As the US market opens up, operators will inevitably be looking to pursue the best strategy to become a household name in the territory, that’s where opportunity knocks for affiliates.
SBCAmericas spoke to Mike Murphy, founder of BettingUSA.com who emphasised that affiliates can play a key role in the US market but a highly strategic approach will be required to succeed.
SBC: How challenging will it be for affiliates to comply with regulations in each US state?
Mike Murphy: We’re still at a very early stage in the regulated US market and the landscape is bound to change significantly over coming years, but the general sense we’ve gotten so far from legalization efforts in states such as New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware is that two primary factors will determine how difficult it is for affiliates to operate in a regulated environment.
First, state-level legislation has the potential to directly impact affiliates. New Jersey is the clearest example of this with legislation that specifically spells out licensing requirements for affiliates.
In New Jersey, affiliates must acquire a vendor registration number from the Division of Gaming Enforcement (DGE) in order to promote online casinos and sportsbooks on a cost-per-acquisition (CPA) model. Affiliates wishing to promote on a revenue share basis must undergo an extensive background check, fill out detailed forms, and pay a non-refundable fee of $2,000.
Legislation emerging from other states does not yet follow this model, but we still have a long way to go before we get a clear picture of the legal hurdles facing affiliates across the country. The more states that follow the New Jersey model, the more difficult it will be for smaller affiliates to operate in this industry.
The other factor that impacts the challenges facing affiliates is the form of gaming being promoted. Horse racing betting, for example, is an easy product to promote in the United States. A majority of states permit online horse racing betting and affiliates can easily join the affiliate programs of several racing betting sites to begin promoting immediately.
To answer the original question, we believe there will be challenges in some cases, but overall affiliates should be able to operate in the US without too much trouble. The key for smaller affiliates will be to be flexible, carve out a spot in the industry in easier markets, and then move on to more complex and competitive markets once it makes financial sense to do so.
Do you think operators will utilize affiliates to establish themselves in new states?
For the most part, yes. Legislation again plays a key role here as it is legislation that ultimately determines how much competition there is in a market. We can look at two different legislative approaches that have already been taken in the US to consider how it impacts the use of affiliates.
First, we have New Jersey. The legislation that legalized online gambling and poker in the Garden State was conducive to competition by allowing each Atlantic City casino to operate multiple gaming sites in partnership with various software providers. The end result is a competitive online gambling market that leans on affiliates as partners.
On the other hand, we can see how legislation in Delaware resulted in an uncompetitive environment that does not rely on affiliates. The state lottery controls all three of Delaware’s online casinos, which means there is absolutely zero competition in the state and no need for affiliates.
Interestingly, a lack of competition does not always mean there is no place for affiliates. Michigan and Pennsylvania both have online lottery games run by the state lottery with no competition from other providers. Even so, each state’s online lottery platform does accept affiliates. This makes us optimistic that affiliates will be relied on more often than not in new states as further regulation unfolds.
How will the US market differentiate from the European markets, when it comes to driving affiliate traffic?
Affiliates accustomed to working in European markets will find the US market is much more fractured. Rather than thinking of the US as a singular, new market, it should be looked at as many differentiated markets.
European markets, for the most part, break down country-by-country. In this way, we can compare the US market to the European market as a whole rather than as simply the addition of one more country to target.
The United States can best be viewed as fifty individual markets. Some big-name operators will operate across state lines, but affiliates need to stay up to date on what’s happening at the state level so they know which programs to promote where.
Compliance will also become an important issue going forward, similar to what is happening in the UK market today. Affiliates will also have to keep in mind that their US traffic comes from potentially fifty different states. Do they have a plan for promoting the correct programs to the correct traffic? Geotargeting and ring fencing will be very important unless a federal law takes shape, which we see as very unlikely.
How important will bitesize video content be when it comes to engaging the US audience?
I’m not sure to be honest. Obviously the popularity of video content is exploding at an exponential rate, but engaging in most video platforms also means affiliates are subject to the rules of the platform being used.
For example, YouTube recently closed the accounts of affiliates who were live streaming slots and table games in order to generate interest and drive new traffic. The fact that they relied on YouTube as a platform they didn’t control meant they were subject to the whims of YouTube’s rules, who has decided it poses a regulatory risk for them.
To be fair, the same can be said for search and other means of engaging with an audience. The safe option for affiliates is to have a diverse set of ways to engage with an audience: search, video, social media and self-hosted newsletters. This way, the hit isn’t as bad when one platform or another suddenly changes policy in a way that’s harmful to online betting affiliates.
In general, the importance of video will only grow – for operators and affiliates alike. Affiliates who can come up with fun, innovative content on video platforms will likely reap the reward for doing so.
Which platforms are likely to engage a US audience and how important is it that affiliates are flexible with regards to which platform they can drive content on?
Search will remain king for profitable traffic, especially with the fractured market state by state leading to many confused customers wondering where and what they can play, how to deposit and fund accounts, and what can be bet on.
Social will play a huge role for brands and operators who will likely engage in viral marketing efforts, but smart US based affiliates will focus on helping provide information, answers, reviews, and news.