Debbee is the site manager of GoneGambling.com, one of the industry’s first gambling portals. After Debbee joined GoneGambling.com twelve years ago, she went on to work for a variety of other gambling affiliates. She’s now come full circle, rejoining GoneGambling.com and is working toward rebuilding the site’s community and traffic.
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Warren: Hey guys, I’m Warren Jolly with the Casino Affiliate Programs and you’re watching another one of our video interviews where we profile some of the most influential people in the online gaming industry. Today we’re going to speak to an industry legend and someone who I consider a dear friend, Debbee Silverman. Debbee currently manages gonegambling.com, one of the earliest gambling portals to ever launch. After starting her original career in the industry with gonegambling.com Debbee went to work for a few other well-known affiliates, even worked for an operator for two years, but eventually decided to come back to her original home. Today Debbee will talk to us about the importance of building a powerhouse brand, looking at unique revenue models, such as paid media, and the importance of having a voice on the affiliate site. She’ll be sharing some great insights so listen and watch closely. Debbee, thanks for your time today.
Debbee: My pleasure.
Warren: Let’s take a quick moment and tell our audience a little bit about yourself.
Debbee: Well, really I got into the industry by mistake. It was a complete accident. I was a member of this website, GoneGambling. The former owner, John Abbott, knew that I had a marketing and advertising background. He said, “Why don’t you come and work for me”, and he hired me as the links manager. This was nearly 12 years ago, I had no clue what the hell a links manager was, but I needed a job so I did it. Within a couple of weeks I was no longer dealing with links and basically took over all of the inbound and outbound marketing and advertising for GoneGambling. It became very successful fairly quickly, it was a great place and then it was time for me to move on, try something different. I went to work for Marty Jensen, who owns the Main Street Vegas group of casinos, but he also owns TheRX.com, which is one of the top sports information sites. He was hoping to develop some other gambling related portals based off TheRX, and so that’s what I was brought in to do. Unfortunately, just as we were launching the TheRXCasinos.com, the Feds were taking down Neteller and we were a paid media site, and right away we just had to basically fold up because we knew we were not going to make it under a paid media model at that point. Casinos just weren’t putting out the money. Then I decided to transition. I thought, let’s see what the other side of the industry is like, so I went and I worked for, what used to be called Club World Affiliates, or CWC I should say, and is now Affiliate Edge. I did marketing and advertising for them, had an amazing experience, but I really missed being more on the publishing side of things. I spent about a year over at Casino City working on their marketing stuff for the online side, and then this opportunity came up for John Abbott selling GoneGambling. It was sort of like, as much as I was happy to leave when I left, I always missed it. I always felt like I wasn’t quite done with everything there, and my good friend Brian Bailey decided to buy GoneGambling, and it was just a perfect situation. I would be able to go back to GoneGambling working for someone I have mad respect for, and basically it was an opportunity for me to just get a hold of the site which had been really let go for quite a while and just start from scratch – which is essentially how it was when I first started there 12 years ago. The dream here, the goal is to sort of make the site back to the big institution, the big exciting place it once was. I think we’re well on our way now.
Warren: Okay, great. Tell us a little more about gonegambling.com. What sets it apart from other gambling portals or sites?
Debbee: You know it’s an interesting thing, GoneGambling, we can’t really call it a portal; you can’t really call it a gaming site. It’s just this quirky little gem, where people come and it’s a community of people there. You literally get to know every single person on this site. There’s less talk about gambling than there is about my sick aunt Flo, or the dog next door, or how to make a pie. It’s very much like a small-town community, but the brilliance of it is the members come and they play the online games that we have. We have our own games that we’ve developed and they’re able, if they’ve deposited with our sponsoring casinos, they can win extra bonuses. They can win monthly conversions where they’re able to convert the points that they’re winning on our games into bonuses. They can get higher roller bonuses if they’re depositing extra money, large amounts of money, into our casinos. Also, we’ve got weekly chats. We’ve always got something going on for people. The greatest thing is it’s so interactive. It’s a very special place.
Warren: So how many members are in the community?
Debbee: Right now we’re on the low side, we’re only about 4,000 members thereabouts. At its highest point I think we had somewhere around 10,000, but I should also qualify this because I know it doesn’t sound like a lot. John Abbott in his wisdom never wanted to have inflated numbers so he would go through and he would clean out the database. He would do this twice a week. If somebody had not been on the site within a 30 day period, they would receive an email saying basically, you need to come back within two weeks, just sign-in so we know you’re still around. If they didn’t do this, he would be dropped. I’m a little bit more lenient on that now. I let it go a bit longer than just the 30 days, but I agree with John. I don’t like seeing inflated numbers, particularly as we’re paid media. I need to know how many actual members we have that are participating and that’s separate from traffic. They’re two totally different things. In our highest point back in the day our traffic was substantial. We were getting on average between 200,000 to 250,000 uniques per month.
