Tottenham Report: Affiliates – The secret weapon in the fight for responsible gambling? By Curtis Roach January 6, 2021 at 10:00 pm The recent acquisition of safe-gambling-solutions company Mindway AI by Better Collective is not only a prime example of the progress made in the affiliate market, but also a strong indicator of what the future holds for this increasingly influential section of the gaming industry. An affiliate company should no longer be thought of as a ‘one-man-band’ operating out of someone’s bedroom. These operations are now major corporate entities pushing the industry forward as a whole. The need for change The majority of affiliates around the world can operate with no license requirements. This, of course, presents increased risk for operators who are completely liable for any problem-gambling-related issues that arise, especially in our industry where, in some cases, affiliate marketing contributes up to 50% of an operator’s online traffic. This unequal spread of risk has caused many issues in the past, leading to some of the industry’s most prominent operators completely axing their affiliate programmes, sending shockwaves throughout the industry. For example, in 2017, Sky Betting and Gaming terminated all affiliate partnerships, stating, ‘In order to continue to operate in a compliant manner, we feel that operating the programme is no longer viable and that managing the output of affiliates presents a significant risk to our business from a regulatory perspective’. More recently, in 2019, the Dutch regulator (KSA) began a major crackdown on its affiliates and during an investigation into its 44 affiliate sites found that at least 26 of them were in breach of online marketing rules. Examples such as the above, plus many more over the years, have helped to highlight the growing need for change in the affiliate world and a strong business case for prioritising responsible gambling. Signs of Maturity Commenting on the recent Mindway AI acquisition, Better Collective CEO Jesper Søgaard stated, ‘Responsible gambling remains a strategic focus area for Better Collective where we continue to increase our efforts. We see Mindway AI’s technologies as best-in-class and foresee the business will play an increasingly important role in the online–gaming ecosystem, as responsible gambling continues to be at the very top of the industry agenda’. This is a great reflection of the major advancements the affiliate industry is making with its battle for player protection. This attitude is not limited to the biggest affiliates; smaller entities are also making great strides. Online casino affiliate Slots Temple were one of the first in the UK to introduce an innovative age–verification system to their site, as well as a slew of other player–protection measures, including introducing their visitors to tools available at operator sites to keep their play at a healthy level. In a recent interview with www.igamingfuture.com, Slots Temple CMO, Fraser Linkleter, said, ‘The industry only survives if it remains fun and entertaining to players. No one in modern regulated environments wants to see problem gambling’. Another positive sign of the changing tide in affiliate marketing came last summer as Trade Association RAiG (Responsible Affiliates in iGaming) declared its support for a statutory licensing or registration regime for the UK market. Although clearly acknowledging that many improvements could be achieved through voluntary measures, an internal review of current social-responsibility and responsible-gambling standards determined that setting out and implementing minimum requirements via a licensing process would be the most effective way of raising standards across the affiliate sector. This received highly public support from some the industry’s biggest brands, such as Better Collective and Natural Intelligence. Although this may seem like the best solution to many, to safeguard the sustainable future of the affiliate sector, some industry commentators are not as confident and have raised concerns. The increased risk of black-market activity is a growing fear for industry stakeholders who believe alienation of some affiliate brands means players will lose a vital resource for finding reputable brands. The Road Ahead When considering the relatively quick transition the affiliate sector has made from the bedroom to the boardroom, it’s no surprise that there are still key changes to be made. The top priority for us as an industry should always be to ensure a fun and safe customer experience for all. Player protection, now more than ever, plays a critical role in achieving this objective. Looking back over the last few years, it’s clear that this sector is learning from its mistakes and at all levels of the ecosystem, efforts are being made to improve responsible–gambling standards. The findings and subsequent recommendations resulting from the UK Gambling Act Review currently under way will be a pivotal point in the future progress of this sector. However, with the transition toward a more regulated market, spearheaded by RAiG, already in the works, perhaps the impact of the review can be mitigated ahead of time. What’s also important is to appreciate the key role affiliates play in channelling players to safe onshore gaming platforms. Any regulation that is too stringent may put this at risk. The likes of Better Collective and Natural Intelligence have substantial resources and funds at their disposal and, in some cases, have already been through the licensing process in other markets such as the U.S., but the smaller brands are in a very different position. Curtis Roach has worked in the gaming industry since 2014, creating high–level content. The majority of his time has been spent conducting in-depth research of the igaming market and creating an invaluable network of industry contacts, enabling him to produce highly topical and engaging content for both live and digital channels. Curtis has spearheaded content campaigns for some of the industry’s leading events, content platforms and industry brands including iGB Live!, ICE Africa, SiGMA, Evolution Gaming and iGB Affiliate. Now a freelance Content Writer servicing the gaming industry exclusively, he provides readers with key insights, pushing the boundaries of our industry further forward.