In the latest of our series of CAP video interviews installments, Jeremy shares his insight on the state of the iGaming industry and what affiliates can do to continue profiting. From promoting a broader portfolio of products like sports betting and casino to exploring subscription-based poker and rakeback, Jeremy discusses reasons that poker affiliates have more options to earn. Enke is also cognizant of why it’s important to focus on up-and-coming markets before getting arbitrarily jumping into bed with up-and-coming operators.
It’s Jeremy’s expertise like this that has turned PokerAffiliateListings.com into one of the most recognized communities in the online poker industry.
Jeremy Enke is a pioneer in the poker affiliate industry and has been working with and marketing online poker since 2002. During his tenure in the poker affiliate industry, Jeremy has launched several successful poker affiliate websites and campaigns. Jeremy is also founded the first poker affiliate network at PokerAffiliateWorld.com and currently operates the poker affiliate forums at PokerAffiliateListings.com. Jeremy is a consultant in the poker affiliate industry as well as a regular speaker and writer for the industry’s largest trade shows and magazines.
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Warren: Hey guys, I’m Warren Jolly with Casino Affiliate Programs, and welcome to our video interview with Jeremy Enke, founder of PokerAffiliateListings.com, an industry consultant and regular speaker at various iGaming conferences around the world.
Our topic today is going to focus on the overall state of the poker affiliate market, along with some tips for affiliates who are interested in expanding their poker businesses.
Hey Jeremy, thanks for your time today. Let’s take a quick moment and tell our audience a little bit about yourself and what got you into the poker affiliate space.
Jeremy: Sure. Thanks for having me, for one, Warren. I’ve been in this space since probably 2002, 2003, and it’s one of those things I kind of fell into it. I actually started playing on pokerroom.com, on partypoker.com. At the time, I was just getting into affiliate marketing.
Man, I was doing everything from dating to eBay to you name it, and started playing at Party, saw they had an affiliate program and just got started with that. Kind of right place at the right time. Shortly thereafter, a couple years later, Chris Moneymaker won the World Series, and that’s when the big boom hit. Everything fell into place.
That’s my history, how I got involved in the poker affiliate market, and really been working in this niche ever since.
Warren: Tell us about Party Riches, I know that was your first foray, and the pink bunny suit.
Jeremy: I’m never going to live that down, you know? Basically, it’s funny because I started promoting online poker through, I think it was Poker Room and Party Poker, and really there was no other affiliate forums or communities solely dedicated to online poker. I had had a lot of success earlier on with Party Poker, primarily doing PPC, doing some creative campaigns like you said.
The pink bunny campaign was wild. I dressed up as a pink bunny and Golden Palace sponsored me and I played in the main event. Nonetheless loss $10,000 buy-in inside of four hours. What I did is, I wrote an e-book essentially just about how to promote online poker.
Now, if you went back and read that e-book it would almost be comical, because so much has changed in this landscape in the past seven, eight years. Basically, I used that e-book to connect myself with other poker affiliates. Next thing you know, I had this circle of 30, 40, 50 poker affiliates, and started some forums, and just got bigger and bigger, and kind of built upon that over the years.
That’s where I got my start with poker affiliates and building that network of, just a bunch of different internet marketers, poker affiliates that have been able to bring everybody together in one community.
Warren: Okay. You’ve been intimately involved in the poker affiliate industry for many years now. Help us understand, what is the overall state of the poker affiliate market?
Jeremy: That’s a good question. It really depends on what markets you’re looking at, because if you look at some of the European markets and even the emerging markets, the state of the industry is not too bad. There’s still a lot of conversions and a lot of people are just now coming online and getting into adequate payment processes.
With that said, some of these emerging markets, they’re either status quo or they’re actually growing. The U.S. market on the other hand, I can’t think of a better way to put it than, let’s just say it’s in shambles right now. It’s been a mess for the last six months.
However, with that said I don’t necessarily think it’s just doom and gloom, where we’re going to see no growth and no expansion for years and years to come. It’s just at kind of a spot right now where, after Black Friday, the brakes essentially got put on and everything got put on hold.
Now you’re starting to see some growth again, but a lot of it is really going to come down to what happens in the U.S. market in the months and years to come. Overall, I think the poker affiliate market, it’s still a great market to be in. There’s still a lot of growth. It’s just a matter of where are you promoting and where are you focusing your efforts, as an affiliate.
Right now, if your sole efforts are in the U.S. market, it’s going to be a challenge for you, no doubt about it.
