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Age of the free apps: online poker affiliation is changing once again

By iGBA Editorial Team

The online poker world is an ever-changing landscape that often brings uncertain times for affiliates. Ex-pro Tadas Peckaitis explores how free-to-play poker apps have impacted the future of affiliates in the market

The online poker industry has grown tremendously over the past few decades, and there is no doubt that poker affiliates have played a major role. Since the start, poker rooms have accepted the affiliate marketing model as the main path to player acquisition.

While the largest companies invested (and continue to invest) significant amounts into direct marketing, many smaller rooms relied almost exclusively on affiliates to bring players their way.

The main reason why this model worked so well is its transparency. Affiliates were paid based on the number of players they brought or the rake generated. Thus, rooms didn’t have to pay anything in advance.

Low maintenance, high reward is now the past

During the golden days of poker affiliation, affiliates didn’t have to do much to acquire players. Players were looking for the best possible deals themselves, and the biggest part of the job was creating these special incentives while maintaining a profit.

After that, a good site could almost run on autopilot and expect to sign up new players. Of course, those who put in the extra effort to get the word out or get in touch with players reaped even greater rewards.

A huge advantage of this model is that once a player signs up with a room, the affiliate is guaranteed profit, be it a one-off payment (so-called cost per acquisition, or CPA) or a revenue share that produced regular payments based on the rake generated by the player.

All this isn’t to say that being a poker affiliate and making money from it was easy. The competition has always been fierce, so getting ahead of the pack was no easy job, and it is even harder today.

If you do not want to direct players to shady sites, only a handful of trusted online poker sites are worth recommending. These brands are already mainstream, and most players have accounts, which poses a big challenge in bringing new players.

But online poker is a living, ever-changing organism, and recent trends suggest that affiliates might need to rethink their approach. While traditional poker sites are still very much a thing, the rise of free poker apps has significantly changed the online landscape.

Free poker apps changing the face of online poker

These apps differ significantly from traditional online poker sites as they are free to play, at least on the surface. Instead of managing everything on the platform level, each club owner is responsible for organising games, finding players and managing payments.

If you want to play in these games, you need to purchase “play chips” from the operator of a specific club or an “agent”, as they called in the poker community. These play chips have monetary value, so you are essentially playing real-money games.

The only caveat is that you can’t withdraw money from the app directly. Instead, you must contact your club owner or manager and they will manually deduct chips from your account and transfer the money to you. All payments are handled outside the app, whether in cash or using bank transfers, e-wallets or crypto.

App operators make money from people buying chips and accessing special features, including private clubs, so it is an entirely different business model. The platforms themselves do not care how you get your players or what you do inside your private club and bear no responsibility.

This model offers new opportunities for players limited by restrictions in their countries since anyone can download and play on a free app, so affiliates can reach much broader markets. The big question is whether this model lends itself to affiliation, and if so, how?

Poker apps and affiliation

Those wanting to get into the affiliation game with poker apps can’t go straight to the source. These apps are free to download and play, so the creators aren’t willing to pay significant money for referrals.

That said, you can strike a deal with a club owner to bring the players. The entire process can be similar to the traditional model where the affiliate brings in the players for a certain compensation, but it’s often not as simple.

Affiliates for these clubs might also be in charge of collecting money from their referred players and taking care of paying winnings. This is a much more hands-on approach where you are directly involved in day-to-day communication with players, carrying significantly more risk.

You are essentially guaranteeing players they will get paid, so you are putting your name on the line. If you do not deliver even once, your business is over. Therefore, you must fully trust club owners and know they are playing by the book. Even then, there is a high risk since you are not controlling anything in this collaboration.

While it is true that you do not have much influence on licensed poker operators, they are not very likely to go bust, and if that happens, no one would ask you directly for a refund. On the other hand, poker clubs can disappear overnight, and you cannot do anything about it. On top of that, you can end up owing your players a lot of money through no fault of your own, so you need to weigh the pros and cons before diving into such a venture.

The bottom line is that the face of online poker is changing, and poker affiliates need to accept this fact and change with it. As always, this path has challenges and opportunities, but those who find their groove will emerge ahead.

Photo by Joshua Sortino on Unsplash


Tadas Peckaitis

played poker professionally for over a decade and founded to offer helpful resources to players. He has launched multiple affiliate websites over the years and has became one of the leading experts in the gambling industry. In 2021, Tadas founded the fast-growing iBetMedia agency helping other gambling brands to reach their targeted players and acquire new customers.

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