Online casino and sportsbooks in PA and NJ have been down for weeks

The Shutdowns In US Online Gambling Should Be A Wakeup Call On Transparency

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Some legal online gambling sites and apps in the United States have been down for almost two weeks. This isn’t good.

The details of what happened are certainly important regarding the incident that led to the closures. But I could (and will) argue the response to it is just as important, because that’s what should set legal and regulated sites apart from their offshore counterparts.

What happened at the closed online gambling sites

Several sportsbooks and online casinos in the US were closed for days — or are still closed — as a result of a cyberattack against the underlying platform they run on, powered by SBTech.

The affected sites and apps include:

  • BetAmerica in New Jersey and Pennsylvania (sportsbook and online casino)
  • Golden Nugget sportsbook in NJ
  • Resorts Atlantic City sportsbook app in NJ
  • Oregon Scoreboard app

Of these, only the Oregon app is live again. The other apps appear to be awaiting a green light from regulators that everything is OK before going live again and taking wagers or letting customers access their accounts.

That brings us today, and what has been a lacking response to the problem so far.

What the online gambling sites have told bettors

Let’s put it this way: SBTech and the underlying platforms can certainly do better.

Most of the sites, for the duration of the outage, have simply said the site is “under maintenance,” that it’s being upgraded, and that it will be back again shortly. A button also allows you to refresh the site, which obviously would have done just about nothing for the end user over the past two weeks.

For example, here’s all that visitors are getting when they visit Resorts AC sportsbook:

BetAmerica, at least, has a more extensive message and ways to reach the site:

Emails sent to customers had more information, and mentioned the cyberattack. Here’s a message sent to BetAmerica users, for example:

Why is BetAmerica currently offline?

BetAmerica is powered by SBTech, a third-party provider. SBTech informed us that its data centers went offline by reason of a cyberattack that resulted in a worldwide outage of its systems.

According to SBTech, the outage is affecting not only BetAmerica but all of the betting sites using the SBTech platform. SB Tech is still investigating the incident.

SBTech has told us that at this time it does not believe the cyberattack has caused any issues with BetAmerica customer information. We have requested information from SBTech to confirm that point.

What’s next?

SBTech has assured us that it has been working around the clock to get us back online. We will keep you updated as we receive more information on when our site will be available.

We regret the inconvenience, and we thank you for your continued patience.

And while there has been communication with the gambling media on these fronts, that should not be a replacement for direct contact with consumers.

What should be done when an online gambling site goes down

But is all that really enough, especially for an outage that is going on two weeks? I’d argue not.

This is now an unprecedented outage in the short history of US online gambling, and there’s not really a great comp for this in the rest of the regulated online gambling world.

Just saying on the front-facing site that you’re “under maintenance” is factually true but dissembling at best and outright lying to customers at worst. The BetAmerica message gets closer to hitting the mark, but still falls short.

Expecting that a user will see an email with the more detailed information is wishful thinking. Some will, some won’t.

Here’s what you should do, in my mind:

  • Tell users that visit the site/app exactly what happened. You don’t need every last detail, but saying a cyberattack occurred and that customer information is safe seems like a no-brainer.
  • Provide a link to an FAQ page linked from the home page/app that is updated when there is new information.
  • Give users a best guess as to a timeframe of being back up, and what it will take to do so (approval from regulators).
  • Provide information for reaching customer support (as BetAmerica did).
  • Provide a streamlined way for customers to be able to access any money if it cannot be accessed directly (like at the BetAmerica sites). There’s no excuse for customer money sitting in limbo, especially in the middle of a pandemic when money could be tight for some people.

Why transparency is important

Why does any of this matter?

We’re still in the early days of online gambling in the US, even though it’s been around for more than five years in New Jersey.  There are any number of factions that would like to see online gambling fail or its expansion stop. Examples like this provide fuel for that fire.

And regulated sites should be a beacon of transparency vis a vis the offshore sites that operate in the US illegally. Quite frankly, I’d expect an offshore site only to offer that the site is “under maintenance” after a cyberattack, but not a regulated site.

Legal sites and apps have a duty to be better, and to go the extra mile, if they want the online gambling industry to continue to thrive in the US.

We’ll also hope we don’t have more frequent instances like the one that befell SBTech. But if we do, let’s hope it’s handled better and with more transparency.

- Dustin Gouker has been a sports journalist for more than 15 years, working as a reporter, editor and designer -- including stops at The Washington Post and the D.C. Examiner. He has played poker recreationally for his entire adult life and has written about poker since 2008.
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