The online gambling affiliate industry is exciting, fun and lucrative. Over the years I’ve seen affiliates and their affiliate managers become the best of friends, with business partnerships lasting a lifetime. Unfortunately there are some “bad actors” out there when it comes to affiliate programs and managers, but the good news is you as an affiliate can easily make educated choices and minimize the risk of getting burned.
The purpose of this week’s column is to review some of the areas where iGaming affiliates have been cheated and learn how affiliates can avoid getting involved with “bad actor” programs in the future.
Otto Bergstrom, owner of Cassaon-casino.com, an affiliate site and online casino guide, brought some of these unethical issues within the iGaming affiliate industry to my attention and also shared examples of affiliate programs he feels provide exemplary service.
Below we will review these issues and what affiliates should look for in a program with supporting comments from Bergstrom and a few of the “good actors” he mentioned.
“Bad Actor” behavior
There are some “bad actors” lurking in the online gambling affiliate industry and their antics include everything from retroactive and unfair Ts&Cs adjustments, player shaving, shady employee behavior, failure to pay out commissions on time (or at all) and literally disappearing overnight.
The concept of “player shaving” can be found all over the online gambling affiliate industry forums and it’s a very real issue to be aware of. According to Bergstrom:
“One glaring example of unethical behavior is fraudulent reporting of income. As affiliates we have a nice word for it: skimming. This conduct conceals the actual income generated by affiliates. Many affiliates are of the opinion that the stats reports the affiliate programs provide us with are a ”watered-down version”. In other words there are two stats reports: one for the casino and the other one for the affiliates”.
Another area of concern for Bergstrom is unethical employee behavior, such as stealing/selling off player databases and removing tags.
“In some cases employees (affiliate managers and other casino staff) engage in unethical behavior at the expense of the employer. The igaming industry is fiercely competitive and the stringency of an employee’s ethical standards can be compromised as a result of pressure”, he said.
Affiliate programs that act responsibly
To discover how reputable affiliate programs assure affiliates the above won’t happen, I spoke with three programs upon the recommendation of Bergstrom.
Lloyd Apter of Affiliate Cruise has been in the industry for a decade and is one of the most trusted managers out there. When asked about affiliate concerns with player shaving he had two solid points to make.
“Firstly, all our affiliate player data is automatic handled by two third parties – Oddsmatrix on the gambling side and Netefer on the affiliates side. So, we have no physical access to the data. Secondly, we have no interest in shaving as it would be counter productive to developing our relations with our affiliate partners and of course not the way to do business”, he said.
In regards to employees acting unethically with player data Apter added, “Our Salesforce, Netrefer affiliate and Oddsmatrix gaming systems are all configured with player and affiliate data security in mind so that each employee has only limited access to each affiliate’s and player’s data. This means that employees can only extract limited affiliate or player details for only a limited number of affiliates or players”.
Sasha Jade, Affiliate Marketing Manager of Bitstarz.com, also pointed out her company’s employees are literally unable to make changes to affiliate data due to their service providers.
“BitStarz Casino doesn’t have control of affiliate stats in the sense that we can’t change any information or data sent via SoftSwiss to our Affiliate Admin
So all data provided by SoftSwiss is sent without changes to the affiliate, management and players”, she said.
The threat of unethical employee practices is undoubtedly less likely within a program with a solid reputation. Good programs strive to hire only the best people.
“Our employees are screened very carefully and all have a great track record, one of professionalism and continued loyalty and dedication, I think this in itself will enable us to move forward as a team and with pride in who we are and the company we represent”, explained Jade.
“In our organisation, the affiliate department is self-managed and run independently from other departments. Their only goal is to make the affiliate program as successful as possible…it is not in their interest to act unethically in any way”, she said.
Tracking Software & 3rd Party Testing Services
Before signing up with any affiliate program, it’s a good idea to investigate the reputation of the program’s tracking software and identify what third party testing services they subscribe to.
“We only offer trusted software to both our customers and affiliates. We use Income Access as our affiliate system partner and software such as Netent, Microgaming and IGT to power the casino. All these software are tested and certified by third party companies such as TST Global”, said Bea.