Debbee: Yeah. When we took the site back over late last year, uniques were pretty bad. They were somewhere around 35,000 to 40,000 and we’ve definitely surpassed that now. We’re somewhere around 60,000 at this point. It’s a hard long process now; it’s not like easy days.
Warren: You’re saying 4,000 active community members.
Debbee: Active members, these are people that are depositing month after month after month with our sponsoring casinos.
Warren: So would you say on communities across the board, would that be on the high side in terms of active members?
Debbee: I would suspect, yes. Honestly, because again I think that there’s a huge problem with inflating your numbers. If you don’t clean out your database, you’re showing that you’ve got 25,000 or 50,000 members but really there’s only a couple thousand, there’s a problem. You can keep email addresses, that’s fine, but don’t present that as an active membership.
Warren: Who are some of your competitors?
Debbee: Well again, I think this is really sort of a weird area. We’re different; we’re so different. Back in the day we used to compete with Casino Meister even though we’re apples and oranges and that really is the problem. We are apples and oranges. I think the only other site that is somewhat close to doing what we do may be gambling.com, but they don’t take it that extra step with the community aspect.
Warren: What marketing methods do you deploy to drive traffic and players to gonegambling.com?
Debbee: Right now it’s a lot of Facebook, a little bit of Twitter, still kind of not sure with Twitter, and it’s more of a time issue for me. We’re doing a bit of Google AdWords and of course a lot of SEO. Back in the day we used to try all sorts of really creative things. We have these really tight relationships with these casinos that were willing to go ahead and do co-branded mailings. They were sending out on their dead-player list with GoneGambling, come back to GoneGambling and you’re going to get this from them and we’ll give you this for signing up with GoneGambling. We did a lot of snail mail, direct-mail work, which was really good for us. We did pretty well with that. This is the direction I definitely want to move into at some point, but we’ve got to get the financial footing back before you can really attempt stuff like that.
Warren: So it sounds like GoneGambling has always been focused on having a strong community. Tell us why it’s important for a portal to have a voice and for that voice to be involved with traffic.
Debbee: This is something to me, I think, because I came into this industry in this sort of setting, it was so simple. It was such a no-brainer. If you know who your members are, who your traffic is, you know what they need. If you’re looking at something where you have traffic but they never get to know you, there’s no investment by that traffic. What is there to stick around for? Sure, they can read an article. Sure, they can see a banner or something and click on that, and that’s great but I want people to keep coming back. Our members, they truly feel like they know me. I’m a part of their family so that’s an investment for them and I feel similarly. I’ve become very close to these people. Many of these people are still members from when I worked five years ago and there’s just this connection and so they want to see the site do well. If you looked at the sites that really do the best, like Casino Meister, Two Plus Two, 911, all these sites they have a voice. There’s a connection that they’re making with their membership and with their traffic. If you’re going to do those sorts of quick sites where you’ve got a hundred sites, you’re really just capturing traffic you’re not doing anything to really develop relationships.
Warren: I know you’re a big proponent of the power of branding for affiliates. Why do so few affiliates bother to focus on branding?
Debbee: I think that you’ve got a couple different types of affiliates. I think you’ve got the affiliates that will put together a couple hundred sites and all they’re doing – it’s not content driven necessarily, it’s just let’s get the people in, let’s get the traffic going. Then you’ve got the other webmasters that are really in it, they have a love for what they’re doing and they’re willing to sort of take a longer journey, the slower but steady journey. But I think it’s an important thing that they’re missing is the branding because again there’s that connection. With GoneGambling we branded the site early on. We will forever be known as the site with the onions and it’s that connection. There are very few sites that do that. Casino Meister is another brilliant example of it. From day one, it was all about creating this brand and it just becomes memorable. I think when you’ve got domains like gambling reviews.com, reviewofgambling.com, and things like that it makes it very difficult for people to begin to find a way to brand, and so I think it’s an easier road to not do it. I think it’s really not knowing how to go about it and not realizing the importance of it.
Warren: Would you say also with all the competition in the space it’s important? You have to stick out some way and have some kind of USP? Is that also part of the equation?
Debbee: I think so. I believe so strongly that you have to find a way to, what’s the word I’m looking for, just put yourself out there so that you will be memorable; you’re not going to be just another site. From my perspective, the simplest way is to come up with something that’s just going to catch somebody right off the bat.
Warren: Makes sense.
Debbee: It worked for Coca-Cola.
Warren: Sure, you have to have a brand. I believe in that as well. Why would affiliates and operators look at doing paid media as opposed to web-share?
Debbee: It’s a tough one. Honestly I believe that probably web-share is a better option for most. What’s going on with the audio?
Warren: What’s that?
Debbee: What’s going on with the audio? It was sort of bouncing back to me.
Warren: Oh, it sounds okay.
Debbee: Okay, where were we?
Warren: Why would affiliates and operators look at doing paid media as opposed to web-share?
Debbee: I do think that probably web-share is the best option for most. I think that there are certain situations that lend themselves, that make more sense for paid media. A situation like ours where we’re giving away so many bonuses – if we were doing affiliate stuff I think basically anybody’s reporting would explode by seeing the back-and-forth in numbers with all these bonuses going in and out. I think that for somebody that has a decent amount of traffic but may not necessarily get the big dollar players I think that paid media is a very good option for them. I also think for somebody that has established themselves well enough and are consistent enough but need to know that they will have certain income that they can depend on month after month, and not have a rollercoaster, they’re good with paid media. But again, I think at the end of the day probably most people will do better with web-share, but it’s always going to be a little bit of a rollercoaster ride.
Warren: Okay, so if you’re in one of those unique situations where, like you said, GoneGambling -you’re giving money away, you have some unique incentives for players or you need dependable income, how do you convince an operator to do paid media deals?
Debbee: It’s tough.
Warren: Every operator today – especially nowadays, they want you to work on a pay-for-performance basis. So why would operators do it, and how does a website convince an operator to do paid media?
Debbee: Well you have to show a pattern of performance before you can even attempt this. You have to be able to show that the traffic is there and really the best way to, I believe, to even get moving in this direction, is to start out with a bit of web- share or even if you can get into a hybrid CPA web-share deal and just perform for a few months consistently. Do a test on a paid media buy, do it as a small buy and give a certain commitment to what you will deliver within that 30-day period. If you don’t deliver, be sure that you are willing to extend that campaign out until you do. The last thing you want to do is piss off an operator by not delivering and just saying, oh well it didn’t work. No, they’re out the money and you have to perform. The second you don’t perform on that level – if you screw the operator out of their money, it just becomes a real… It’s like the telephone game, everybody knows everybody in this business and you will basically be out of the opportunities in the future to continue with paid media. You have to be smart about it.
Warren: You have to be able to deliver on what your commitment is.
Warren: Okay, I know this is a topic you’re really passionate about. Why is it so critical for any site that promotes online casinos to be first and foremost concerned about their players rather than their own pockets?
Debbee: This is a lesson that I learned early on, and I know that some people won’t agree with this but I feel firmly about it. There’s sort of a food chain here. Players are first, the casinos are second and as the Webmaster or the publication, you’re third. The reason for that is the players are your customers. That’s who you depend upon to have the income. Without them it doesn’t matter how many affiliate deals or how many paid media deals you have, you need that traffic so you have to look out for their best interest. They get screwed, the odds are good they’re not going to come back and bother you. They’re going to move on to the next place or they may not even bother coming back at all. The next person, like I said, the operators, you’ve got to look after them and you’ve got to make sure that if you’ve got a player that is screwing the operator, you have to do the right thing there as well. But without the players you’ve got nothing, you have nothing. So if you’re delivering players to a shiesty casino and these players are getting screwed, you’ve lost that traffic and you’ve got somebody that’s walking away bitter. Are they going to come back to online gambling? Who knows, but they’re not going to come back to you. We certainly don’t need more black eyes in the industry, that’s for sure.
Warren: Do players talk, I mean, now with social media and even you’ve got sites in the consumer world like Rip-Off Report and others. Do these players typically go out and voice their opinions even outside of industry sites?
Debbee: I think they do. I think it’s different though because I think that there’s always that sort of, there’s that little bit in people that really don’t want their gambling habits known. I think that some people feel uncomfortable and a little embarrassed. It’s sort of under-cloak, you know? But I do think it leaks out, I think that people if they feel like they’ve been taken advantage of, no matter what situation it is, it’s going to get out.
Warren: How does an affiliate or website publisher weed out the bad operators from the good ones?
Debbee: Common sense, a little bit of research. We all know Casino Meister is a wonderful place for information, CAP, and then there are other sites that affiliates can go to for that sort of information. You have to be willing to do the right thing, and that’s really what separates people. If the deal looks really good – if you’re getting 45% and it’s with a casino that’s going to screw people, well first of all at the end of the day they’re going to screw you at some point. If they’re willing to screw the player, they’re going to screw you. So think about that before you do anything. It’s just as easy to do the right thing. Take 30% instead of 45% and you know you’re going to get paid. It’s just common sense, at least for me it is.
Warren: On that note, who are some of your favorite affiliate managers and why?
Debbee: First of all, I miss Nick Yapp, I hope that he finds his way back.
Warren: Is this a shout-out for Nick Yapp right now?
Debbee: Yeah, props. Yeah, I feel terrible for what happened with him, and I think he was a really great affiliate manager. Martyn Beacon of course, it’s no secret I’m a big fan of his, and out of everybody I would have to say James Woods is probably the model of what affiliate managers should be.
Warren: And just for our audience that doesn’t know, Nick Yap was with Casino Coins. Martyn Beacon is now with Affiliate Edge, which used to be CWC Affiliates, and James Woods is with Bet365. Great, I tend to agree with the list.
Debbee: Thank you.
Warren: So, you’ve been in the industry longer than most. What’s your thoughts on U.S. regulation, when is it going to happen? How is it going to impact website publishers and affiliates around the world?
Debbee: When is it going to happen? I would be a really wealthy girl if I knew the answer. I think it’s going to be soon, it just seems like it’s heading in that direction. From what I can see, it looks like DC may be the first and I think that’s kind of ironic, and if that does go through I think it’s supposed to be towards the end of the year, that’s pretty quick. I think that we’ll see Poker, definitely in this coming year. I think that we’ll start seeing bits of Poker around. I think once that happens it’s all going to sort of snowball. I think that within a couple of years we’ll see basically all forms of casino gambling online.
Warren: What sites, in your opinion, will survive post-U.S. regulation?
Debbee: That’s going to be very different. I think that we’re going to have a different situation when it comes to advertising when these guys go online because they’re going to have access to full media, everything that has been closed off for the past six years. They’ll have full access to it and they’ve got the big cash. The sites that are going to do well are the sites with, in my opinion, are going to be the sites that have iconic value, that have substantial historical content, and that have an active sort of membership and it’s not just traffic. I think it’s going to be something where – these guys, these LAN-based guys already have access to hundreds and thousands of players, so this is going to be more of a branding exercise for them to just say, “Hey you can now see us online”, rather than a full- out marketing campaign as we’ve seen it in the past.
Warren: So you believe the real brands will stick around?
Debbee: I think so. I think people that had been focusing so much on non-web stuff are going to be struggling a little bit. I also don’t anticipate that affiliate stuff is going to be what affiliates are used to currently. I think that once the U.S. goes onboard, I think that most affiliates will be lucky to get 10% from these casinos. I think it’s going to be much more paid media in this situation. It’ll be very much back to the old days, you know 10, 12 years ago.
Warren: Yeah many people are saying it’ll be just like a low CPA, like $25 a player, some token fee that gets paid.
Debbee: Yeah, the difference is though now you’ve got, basically, you’re out of the shadows and you’re dealing with legitimate businesses or what is perceived to be legitimate. I’m not saying that the industry was not legitimate previously. You’ve got these brands that are recognizable, and now it’s going to be okay for players to come out and be open about that they’re playing online. You’re going to have a lot more players coming in. So I think the availability of making money is definitely going to be there. You’re going to be delivering a whole lot more to get what you’re getting paid now.
Warren: That makes sense. Where do you see the real opportunities in online gaming over the next three years?
Debbee: Oh boy, I don’t see that there’s much of a change in things. I think the Spanish market is something I’ve always been very impressed with, and I think that we’re finally starting to see movement in that direction. I think that it’s always been an issue of getting processing into the Spanish speaking countries now that they’re there.
Warren: When you say Spanish speaking, are you referring to more Latin America or South America?
Debbee: You see, that’s the beauty of the Spanish market. You’re talking about Spain; you’re talking about North America; and you’re talking about Central America and South America. It’s the third largest spoken language and these are people that traditionally love games. They love their little lottery games and their bingo games. They just love all that stuff, so this is a really great market, in my opinion. I think that if people can move in that direction and they can get proper translations, I think that that is just the golden ticket right there.
Warren: So this will be our last question. What’s been the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your years of being in the business? Single biggest lesson…
Debbee: Can I give you two?
Warren: Sure, we’ll take two.
Debbee: The first one is have a really good sense of humor, and just get out of it if you can’t handle the fluidity of the situation, and the second is build strong relationships. Just know that the relationships that you’ve got are what are going to take you down the road. They’re going to be the people five, ten years from now that you can count on to help you out. Relationships are just so overlooked in this industry and it really is the most important thing.
Warren: Deb, it’s been great having you on the interview today. Thanks again for your time. If anyone wants to contact Debbee after this interview, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’d be happy to put you in touch. Thanks everyone for watching and stay tuned for future interviews with online gaming industry leaders. Take care.