Fintan Costello has 15+ years of experience in affiliate marketing, from both a gambling operator and affiliate perspective and even spent some time with Google as their Senior Industry Head of Finance and eGaming. For the past year or so, Costello has served as a Board Member and Managing Director of Finder Media, now with a special focus on the regulated U.S. iGaming market.
iGaming affiliate marketing has changed drastically over the past two decades and has reached a point where complying with strict regulations and licensing requirements around the world can be quite challenging. The regulated U.S. market is no exception and with a number of states still trying to figure out their strategy for entry, there are many moving pieces to deal with at all times.
The good news is that Costello represents a smaller, independent affiliate business when compared to the Catenas and Better Collectives out there, proving its possible to succeed in this market even if you’re not part of the U.S.-facing affiliate powerhouses.
When asked why he decided to shift away from his Europe and U.K. comfort zone to the U.S. market, he said “it’s about regulation”.
“The way I see the market going for operators it’s very much a case of the grey market is getting smaller, white markets are getting bigger and we’re going to end up in a situation where there is no grey anymore in the future”, Costello said.
“It’s going to be regulated markets or black markets and that’s going to be pretty much it”, he said.
“From an affiliate perspective you can see that kind of lag where affiliates will have to follow where the operators go and we can really see that in the U.K. today”, he added.
Costello and plenty of his peers have been around the industry for nearly 20 years and remember the “glory days” of pre-UIGEA in America, so we already have a sense of the market’s potential. The difference is this time around, there is more clarity surrounding the regulations and licensing process for both operators and affiliates.
“I think from a regulated perspective as an affiliate, if I can get a license that says, ‘hey I’m allowed to operate, this is very clear, these are the rules and parameters I can operate in’, I think that’s really, really good for the business”, Costello explained.
“I think ultimately this will become some sort of template for other markets in the future, so I might as well just take the pain now and get the lawyers involved and just get all the paperwork up to date and shipped in”, he said.
“And its working for us. We’ve got five licenses now for the US, so basically if there’s a license available as an affiliate we have it”, he added.
However, the affiliate licenses available in the US market are not all created equal, at least in terms of application complexity. For example, New Jersey offers a “super, super easy” process according to Costello, but Pennsylvania’s is much more involved, requiring information such as previous residences and jobs, references, tax returns, questions surrounding criminal activity and for some states, even finger prints are necessary.
“It was quite involved, a lot of paperwork and the first time you do this, it’s a big shock to the system, but as you go on to the next state, you see that a lot of the questions are very, very similar”, Costello assured.
“There is quite a lot of detailed paperwork and for a lot of people that’s probably not very comfortable, but as a smaller company, it’s much easier for us to do this than, say, a bigger PLC”, he pointed out.
“Once we started the process going, we’ve been very, very quick at getting our applications in and getting our license confirmations or our temporary license confirmations. It’s a lot of work, it can cost money, it is a big-time investment, but it is doable as well”, he confirmed.
Costello’s affiliate marketing expertise comes from the mature European and UK markets and shifting to the newly regulated American market has been a learning experience for all parties involved.
“From a people perspective, the US affiliate managers and operators and CEOs that I’ve been dealing with have all been super nice. Everybody is super enthusiastic, nice, very welcoming, very open, keen to do deals”, he shared.
“But you realize how early it is for these guys- things like reporting- from some people we get a CSV file, from somebody else I get a Google Analytics report emailed to me, or a login to a Power BI”, he said.
Naturally this type of reporting is old news on the other side of the pond where the affiliate tracking systems are much more streamlined and sophisticated, but as Costello said, its still early days and some patience is required.
In terms of providing advice for affiliate friends out there who are keen to make the jump to the regulated US market as Costello has done, his main tip is to think through the logistics first.
“Have a read through the paperwork and make sure you’re very, very comfortable with all the questions they are going to ask you because they literally know everything about me now. Everything. [laughs] So you have to be very, very comfortable with that. If you’re not, I’d probably skip it for a while until some of the bigger states open up you can then take the pain of it”, Costello advised
“It’s a case of do your maths, do your work, it still is relatively small and it is a lot of work. I’ve probably been crazy to do what we’ve done, but we’ve done it now so I’m fully committed and I won’t back down, so this is it”, he added.