Warren: Yeah, seems like the writing’s on the wall there. Even if there’s operators still doing U.S. business, it’s just not a long term outlet.
Jeremy: The problem is, not even so much for affiliates, but even with a lot of players that had their bank rolls on Full Tilt, or Poker Stars or whatever, it’s almost been a vote of no confidence for this overall industry in general. Guys are afraid to deposit their money on sites.
Or, with some of the other issues going on with payment processing, people don’t want to deposit money onto a poker site and not know when they’re going to be able to withdraw it. Or waiting six weeks for a withdrawal.
I think a lot of people have taken their money that they used to, their discretionary income, to play on the various U.S. accepting poker sites. They’re on the sidelines right now. They don’t necessarily want to put their bank rolls onto sites which, of course, makes it more challenging for us affiliates, whether we’re on rev share CPA or offering rakeback or whatever.
The mix of players and the player pool isn’t what it used to be in the U.S. market.
Warren: Okay. It’s been right around six months since Black Friday. What was the actual impact on poker affiliates, now that we’re six months down the road?
Jeremy: Boy, that’s a mixed bag too because the poker affiliates that were completely focused on the U.S. market . . . Let’s take guys that were ranking for, whether it be bonus co-terms, or U.S.-facing poker sites, and a majority of their traffic and revenues came from sites like, Full Tilt, for example, Absolute, UB, AP. Those guys took a significant hit, those poker affiliates did.
Whereas, the affiliates that were maybe a little more diversified, and at the same time they were promoting in the U.S. market were also sending European traffic, they didn’t necessarily take as significant as a hit. Without a doubt, you’re going to be stretched to find any affiliates that didn’t send traffic to one of those four rooms.
The impact on poker affiliates financially, it has been pretty significant. Then on the positive side, I think it’s also opened up a lot of eyes on affiliates to think, “Boy, I’m not going to do that again and put all my eggs in one basket.”
Myself, and I know a couple other affiliates, went through that back in 2006, after the UIGEA went through and poker sites like Party Poker, Paradise Poker, a lot of U.S.-facing rooms just pulled out of the U.S. There we were, a lot of guys that were solely focused on the U.S., holding the bag going, “Oh man, now what?”
We were forced to diversify. I see this as the second go-around with that, so some of the newer affiliates that maybe just got into the market, post-UIGEA, are learning that lesson themselves. Going, “Okay, I’m not going to let that happen again, even once the U.S. market opens up.”
If there is any positive that we can take out of it, that would be it. It’s just the need to diversify within poker, but also outside of poker. To answer the overall question of the impact, I would say it’s significant, and probably much more so than the UIGEA.
Just because the Full Tilts of the world, APs, UBs, Stars, accounted for huge amounts of income for a lot of affiliates that were focused on U.S.-facing.
Warren: Speaking of those three, has Ultimate Bet, Full Tilt, or Stars, have any of them paid any of their affiliate obligations yet? If so, any idea what the percentage was of the total amount owed to affiliates?
Jeremy: None of that information has been public, but just reading Two Plus Two, I’ve been told that Full Tilt has paid out some money to some people. Whereas, at the same time I’m sitting here, I haven’t received a dime of what’s owed to me. At this point, I don’t expect to. If you look at the whole scenario with Full Tilt, simply they don’t have the money. They don’t have the money to pay out. Whether they get bailed out, who knows.
I’m not certain, Warren, to be honest what the percentage is because it’s not public, but . . .
Warren: Some money has trickled out, is what you’re saying?
Jeremy: Yeah, some money has trickled out. But if you read Two Plus Two and a lot of the poker player forums, you’re going to find that there’s still a ton of money out there that’s owed to affiliates and players a like. I don’t know if I think it will ever be paid out, to be honest with you. I wouldn’t bank on it.
Warren: Moving to kind of a positive note, in terms of what’s new in the U.S. market for poker affiliates? Obviously there’s still for money play operators in the space, like Carbon Poker and others, some of the groups down in Costa Rica.
What, besides affiliates sending their traffic to one of the groups that are still taking real money traffic, are there any other ways that poker affiliates that have U.S. traffic can monetize their traffic today?
Jeremy: You know, right now, if we’re going to talk about right now, here we are in the fourth quarter of the year. Like you said, all the merger rooms still take U.S. players. In fact, they just opened back up to U.S. You’ve got the Cake Poker rooms, a couple up and coming rooms, you’ve got Bet Online. You have Everleaf.
There are still networks of rooms that take U.S. players, but to digress a little bit back to our earlier conversation, it’s still going to be harder to convert, because players are leery. In terms of what I see a lot of affiliates doing that are successful right now is, yes, you’re still going to promote online poker. But maybe you promote a room that also has a broader portfolio of products. So poker, sports betting, and casino versus just poker.
That way you’re kind of ensuring yourself. Right now, if you’re going to promote sports betting, right now’s the time to do it. A lot of affiliates have always been leery of sports betting because it is that gray area, but at this point, you’re not left with many options, especially with poker.
We’re in the midst of an NFL season right now, and coming in the new year you’re going to have March Madness coming up. That’s a huge sports betting time of year. If there’s ever been a time that you’re going to take your poker traffic and go, “What should I do with this traffic to capitalize on some different markets if poker is not making me as much?”
I would say go with a site or a room that has a poker site, but also a sports book tied to it. That’s just a decision that every affiliate has to make for themselves. Do you feel comfortable promoting sports betting or not?
Yeah, as far as poker goes . . .
Warren: Has any affiliate been able to make a real go of promoting subscription-based poker, or promoting any of these poker calculators? Is anyone making an income off of doing this?
Jeremy: I think people are making an income off of it. There’s no question about that. However, it’s the amount of income.
Subscription poker is a really interesting model, and it’s one I think we’re going to see a lot more, probably in the coming years. Take brands like Zynga and these subscription-based brands that are really growing.
But it’s a paradigm shift for poker affiliates, because we’re really used to promoting to the hardcore grinders. The guys that will pay eight tables at a time and need rakeback. That’s not necessarily the demographic for the subscription-based players.
The subscription-based players are more of the casual player that will easily deposit $20 or $30, whatever their subscription is. They’re more in it for the social aspect of it. They can log in every night, play a sit and go, and it’s not so much about the amount of money they’re winning or their expected, their EV or whatever. It’s more of just that casual model.
Poker affiliates, as I said, we’re so used to those grinders that we’ve got to get out of that paradigm shift that there are millions of people that will play online or online poker under the subscription-based model. From an affiliate standpoint, I don’t think there are too many affiliates who have really attacked that niche yet.
With that said, though, there’s not really that many great affiliate programs out there within that niche. I think that’s something we’ll probably see some growth in the coming months, if not over the next year. It’s a big opportunity right now for an operator in the subscription-based space to get out there and become that leader in the marketplace so that.
We’ll have to wait and see on that, but that is something I think we’re going to hear a lot more about in the coming year.
Warren: How about touching quickly on rakeback? Is rakeback something still that affiliates are looking to use in a big way to acquire players? Besides rakeback, what other promotional vehicles are being used to convert players and for rooms to set themselves apart from the competition?
Jeremy: I think rakeback is still a necessity, especially for a lot of these players. The thing is, we’ve always got to think of the player first. A lot of these full-time poker players, a lot of their income comes from rakeback.
You still have to promote rakeback, there’s no question about it. I don’t think it’s as big as it was a year ago. I think more and more brands, as they come into the market, or new operators coming out, you’re probably going to see changes in rakeback, moving more so to what Poker Stars did and Bodog did. Moving to a VIP status versus putting in affiliates hands to do the rakeback.
There are some affiliates out there that were big rakeback providers, and I won’t name any names here, but there’s people that are left without their rakeback for months and months.
I think we’re going to see some changes in that. As far as promotional efforts, a lot of it right now is about selling value. What is the value that you’re going to show potential players coming in? Nobody’s going to just click on a banner at this point and say, “Oh, they’re offering 100% bonus up to $600.”
Everybody has bonus offers. More so, what is the value in it for the potential player. Also at this point I think it’s important to sell the trust and safety of it. How long are withdrawals taking? Can this room be trusted?
If you’re ever going to use first-person testimonials in your promotional efforts, there’s probably not a better time than right now. That’s the thing, a lot of your traffic shows up and they say, “Okay, great, but can I trust this room? Is this room going to go the same route of Full Tilt and UB?”
With that, also just getting back to the basics. SEO has always been the number one way to generate traffic and commissions, but at the same time right now there’s so much competition. It’s looking at some of the more traditional methods and thinking outside the box.
It’s going to work different for everybody, but just look at some of the different promotional ways guys outside of the online poker space are driving traffic. I think that’s always something to take into account. It’s one of the things that we’ve been really weak in this industry over the years.
Look at how big landing pages are, and how landing pages convert outside of the online poker and online gambling space. Yet you very seldom see poker affiliates sending traffic to landing pages. You simply send traffic to an interior page on our portals.
So it’s things like that that really focus on conversions, and just doing some things different than we’ve done in the past.
Warren: Who are some of the hottest up-and-coming poker operators that affiliates should be paying attention to, from a global perspective?
Jeremy: As far as up-and-coming operators . . .
Warren: Yeah, like new rooms that affiliates should be paying attention to. Obviously every affiliate wants to try to get in early when there’s a new opportunity arising, so who are the operators that are the ones to watch, in your opinion?
Jeremy: It’s hard, man, because up-and-coming operators, I hate to say a dime a dozen, but you see new operators coming into the market every single month. A lot of them, whether they’re on one of the networks, you never know if they’re going to be around long term.
I’ve heard a lot of good things about Bet Online. They seem to be doing pretty well. You’re seeing them on a lot of sites.
I’ve kind of strayed away from the up-and-coming operators. I would say, as far as working with operators, look at up-and-coming markets and emerging markets, versus the U.S. market. For example, look at some of the Eastern European countries, and maybe stick with the guys that are trusted operators. Whether it be the Party Partners, Bet365, I’d feel more comfortable switching my focus on the market I’m working with versus a start-up operator.
I’d always give a start-up operator a chance, but there’s no way in the world that I’m going to put all my faith and trust in a start-up operator and send 100% of my traffic to them when I’ve yet to receive one affiliate check. Whereas Party Partners or a company like that, they’ve been paying consistently and on time for years and years.
A lot of affiliates, Warren, you can look over the last five years, have built their business on translations. Figuring out how am I going to drive German traffic, how am I going to drive Swedish traffic?
Becoming market leaders, as far as you mean in the search engines, or however they’re doing their promotions, but guys sitting in their office in the US driving a ton of traffic within the German market, just because they’ve figured that niche out.
I know that kind of got off base on what your question was, about up-and-coming operators, but it’s hard to say. I’ve gotten to the point now in this industry that I have a hard time. I always want to give everybody the one year test to see how they do before I would throw 100% support behind them and say, everybody jump on board and promote these guys.
Warren: That’s a really good point, in terms of looking at up-and-coming markets rather than up-and-coming operators. I think that the barrier to entry for an operator to get into online poker is so low that you really can’t trust anybody until they’ve proven themselves.
That’s actually a really great point for affiliates to pay attention to.
Based on that, what are some things to look for when a poker affiliate’s looking at different operators or programs to promote? You gave the one year test as an example, but how else can I be sure that my traffic is save, my commissions are safe, more importantly, when I’m going out and looking for a program?
Jeremy: The best thing I always say, it’s easy to go to an operator’s affiliate page and go, “Hey look, they pay on this date and they have this percentage.” All that can be smoke and mirrors sometimes, and we’ve seen it time and time again.
I think the best gauge to use as an affiliate when looking at what operators to work with is, go to all the industry forums and read what other affiliates are saying. If you’re going to promote a new poker room, go ask around with some of the affiliates that are maybe promoting it.
It’s easy. Do a Google search and find out who’s ranking for those terms. More than likely, they’re one of the three forums in our industry. You’re going to be able to find out who that affiliate is, and just shoot him a private message on one of the forums. Say, “Hey, I saw you’re promoting ABC Poker Room. How have they been converting for you? Did they pay on time?”
Usually, most affiliates, that’s one of the things that’s really cool about this industry, is you’ll see guys will work together. Everybody, we’re all in this together. If the ship sinks, we’re all sinking with it. Yes we’re competitive, and we compete against each other, but at the same time we all want to help everybody else be successful.
I think the most important thing to think about in choosing a new operator is, look towards your peers and ask them. Don’t trust the affiliate, what the affiliate program’s homepage says. Asks around and get some real world experience.
There again, that’s a first-person testimonial. If somebody’s not being paid on time from a new poker affiliate program, they’re probably just going to tell you the truth and say, “This program, I wouldn’t really suggest working with them.” Or, “This affiliate manager’s great, they pay on time.”
That’s probably the easiest way, I think. What I look towards when I’m looking to promote new affiliate programs is, what are the existing affiliates saying about the program right now?
Warren: Switching sides really quick to the affiliate end of the spectrum, who are three new or established poker affiliates that you know of that are doing really well? What are the websites, and lastly, what do you feel really sets them apart?
Jeremy: I saw this question when you put this on here, and I started thinking about it. I don’t know if I necessarily want to name three affiliates on here and their websites, because a lot of gaming affiliates are really goofy about that. I don’t want to name anybody individually.
I will say the affiliates that are doing really well right now, post-Black Friday, are the ones that are really just doing some different things, and especially different industries.
As far as gaming goes, it’s really hard to break onto the online poker market as a brand new affiliate right now, out of the box and just start dominating it. You’re going to have a really hard time competing with the big affiliate sites, whether it be Poker Listings, Poker News. There’s a whole handful of them.
It’s going to be hard to compete with those guys. But there are some affiliates out there who have kind of taken a different approach on things, and started doing some different types of promotions, I guess you could say. They’ve seen some success with it.
Not only that, but just getting into some different industries and using the knowledge that they have and the experience and the skills that they have in the poker affiliate market. Essentially, use those in different markets that have similar demographics of users.
To name the top three, that’s really tough, because a lot of times also there might be a guy who you think is a really small affiliate, but come to find out they’re mid-level or high-range affiliate. I think affiliate managers might be the best people to tell you that.
They’ll recruit an affiliate and think he’s just small time, and he’s really big. Then on the flip side, there’s these guys you think would be super affiliates, making all this money, and they don’t necessarily make that much after expenses and everything else.
Warren: Fair enough. On the industry topic, what are some of the other industries that poker affiliates are seeing a lot of success with?
Jeremy: There’s some emerging and up-and-coming industries that I think are exciting right now. I’ll name a couple of those. It depends, because a lot of affiliates right now, poker affiliates especially, are trying all kinds of different industries.
It’s easy to look and say, “Okay, yeah, weight loss and pills and debt. Of course those are great, high-performing industries.” Again, they’re hard to break into because there are already people dominating those. What I always like to look at with emerging industries are, look at what the mainstream media is pushing.
I don’t want to say pushing, but look at what’s popular in the mainstream media. What happens is when you see TV commercials and everybody else does, the millions of eyeballs that drives people online to do more research. A couple examples would be, like precious metals for example. We’ve seen gold and silver just explode in the last year or two.
There are a couple affiliate programs out there right now, and that’s just kind of an emerging affiliate market, we’ll see what happens with that. Essentially what’s happening is, people are seeing gold and silver commercials on TV, or on the radio, and it’s driving them online to do more research and to buy online.
There’s one of them. Another interesting space that I’ve just started exploring is the penny auction space. You see commercial for QuiBids, for SkoreIt, for all these companies out there. Again, there’s only a couple affiliate programs out there right now. What’s happening is people are seeing this and going, “Wait a minute. Really, a MacBook Pro for $24, $25?”
It’s driving them online to do more research and to learn about it. That’s an interesting market. Sports picks, I think is an interesting market. Doc’s Sports is going to be launching an affiliate program here shortly. I think that will do well.
It’s markets like that. Like I said, mainstream media, that’s how poker and the poker affiliate market blew up. Chris Moneymaker won the World Series through a saddle that he won on Poker Stars, and next thing you know you see Party Poker advertisements on taxi cabs all over the country and television commercials.
I think just watch what you’re seeing out there on the market and what’s getting big. That’s why I think the subscription-poker model could be big, but it’s going to depend, how much coverage is it going to get, and how much advertising are these brands like Zynga going to do in the mainstream media if they choose to go that route?
It’s going to take that to see those explode. A couple of the examples I used, like penny auctions for example, if you promote online casinos, or even online poker to a lesser extent, what a great demographic. Because if you know anything about the penny auction space, you know that you can’t really just buy a MacBook Pro for $20. You’ve got to buy all the bids and there’s some gamble, you’re going to have to take some risks. So it’s just the demographic of the traffic that you’re already seeing come to your site already has some gamble in them.
Introduce them to that penny auction space, where they can deposit easily in the U.S. with PayPal, with credit cards, and it’s just an opportunity to get out and be one of the first affiliates to dominate that space.
If the penny auction space continues to grow, you’re kind of the front runner because you were in it from the beginning, and I just don’t see any downside to jumping into some of those markets right now.
Warren: All right, Jeremy. I want to go ahead and wrap up our interview. Thanks for all your time and your insight and some of your advice. If anyone’s interested in contacting Jeremy: at the end of the interview, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll be happy to put you in touch.
Thanks for watching, and stay tuned for future interviews with iGaming industry leaders. Take care.