Affiliates discuss the balance between profit and problem gambling

Rocks arranged conveying balance
Image: Shutterstock

This week SBC hosted an online day of panels dedicated to digital innovation in affiliation. The event covered a range of topics, including the role affiliates play in promoting responsible gambling and ensure their operations do not market to underage or vulnerable populations.

SBC’s own Content Marketing Manager Maria Tsnompilantze moderated the panel on the subject, which consisted of:

Better World Casinos Founder Floris Assies
Linked Data Media CEO and Founder Gjorje Ristikj
WagerWire Co-Founder Travis Geiger

Ristikj summarized the dilemma that faces affiliates as they try to generate revenue and be a good partner while still promoting responsible play.

Affiliates must balance profits and problem gambling awareness

“[Marketers] have a constant ethical dilemma between profits and promoting responsible gambling. On the one hand, we are required to encourage responsible gambling. On the other hand, we are business entities, so we are driven by the need to increase our revenues and increase our user database,” he explained.

For Ristikj, balancing out those two motivations has resulted in some changes in how Gamblers Connect lays out its sites. For example, rather than stuffing a link to the responsible gambling page in the footer, they put the link in the header. The group also makes a point to create content highlight responsible gambling tools as well.

Ristikj even goes so far as to remove what has been a hallmark of many affiliate sites–the pop-up ad.

Geiger echoed the moral concern he feels towards his customer base.

“We want to make sure that we’re not just, with these bonuses, giving people a free hit of Fentanyl and sending them back out on the streets, which is what it can be sometimes when you introduce somebody to gambling.”

Geiger’s group, WagerWire, allows users to store all their sports bets across the various apps into a single place to track wins and losses. The approach inherently highlights the financial impact of a person’s sports betting and Geiger hopes it makes them treat the hobby less like a lottery ticket and more like a skilled pursuit.

‘We want people to think of gambling more like an investment because, to be honest, they know more about the front office of their favorite sports team than they know about the C suite of any company probably in their portfolio. Think of it more like an investment and less like a roll of the dice. And then we kind of build the tools around them to do that,” he explained.

Affiliates can approach RG with tactics besides just content

The social responsibility for affiliates can extend beyond just on-page content though. As Assies noted, he often thinks about what kind of link-back strategy he employs and how those choices can more successfully bring an age-appropriate audience to his sites.

Assies recommended avoiding link-building that connects to free-to-play games to ensure an audience that skews closer to 24 than 18. Audience composition is an increasingly important topic for affiliates now that markets like The Netherlands are establishing regulations that marketing needs to be to a crowd even older than the minimum age to gamble.

While Assies and the rest of the panel keep responsible gambling top of mind, he did say it would benefit the entire industry to establish more arduous training around the topic, similar to the kinds of programs operators implement with their own staff.

“Having worked as an operator, I got training on responsible gambling and risk behavior and what are the consequences. I think that would be very helpful for everybody in the affiliate business to at least touch upon and to make themselves familiar with,” he suggested.

CPA vs. revenue share: What is the responsible route?

More training is certainly helpful but, as Ristikj noted, at times the very nature of the business can feel at odds with behaving in a socially responsible way. The panel discussed two topics that can be a bit controversial but also illustrate the point well.

One was top lists and whether or not affiliates should be more transparent in how those rankings are calculated and how much topics like ESG and responsible gambling should weigh in the ranks. All three agreed that the more transparency around the list the better so customers can both make an informed decision and establish trust that the affiliate is giving them good, safe and accurate information.

The other was the continued debate around cost per acquisition (CPA) agreements as opposed to revenue share. The argument has been that revenue share encourages affiliates to bring customers to operators with higher lifetime values. Ones that won’t hit the bonus and run. However, if an affiliate is incentivized to persuade users to bet more, it can very easily veer from healthy play into problem gambling.

This is why Geiger’s group only does CPA, and he explained his reasoning rather bluntly.

“We’ve decided to take CPAs and we’ve been able to just do flat CPAs wherever we can because we don’t want the blood money of the people that we’re bringing to the industry.”

SBC Digital Innovation – Affiliation is a one-day online conference examining the key issues facing affiliate marketers in the igaming industry. With input from Betsson, Better Collective, Catena Media, Clever Advertising, ComeOn Group, OneTwenty Group and Time2play Media, among many others, the agenda features sessions focused on SEO, M&A, affiliate software, social responsibility and generative AI. 

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