Online casino marketing relies heavily on a network of affiliates to find and entice new players to sign up with online casino operators. In turn, affiliate marketers often rely on search engines like Google to find players and direct them to the most suitable casino for their needs. As independent third parties entering into a commercial relationship with the casinos they promote, affiliates work in silos removed from the main marketing thrust of the casinos they’re pushing.
This often leads to a disconnect between affiliates and the guidelines for casino marketing, which many assume only apply to the operators directly. Yet affiliates too have moral and legal responsibilities – not least to those who suffer from compulsive gambling behaviours.
The affiliate industry has therefore come under stark criticism in recent weeks, following the revelation that some are actively targeting search terms relating to GamStop, the UK’s gambling self-exclusion programme.
These are by definition gamblers at the most vulnerable end of the spectrum – those that are likely to sign up and deposit time after time, regardless of the personal harm they suffer as a result. Clearly this is not acceptable practice, and many in the industry are speaking out against those affiliates targeting players in this way.
The matter first came to light earlier this year on Twitter, when a user who was himself self-excluded reported finding casino review content targeting important search terms on Google. In particular, the example he came across was recommending websites based and licensed in the gambling wild west that is Curacao – hardly a shining example of trusted gambling partners.
In certain results, the affiliates were found to be bypassing GamStop sites altogether, despite the content, instead recommending players to casinos that do not participate in these types of measures. Worse, in some cases, their recommendations were for casinos that don’t have a good reputation for their players, let alone for their most vulnerable customers.
Gambling affiliates have an important role to play in the industry, and without question they make a significant contribution to both players and casinos. Having that third party voice in the conversation helps players choose the right casino for them, and makes it easier to find specific information when required.
But affiliates lose value if they cannot be trusted, and immoral breaches of ethics, not to mention advertising guidelines, of this order can only be a bad thing – for the industry, and for the individual players affected by these strategies.
The responsibility for this lies with operators, and many respectable operators have long since begun tightening up controls on their affiliates and how they are allowed to promote their businesses. But affiliates too need to live up to their side of the deal, and take a more responsible approach to the issues around problem gambling.
If they want to avoid more stringent regulation from the Gambling Commission, affiliates should take a more professional approach, ensuring they are only pitching to those who fully understand the risks and can enjoy gambling responsibly within their own circumstances.