The New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement (DGE) Director David Rebuck issued an Advisory Bulletin today regarding bonuses. The intentions behind it are great and several important issues were addressed. There are a couple of points that may be a concern for players and operators.
Poker Bonus Issues
The Advisory Bulletin appears to be concentrating on casino games but industry observers are assuming this bonus policy also applies to poker. Using casino bonus rules for poker will create issues. They are too many differences between them.
The main difference in the existing offshore industry is that casino bonuses are paid to a player’s account immediately, while poker bonuses are awarded based on rake already paid. A policy where players must meet wager requirements at poker before withdrawing winnings will be problematic.
One section of the DGE Advisory Bulletin states:
In general, offers which restrict cash out until a wagering requirement is met by the patron are permitted. Any winnings obtained by wagering such restricted funds can themselves be restricted until a wagering requirement in met, but winnings cannot be capped once the requirement is achieved.
The most common form of poker bonus is one that releases after a certain amount of rake is paid. Online poker rooms typically convert rake paid to VIP Points. Many online poker rooms release bonuses in increments. For example, the current WSOP bonus in Nevada releases in $10 increments for every $50 in rake paid. The wording of today’s release makes it appear that a player would need to clear an entire bonus before withdrawing any more than the original deposit. This has never been the case in the online poker industry. Players have always been able to withdraw at any time, although some sites will remove a pending bonus upon a cashout request.
Forcing a player to comply with bonus requirements to withdraw poker winnings will create other issues. It does not encourage responsible gaming as it forces patrons to play after a big cash game session or tournament win. A player may also be tempted to chip dump to their neighbor that does not have a pending bonus. This can cause security issues and hurt the integrity of the games.
The issue that needs to be clarified is whether a poker bonus that is pending is considered to be the same as restricted funds. Hopefully for players it is not.
Casino Bonus Restrictions
The casino bonus terms that were released in the Advisory Bulletin are not as player friendly after digging into the release. This language follows the section quoted earlier in the poker section of this article:
Further, if a patron decides to walk away from an offer which he initially accepted, he is entitled to the funds remaining from his own deposit, if any.
That sounds like a nice chance to freeroll the casino, doesn’t it? Not so fast. This sentence deeper in the release clarifies that statement by giving an example where a player deposits $100 and receives a $100 bonus:
[I]f the patron wagers $50 and wins $100, so that his account now contains $250 ($50 remaining of his own deposit, $100 of the operator’s funds, and $100 in winnings) and the patron then decides to terminate the program and cash out, the patron is entitled to $50.
In other words, a player is wagering with only his money at the beginning. Any hand where a player wins (or maybe even pushes) has those funds go under a winnings category. If a player deposits $100 and bets $10 a hand then his balance would be $0 after 10 hands. The bonus would still be $100 and any amount paid to the player through casino games is in a winnings category that will only be released upon meeting the play through requirements, although it may be wagered in pursuit of the bonus.
This is much different than allowing a player to withdraw his own money and closer to how an online casino would normally operate, although most will not refund anything once any wager has been placed after claiming a bonus until the entire wager requirement has been met. This term may confuse players and cause more problems than it resolves.
Points that Protect Players
There are points raised in the Advisory Bulletin that protect players. All promotional terms must be disclosed to players. This would seem to be common sense but some offshore operators have a habit of hiding this information or publishing contradicting terms and conditions, even if it is by accident.
Winnings from a bonus may not be capped either. This has been a major player complaint with offshore online casinos over the years. Some online casinos will refuse to pay a full jackpot if the action occurred while playing with a bonus. That will not happen in New Jersey under these terms.
Great Intentions Will Prevail
I applaud the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement’s transparency in the process. This includes publishing responses to public comments and releasing information like yesterday’s Advisory Bulletin to the public. New Jersey appears to be open to feedback on its Internet gaming policies and I feel that all of the issues will be worked out before going into effect. It is clear that the protection of players is important and will be a factor in all decisions made by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement.