The dust has settled: The current affiliate landscape in New Jersey

The dust has settled: The current affiliate landscape in New Jersey

One year on from the NJ DGE offering affiliates a choice between ceasing to promote unregulated operators or losing their state-issued licensure, Alana Levine of Income Access caught up with a number of affiliates active in NJ. 

Published 7th December 2016

One year ago, affiliates in the New Jersey market stood at a crossroad. The New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement (DGE) had required affiliates and marketers to make a decision on whether to cease promoting unregulated operators or lose their stateissued licensure. The policy was put in place in order to prevent underage gaming and maintain game integrity, as well as to ensure adherence to anti money laundering and responsible gaming requirements.

At the time, there were mixed opinions as to what impact this would have on the growth of the market. For most, the prediction was that affiliates choosing to comply with the DGE’s policy would have the greatest opportunity to grow the market. The headline numbers speak for themselves, as the latest New Jersey report revealed 29.6% year-onyear revenue growth as of this October.

To reflect on the past 12 months, we took the opportunity to speak with a number of affiliates active in the New Jersey market for their take on the past year and the opportunities they see in store for 2017.

Why promote in New Jersey?
For most affiliates, New Jersey represents an entryway into the US market. It provides an opportunity to become educated in new demographics, build and expand player databases, and gain a foothold in the market should other states regulate in future. Although no additional states have since moved to regulate iGaming, the continual year-on-year growth in New Jersey has proved encouraging for affiliates.

Some affiliates have found it exciting to participate in a burgeoning industry. Kerry Phelps of Casino Coupons, for example, said: “New Jersey was one of the first states to legalize online gambling, and so it is exciting to be part of growing a brand new industry from the beginning.”

I strongly believe that having a social presence will increase the awareness of casino games

Others that come from a European background have experience working in new and tightly regulated markets. For example, to the team at Highlight Media Group, owner of sites such as casinoguide.com and casinotoplists.com, New Jersey was particularly attractive as it represented a new frontier where they could apply their experience and targeting abilities within a fair and level playing field.

A positive impact from regulation
The general consensus regarding the DGE’s marketing policy has been positive. The team at Casino Coupons saw the clampdown as potentially having a negative impact on revenue by keeping big affiliates completely out of the market. At the same time, as Casino Coupons only promote New Jersey DGE-approved online casinos, it has allowed them to continue to capture greater market share.

In a similar stance, Erik Gjerde, Head of Casino at Highlight Media Group, is pleased with the approach that the DGE has taken. “From day one, there was a clear goal to regulate online wagering, and the DGE’s approach makes it easy for additional states coming forward soon,” said Gjerde. “So far, our business has experienced a short-term decline, but we have accounted for this and we are looking forward to opening up new channels as we progress.”

Victories on the home front
Although the New Jersey iGaming market is still relatively young, affiliate marketing best practices remain the same. At the core of any successful affiliate venture are open lines of communication, quality content, and fair business practices.

According to Phelps of Casino Coupons, quick and easy communication with the casino affiliate managers has been a key contributor to the success they’ve seen in the market. In addition, Phelps mentions factors such as “ensuring they have the best offers available to their customers” and “having good quality content on their website” as strong influencers in their growth.

What are the biggest contributors to the market’s overall growth from an affiliate perspective? It is the mutual investment by brands in their advertising. According to the team at Casino Coupons, the most impactful channels contributing to the market’s growth are TV commercials, followed by social media campaigns and affiliate marketing.

As for veterans like Bryan Bailey of Casinomeister, the New Jersey market is ripe with opportunity for affiliates that are experts in search engine optimization (SEO). “Because affiliates are unable to purchase AdWords in the US, they rely on SEO best practices to build a community and create buzz,” said Bailey on a recent panel at G2E. This means that the smaller affiliates have found success by optimizing for localized and long-tail keywords.

If there was some way to accept VISA transactions and verify location without downloading and installing a geolocation plugin, that would greatly impact conversion rates

Still room for growth
Affiliates are generally valuable indicators of market pulse and can provide on-theground feedback regarding product, player experience, and overall performance. Within the New Jersey market, affiliates are gaining a sense over time of what’s working and what can be improved.

One of the biggest challenges that affiliates have faced to date is educating the market. According to Phelps at Casino Coupons: “Our strategies for the US and Europe are very different and we keep them completely separate. In New Jersey, educating the customer that online gambling is legal is the biggest hurdle. Having great offers to send our customers is also very important. Without an attractive offer the customers aren’t as likely to give it a try.”

In addition, several affiliates have commented on remaining issues that their customers are seeing related to age and location verification, as well as with making deposits. “If there was some way to accept VISA transactions and verify location without downloading and installing a geolocation plugin, that would greatly impact conversion rates,” said Phelps.

Beyond iGaming
Of the affiliates that we spoke with, many have begun expanding their efforts in the US by exploring verticals and products outside of iGaming in New Jersey. The team at Casino Coupons has recognized this alternative growth opportunity and is seeing success running hybrid online and brickand- mortar casino offers in Atlantic City and Pennsylvania, as well as in sending some of their traffic to social casino sites online.

Highlight Media Group is already working with other segments and verticals like mortgage in most other states in the US. Gjerde said: “For 2017, we are looking to acquire or extend our verticals. We see good potential across several other areas where we will be able to apply our knowledge from previous years to be a dominant actor in the space.” In addition, the group is looking to launch its own social casino platform within the next year. “For brands, I strongly believe that having a social presence will increase the awareness of casino games and let people explore their interest in casino without the hassle of risking their own money,” explained Gjerde.

Others are less sure of the opportunities. Chris Grove, Editor-in-Chief of Online Poker Report, believes marketers and affiliates should hedge their efforts in regulated New Jersey, as their investment in time and effort may take longer to pay off than expected. According to Grove: “The US could prove to be a lucrative market, based on growth on the casino side in New Jersey. But affiliates have to balance that potential against the reality that we’ve now gone three years without a new state coming online.”

What can we expect for 2017?
As we enter into the fourth year of regulated iGaming in New Jersey, the market is in a much stronger position. Content and product have expanded, payment processing is continuously improving, and data and analytics have provided fruitful insights into marketing efforts and performance. With the growth of the New Jersey market and talk of states such as Pennsylvania regulating in the coming year, there is no doubt that we will see a growing appetite from affiliates looking to expand theirpresence in the US.

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