Stats shaving and player shaving — the act of an affiliate program removing an affiliate tag from a player so that affiliate commission no longer have to be paid — is one of the biggest problems facing the casino affiliate marketing industry. As we explored in a recent Casino Affiliate Programs Blog post, there are a number of different motives for companies to try to switch players to different gaming rooms once they’ve been recruited by affiliates.

There’s been talk lately in online gaming circles about new, more legitimate, but potentially just as harmful trends in stats shaving. Some programs have now admitted to depriving affiliates of their rightful player commissions by cross-marketing players away from the referred site to other sister sites — and leaving the affiliate tag behind.

It usually works like this: After a player is signed up to an online casino or poker room, that player is placed on the operator’s mailing list. The operator then sends the player messages inviting him or her to try other gaming sites in the network. If the links to sign up at those other casinos aren’t tagged with the original affiliate referral data, then the affiliate doesn’t get credit for any new sign-ups that player makes — even though the affiliate was one who originally hooked up the player and operator in the first place.

If the player decides to play at a different casino marketed in an email, the operator will claim that the player is no longer a referral, and hence no longer “tagged” to the original site. But affiliates see it differently: Since they sent the player to the operator for the first time, the affiliates should get commissions for all subsequent sign-ups that player makes with that operator.

Is that fair? It’s not breaking any specific rules; affiliate programs sometimes even say they’ll do this in the terms and conditions you agree to. So, what’s tricky about this tactic is that it isn’t in violation of the affiliate agreement. The casinos are technically within their rights to market to the players you send them, however they see fit.

It is, however, an alarming trend that violates the spirit of the casino affiliate agreement. It’s also a growing trend that affiliates should be on the lookout for. If this kind of activity is spotted, affiliates shouldn’t be afraid to drop the operator engaging in this kind of behavior.

Three steps to protect yourself
It’s hard to keep total control over the situation — affiliates have their hands full working on marketing and site creation, plus keeping up with all the other changes to the online gambling industry that seem to confront us on a daily basis. On top of all that, it’s hard to keep a real watchful eye on your player stats with the kind of attention needed to spot irregularities.

But there are some steps you can take to help keep an eye on this kind of player shaving. For starters:

1. Seed their email lists. For every affiliate program you promote, sign up as a player under a specific affiliate program (your own, to make things easy). This way, you’ll have complete engagement with the company as a player and an affiliate.

So, if the company tried to move players to different rooms without affiliate credit, you’ll be among the first to know.

2. Read your contracts. Before you sign up with a new affiliate program, read the affiliate agreement closely and understand what its saying. Most of the time, any of these practices are right there in the fine print.

For example, some contracts state specifically that the operator has the right to contact players referred by affiliates, and that affiliates won’t be paid for those extra sales. That’s more likely when dealing with an affiliate group that represents a number of casinos, rather than an affiliate program that services one specific gaming room. And if you’re not comfortable with that situation, you’ll want to avoid doing business with that operator.

3. Understand the rules. Some affiliate groups won’t even give you credit for players, if that player has already played at any of their casinos. Other casino affiliate groups don’t have that rule; make sure you know what rules are in place for the programs you promote.

In conclusion: Keep on guard!
This topic is of particular interest to casino affiliates lately because of a certain high-profile (and very well-liked) operator’s admission that these cross-marketing tactics were used to “untag” players.

That operator admitted to a very high volume of emails sent to players trying to get them to switch to other gaming sites in the same network. The operator didn’t admit that the purpose of those emails was to lessen the company’s affiliate commission obligation. Instead, it was claimed that the brand-building offered by the additional marketing would only help affiliates. (That, of course, fails to explain why tags crediting the original affiliate aren’t included in the emails, then.)

The result is an open acknowledgment by the operator that these techniques do exist. And, with the popularity and general success the operator still enjoys, the techniques are likely to be used by other operators in imitation.

Be aware, though: Operators have every right to market to the players you send them, in any way they see fit. It’s up to you to know what marketing is going on, and whether you’re comfortable with it — whether you find it “honest” or not.

After you’ve made that decision, it’s smart to keep an eye on the criteria described above and make sure you’re not the victim of unfair operator cross-marketing.

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