There’s a lot of talk about sweepstakes software being “certified”. What, exactly, does it mean to have “legally certified sweepstakes games“? This article will cover what sweepstakes certification is, where it comes from, who does it, and why it is important. It’s time to look under the hood and find out what’s at the core of sweepstakes certification.
First of all, let’s discuss why it is important to only use certified sweepstakes games. Cities, counties, and states are becoming more educated about sweepstakes Internet cafes and how they work. To be clear, this is a GOOD THING; we want this. The more that local jurisdictions understand about sweepstakes games, internet cafes, and the way the whole thing works the better it will be for all of us in the industry. As local authorities grow to understand our industry it helps legitimize what we do. And as authorities become more intelligent about how sweepstakes internet cafes work they ask more intelligent questions.
In some jurisdictions authorities are still screaming “this looks like gambling!”, but in many others they are learning that even though it may look like gambling, it’s NOT. They have also learned that it’s extremely difficult to determine if the sweepstakes games comply with every nuance of sweepstakes laws. They have learned that the only way to be certain is to have the sweepstakes software evaluated by someone much more technically competent than they are. So now the question that law enforcement asks in Florida, in North Carolina, in Ohio, in California, in Texas… (the list grows continually) is “are your sweepstakes games certified?” In some states, such as Florida, the government has actually hired “Sweepstakes Compliance Officers”; government agents who have the sole responsibility of driving around and checking up on sweepstakes Internet cafes to ensure that they are running legally compliant sweepstakes games. We expect this trend to continue as the sweepstakes industry grows throughout the US, and we encourage it. Of all the reasons that sweepstakes games should be certified, this is perhaps the most important. And it’s not just ARE they certified, but WHO certified the games (more on that later).
What does it mean to have certified sweepstakes games? What is the certification process like and who does that? There are, in the United States, a few companies specifically designed to test and analyze software. These testing labs usually analyze several different kinds of game-related software (including casino-style games). The certification companies usually consist of 20+ employees, many of whom are software developers, engineers, and mathematicians. These highly trained, highly technical people are trained to dig into software code and determine what makes it tick. These technicians then create a document (usually an enormous document, hundreds of pages long) that explains more information and details than you would ever want to know about the sweepstakes games.
The certification process is very time consuming, very expensive, and very thorough. If the system is not 100% compliant with sweepstakes rules, these technicians will figure it out. More than one new sweepstakes company has developed a bunch of games and rushed to get them certified only to realize that their system isn’t a legally compliant sweepstakes. Now they have to redesign their games–which is easier said than done. Several sweepstakes developers simply don’t have the know how to jump through all the hoops and design their games so that they are legally compliant. Naturally, such companies will try to either minimize the importance of certification or simply hope you don’t ask about it.
Finally, a few clever (and sketchy) companies have realized that there is good money to be made by someone willing to certify that sweepstakes software is legitimate–even if it really isn’t. As I’m sure you can imagine, it’s not that hard to find someone who will say “for $20,000 I’ll write a report that says your games are sweepstakes!” Law enforcement has caught on to this as well, so it’s important that we discuss it. In the sweepstakes industry, there are three significant certification labs–often referred to by industry pundits as “the big three”. These are the only thee certification reports accepted by compliance officers in Florida. The three companies are Eclipse Labs (run by Nick Farley), Gaming Laboratories International (usually called “GLI”), and BMM Compliance (based in Las Vegas). In many jurisdictions law enforcement has learned to ask two questions: 1) are you using legally certified sweepstakes games?, and 2) which company certified them? If your sweepstakes aren’t certified by the right company they are immediately viewed as illegal.