stressing our platform and our staff (CS, Risk, Payment) with hundreds of those fake accounts created weekly that have no intention to ever come back on which we are wasting our time and resources. Like a human DDOS lasting for several weeks. All of this is causing a lot of delays in Document verification, Withdrawal processing, spams our CS and makes our fraud analysts sweat round the clock - even having doubled our staff.
Like I said, the main reason we are a target is that our bonus system is built in a more player-friendly way than most casinos on the UK market as it is not tied in any way to the real money. This aspect is the core spirit of our bonus and we really don't want to give it up: the player should be free to withdraw his winnings at any time. In addition, this is a kind of high rolling bonus: you have few chances of turning it to real, but in average you will turn to real more than 10 times your initial bonus.
We considered changing our bonus system to counter these frauds, but we really don't want to, we like to keep it different. We have the plan of developing a more "cashback" like bonus like most casinos out there (because it seems cool too), but we like our big hit bonus so for the moment we decided to face those frauds some other ways and hold on to what we have.
The main problem being the fact that we used to grant 50% bonus every week to all players without differenciating them, making some "new circles of fraud" possible over and over again, we stopped that.
The second problem lied in the mechanism of bonus maximization, which we limited by reducing the bonus wagering of a dozen games and lowering the maximum bet amount. Again, we have nothing against maximizing bonus chances but considering the context we preferred to close that door for some time to reduce our exposure.
And obviously in parallel, we're improving our fraud detection system and hopefully in few weeks most of the problem will be gone.
We know those measures are drastic and excessive, and we know they impact a lot of good players in a negative way, although they have done a lot of good so far. They are a quick response to an emerging threat, and we intend to soften those measures little by little and eventually remove them when our fraud detection will be updated with better countermeasures and we will know this kind of fraud isn't to be worried about anymore. We also need to make our product smarter - for instance the creation of the so-requested reward system would be a good way for us to give the bonus money to real gamblers and not to phantom accounts.
Another reason why we are impacting so many "real" players is that unfortunately our system isn't made to handle our markets so differently (we never considered having different terms and settings on certain countries, which restrospectively was a mistake to enter the UK market). Lesson learned, we are working on segregating our terms and configurations better.
Before somebody asks the question, let me say a word about regulation. For having talked to other casino operators who have faced - or are facing the same kind of fraud rings and tried to get some support, regulators don't understand or take in consideration collusion. Even showing them proofs (forums where some individuals clearly declare they own several dozens of accounts on a casino or clearly identical patterns detected - like the same 50 accounts logging-in every day at 5 minutes interval in the same order) doesn't seem to convince them that there is a problem - in case of a dispute with those players, the casino will always lose, this kind of fraud is way beyond their comprehension.
Since it is clear we will get no support from the regulation, we decided to be as conservative as possible. You might have heard that some casinos are closing the UK market, some of them removing their Welcome Offer or closing registration but keeping their existing players. We are friends with some operators and we talk openly about it: the UK market is filled with organized frauds to the point where it is toxic now for casino operators and some prefer to pull out. Obviously the rather "complicated" framework imposed by the UKGC doesn't encourage operators either.
Interestingly, our investigation of the settling UK fraud rings on our casinos highlighted some other fraud groups that were there for a while on other jurisdictions which we will take down with the same stone - those were slightly more subtle to detect and pretty harmless and they kind of went below the radar until we started the hunt.
We know that from your perspective, bonus money is important and it is for some of you what might make the difference between a casino and another. We have built and are polishing a manual reward plan based on players' history and profile analysis which will eventually be automated and advertised properly. However for us, re-upping the "public" recurring promotions available to anyone is not a priority, if we ever up them back again. We have a good real-player base, so we choose to decrease considerably the budget for public promotions and spend the rest on our real gamblers. While we improve our fraud detection system we also implement some automated payout methods for trusted players for them to be paid instantly, and keep improving the core of the product: with more games (IGT, Novomatic soon, Scientific Games in May) and the launch of our Slots Tournaments.
In few words, a lot of changes have been done already and more will come. Some of them were made to protect ourselves of the current context, and will be removed when they will not be necessary anymore.
Before ending this post, I'd like to say we are also considering removing the cash welcome offer - since it is undoubtedly the most appealing point of entry for this kind of frauds. Although this is a big decision and we would have to replace it with an equally "non abusable" interesting welcome package. For those who are interested in the topic, I recommend reading this getting old post
and the thread about it on CasinoMeister
I don't expect this post to have brought you any immediate satisfaction but it might have given you some context and explanations about why all these changes are happening and what direction we are going to. If you like our casino and our philosophy I suggest you stick with us, stay in touch with our CS and stay subscribed to our manual promotions. Things are going to change for sure, but I can assure you we intend it to be for the good of our players.