The gambling industry has come a long way in recent years and we take a moment to interview some of the iconic figures that have built successful careers in this space as experts in their field. 

This week as part of our THEN and NOW series, we spoke with Better Collective’s  Jesper Søgaard who explained a bit about his ascent through the iGaming and affiliate industry, before giving his predictions on how the sector will continue to evolve in the coming years.

1) How did you join the world of affiliate marketing, and what lead you to set up a business in the IGaming Industry? 

Christian Kirk Rasmussen and I entered the affiliate marketing world back in 2002, when we travelled to Berlin and launched our first affiliate website CasinoVerdiener. After successfully running more affiliate sites within the iGaming industry, we decided to found Better Collective in 2004.

Undoubtedly, it was due to our personal interest in iGaming combined with identified business opportunities in the market that led us to set up the business.

2)  How do you see the affiliate industry has changed over the past two decades?

The affiliate industry has become much more professionalised. Regulation has in many ways matured the markets (especially in Europe), and affiliates have begun to professionalise their operations in different ways. In turn, this has secured a safer gambling environment for bettors.    

The iGaming world was for many years referred to as the wild wild west. With more sound regulation now in place, and continually evolving, affiliates that have been able to stay compliant throughout their operations have risen to the top and helped consolidate the industry.

Today, affiliates hold a stronger position within the industry. For instance, with the launch of the trade association Responsible Affiliates in Gambling (RAiG), affiliates are being listened to by regulators and are in direct dialogue with key stakeholders, such as regulatory authorities, and have a bigger impact on the direction of the industry. In short, affiliates are now considered as legitimate actors in our space, which has not always been the general perception. 

3) What are some of the most memorable things you remember happening that has lead to the current state of play in affiliate marketing?

A big industry disruption took place in 2017 during the big regulatory push in the UK. This e.g. resulted in SkyBet closing their affiliate program, while many other operators considerably scaled down the number of affiliates they collaborated with.

This process of implementing higher standards for affiliates really pushed a professionalization of the affiliate industry and contributed to the consolidation phase that we are in now. 

It is difficult not to talk about the US due to the potential size of the market. First, the anti-gambling law, Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA), which brought the US market from pole position to a complete stop for roughly 10 years. This was a game-changer for the industry. 

Second, the repeal of Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) in 2018 which again opened a market that potentially can surpass Europe in terms of turnover within five to ten years. We are now seeing the first signs of the potential in the states that have opened online betting – it is going to be very interesting to follow this development in the months and years to come.

4) Where do you see the biggest change has occurred in the affiliate space from when you started out – to where your business is now?

The biggest change I have seen in the affiliate space is how affiliates have increased their dedication to compliance. Even though affiliates are not regulated in the same way as operators, new and improved regulation within the iGaming industry has indirectly changed the landscape for affiliates putting higher requirements on legal operations. I really welcome this development as it secures a safer experience for the users.   

5) What are some of the key things you can teach about your past experience to other affiliates travelling the same journey in today’s market?

Focus on a niche and own it. Start narrow and expand from there. It takes a lot of resources to be able to comply with regulations that are constantly updated and renewed – especially when operating many verticals. My recommendation is that new affiliates should focus on something they also have a passion for – it takes a lot of hard work and dedication, and it simply is more fun when you also from a personal perspective enjoy what you do.  

6) Some people think affiliate model is dead, how do you feel the industry will adapt and grow to build new opportunities for partnerships to succeed?

I don’t think the affiliate industry is dead. On the contrary, while the iGaming industry is constantly developing and becoming more complex with more operators, more games to bet on, etc. affiliates’ role in this ecosystem has become more evident as affiliates hold a role where they can make it easier for online bettors to navigate this complex entertainment world.  

As we have seen in other more mature industries, such as the travel industry, where players like Booking.com and Hotels.com are becoming large aggregators and not just information providers, I see an opportunity for the iGaming industry to grow in the same direction. At BC, we find inspiration from these businesses and are not afraid to say that our strategic goal is to become the number one sports betting aggregator in the world.   

What we also see is that affiliates find new ways to add business verticals. Recently, we entered a partnership with NJ Advance Media to deliver our innovative technology and content for sports betting and casino on www.nj.com to educate and empower the New Jersey audience of online bettors and help them navigate in a market of rapid growth. 

I forecast affiliates will continue innovating and building new partnerships across verticals and operations that will strengthen their market outreach to add new touch points with the online bettors.

So affiliates’ ability to be agile has never been as important as it is now, as the affiliate model is far from dead, but rather in a state of constant evolution.