The Watchdog column in the Texas newspaper Star-Telegram took the veteran social gaming network Pogo to task this week amid allegations that players are not being paid out on promised jackpots.
In a frustrating exchange with company support all too familiar to online gamblers, the publication received little clarity or satisfaction to its enquiries regarding claims that prizes of up to $4 999 had not been paid.
Pogo.com has been around for the last 15 years and is reportedly one of the most popular Internet gaming sites in the world. Members can pay a subscription to access games for which substantial cash prizes can be won on the site, which is owned by the respected Electronic Arts company.
Gary Freitag, who paid $40 for an annual Club Pogo membership for added benefits, told Star-Telegram Watchdog that in December 2008, he hit a $4 999 jackpot on his home computer, playing on the Pogo site. Yet when he tried to claim he was told that there had been a mistake.
It was the start of a protracted and frustrating exchange as the 62-year-old player tried to claim his reward.
"I took a picture of it on my computer," Freitag said. "Every time I call them, I get the runaround."
The Watchdog claims that there have been similar complaints - as many as a thousand - but its efforts to obtain answers to its questions were frustrated by an apparently uncommunicative EA official.
"I think there's been a misunderstanding," EA's Holly Rockwood told the Watchdog. "We have no record of wildwest08 ever winning a prize on Pogo."
She added, "For customers seeking Pogo support, the best way to contact us is at help.pogo.com, which can be found by clicking the 'Help' link at the top of any Pogo page."
The Watchdog reported: "That's all she would say. She ignored my subsequent questions, sent by e-mail, about the company's philosophy about some of the games and whether they could be considered gambling."
The Watchdog goes on to discuss the legal position of Pogo and its offering, which would appear to deploy a similar argument to that used by subscription online poker sites. The columnist notes that the definition of Internet gambling was "left vague" in the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act.
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