Test, or testing, houses form an integral part of gambling in the UK. But the chances are you had never thought about what they do, or even knew they existed. In short, they check gambling sites are safe and fair to make sure that when you play your money you get exactly what you expect.
The UK’s gambling regulation
The UK’s Gambling Commission is recognised as one of the world’s leading gambling regulators. However, while they are known by most gamblers for licensing online sites their work to keep gambler’s safe extends far beyond gambling operators. As well as licensing operators they will also issue licences to test houses.
Essentially, to hold a gambling licence in the UK you also need to have your site checked by a test house. The Gambling Commission makes sure this is absolutely fair by licensing the test houses, check that are fully independent and that the tests they conduct are fair to the operator and the punter.
Why they are important
Despite the simplicity for the gambler online gambling is a highly technical and complex business. Bingo might seem like a simple game, but behind the scenes, the site is working hard to deliver that to you.
First of all, sites have to work, no-one wants to play bingo for the game to glitch. But then it needs to have a secure connection to make sure there is no tampering. The volume of payments in and out mean that the operator needs to provide bank-level security. Then all this needs to be tied into a fair way of deciding the outcomes of games.
Online bingo is worth £177,000,000 a year — so even the smallest error can make a huge difference to the operator or, worse, to the players.
How they work
The work of test houses is highly technical. In simple terms they will ensure compliance against a range of technical standards to make sure that the person at the end of the process — the gamer — is safe. This will involve both checking the software and running practical tests.
Taking an online game they will ensure that the software being used is correct, so parameters like the odds reflect those advertised and operate independently. But they will also literally play the games to make sure the outcomes reflect what is expected.
There are several recognised and respected test houses, including names like Gaming Laboratories International and iTech Global. The full list of licensed test houses is on the Gambling Commission website. Perhaps the biggest and best known is eCOGRA — eCommerce Online Gaming Regulation and Assurance.
eCOGRA shows how important test houses are. They actually pre-date the Gambling Commission and, therefore, the legal requirement of gaming sites to use test houses for certification. Instead, they were established in 2003 to help the industry provide assurances to players by certifying sites. Following the creation of the Gambling Commission they, along with other test houses, became a more formal part of the gambling regulation landscape.
Test houses provide a variety of services for sites and software developers including:
Test houses will test and certify individual games for software developers, ensuring they work as advertised both for the site and the player.
Security is vital for an online casino. Test houses will check the security of online gaming. As well as checking the standards in place, some will also offer ethical — or white-hat — hacking. These penetration tests will try to gain access to systems via illegitimate means to make sure they are truly secure against people who might try the same for less than ethical motives.
Random number generators
At the heart of online gambling the random number generator, or RNG, is critical. A test house will perform a series of statistical tests to ensure the RNG is actually random.
One of the key differences between online and offline gaming is the lack of visibility in the game. When you are playing and your gamble is resting on the results of the pixels on the screen it’s impossible to know how they got there. In traditional casinos you might see cards being shuffled or dice being rolled, while Trusted Bingo readers might be familiar with the traditional mechanical bingo machine from which the numbers would emerge. In the modern world of online gaming the RNG has replaced all these. And the test houses have replaced the eagle eyes of the players in making sure that everything is fair.
Whenever and however you gamble you should feel secure that you are on a site that’s operating fairly. That’s why the first thing you should look for is the Gambling Commission licence. If you see this you know that the site is safe and secure, and that as part of their licence they have had to submit their site to test houses, and will only use games that have been certified by test houses. If you ever have a concern about the Gambling Commission licensed site you also have the reassurance that you can raise it with through an independent dispute resolution process.
The role of test houses is so important that, even though it’s largely behind-the-scenes, many bingo sites will feature the logo of their test house. While not required, it reinforces that they are operating a robust and secure site.
We are committed to fair gambling. Trusted Bingo will not feature any sites that do not operate fairly. If we feature a site you can be sure that it is fully licensed by the UK Gambling Commission and, as part of that, the site and the games will have been through test house processes. That means that a Trusted Bingo recommendation isn’t just a great bingo experience, it’s a safe, secure and fair one too.
Sarah Price - Editor
Sarah Price is a well know expert in the field of Online Bingo. She began her career with an MSc in Computing and IT from Cardiff University before working within the industry with names like Foxy and 888Ladies.