Jade added, “We have transparent real time statistics provided by SoftSwiss.
Over 20 casinos using SoftSwiss platform are using it to run their affiliate program and it has proven it’s absolute performance”.
Bergstrom also mentioned the importance of the casino software being tested by prominent firms such as Ernest & Young, PriceWaterHouse Coopers and having this information clearly displayed on the website.
Industry association memberships, accreditation & reputation
The online gambling industry has a history of self-regulation – quite a few reputable associations have been established over the past decade and continue to provide outstanding service to the affiliate community and beyond. Such associations provide a community for affiliates to interact with each other, a “mediator” service to help solve disputes and accreditation programs.
“We believe a lot in the community and we are accredited and active on all major mediator sites, to name a few; Askgamblers, Casinomeister and ThePogg. We have very little complaints on these sites and zero unresolved ones. Both players and affiliates put great trust in these mediators/communities and appreciate that we work closely with them”, said Bea.
Apter added, “We are Platinum Sponsors at Affiliate Guard Dog, Accredited at Casino Meister and a Latest Casino Bonuses Seal of Approval. We also operate under MGA and UK GC licensing and regulations and our games are all RNG Certified”.
An affiliate program’s reputation amongst the community potentially carries the most weight when an affiliate makes a decision of who to work with. Industry forums, networking at conferences and various forms of social media are all areas where affiliates shape and share reputations. Looking for consistent positive feedback and a long history of good service (unless the program is new) should be requirements before deciding to send a lot of traffic anywhere.
“As you know a lot of an affiliate & player partnership with the program is based on trust, past experience, program history and so on, I feel due to our impeccable record thus far, our timely payouts, very strong customer support we have thankfully been in an advantageous position of not having to reassure our partners”, said Jade.
Bea added, “Even though affiliates to a certain extent compete with each other, there is definitely a strong community bond between them. They are very good at ensuring they only recommend trusted programs to their fellow affiliates in the community and to warn about programs that act unethically”.
No matter how trustworthy an affiliate program may be, disputes with affiliates are bound to happen. What’s important here is to research how the program has handled any such accusations, regardless of their legitimacy. Other questions to consider are how transparent are the programs? Are the names and contact info of the affiliate managers and even the owners readily available to affiliates and players?
When dealing with a solid program and experienced affiliate manager such as Apter, an affiliate can expect outstanding service should they ever feel slighted. When asked how he handles such situations Apter advised:
“Reply quickly, stay friendly and polite, find out why the affiliate believes they have been cheated and try provide the affiliate with as much relevant transparent information as possible. Very often a situation like this can shine the light on area that can be improved so our attitude is to treat a public complaint as constructive criticism”.
Jade added, “Thankfully to date we have not had such a situation arise, so we would have to give it serious consideration should this ever arise, however we would definitely not try to sweep it under the rug, as we would in turn take such an accusation just as seriously as the complainant, and would want to get to the bottom of it ourselves, as this type of situation should never arise to begin with”.
And finally Bea explained how her program would handle an upset affiliate.
“This rarely happens but when it does, it is normally due to a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of his/her own stats. At our brands, we don’t react by addressing the forums to defend ourselves unless absolutely necessary. Instead, we try to contact the affiliate and have a constructive dialogue. In the end, when the dust clears, the affiliate will hopefully retract his accusation and explain the misunderstanding in the forum it was placed”.
Most programs act ethically; identify them
As you can see from programs such as CasinoLuck Affiliates, Affiliate Cruise and Bitstarz, there truly are a lot of good choices out there for affiliates. My advice would be to attend all the online gambling affiliate industry conferences such as the upcoming Berlin Affiliate Conference (BAC) and be sure to speak with other affiliates about their experiences. Sign up with the GPWA forum and other industry associations and make yourself a part of the community- ask for opinions and feedback.
I think Bergstrom put it perfectly when he said, “In itself the industry is not unethical or morally bankrupt- just the bad actors in it are. Gambling online is a great source of entertainment on condition its done responsibly and properly regulated”.