The legal betting landscape in USA with Mike Murphy
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Tell us about your BettingUSA.com site and aside from the obvious betting content, what else do you cover on the site?
We launched BettingUSA.com in 2014, believing that regulation was coming to the US market eventually, and wanting to be prepared to capitalize on the market as affiliates. I believe we can lay claim to being the first “50 state guide” to legal online betting in the United States. Other sites at that point were targeting the New Jersey market, but no other websites that I’m aware of put the time and effort into exploring the legal landscape in the rest of the country.
Our overall approach is pretty simple, in addition to our state guides we also aim to review every licensed operator in the market - and we do this whether we have an affiliate relationship with the brand or not. We like to think we do it objectively, and without bias, as much as possible as an affiliate - of course our main goal overall is to earn a living and profit from the biggest betting boom in global history.
We cover all markets - not just sports betting and online casinos. We have complete coverage of daily fantasy sports and the new style of “prediction” apps, which we view as a legitimate alternative for those who still live in states without legal online sports betting. We also cover online horse racing betting in depth, many don’t realize just how broad the access is (and has been for many years) for US bettors. In fact, online horse racing betting via “advance deposit wagering” sites and apps have been available to most of the country for over 10 years now.
Lastly, we’re starting to cover the slow spread of online lottery more. There is an interesting mix of official state lotteries taking products online, and states that allow courier services. If you had asked me ten years ago if a state monopoly online lottery would choose to work with affiliate partners, I would have fell off my chair laughing. And, while it’s true most of the dozen or so states with online lotteries do not work with affiliates, three states do: Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.
In addition to the state lottery markets that are “affiliate friendly” courier services are available in 15 states - the commissions are very small, but we feel the market is poised for major growth over the next five years.
What are your predictions for the iGaming industry in the United States for 2023 and beyond?
Touching on what I mentioned above, I think online lottery is very likely to continue growing. I suspect we’ll see a couple more states legalize online casino games, likely with online poker attached, but the explosive wave of legal casino states that European operators are hoping for seems very unlikely at this point. My best educated guess tells me that the states most likely to expand into online casino gambling include New York, Indiana, and Illinois. That would be a sizable expansion if it happens, but the process will be slow.
Beyond that, I think we’re going to see increasing amounts of scrutiny creep into the legal sports betting industry, and possibly a major scandal or two. Watchdogs, anti-gambling crusaders, and even state legislators are starting to pay more attention to the negative effects wider access to online gambling brings. Calls to addiction helplines are increasing at alarming rates in states like New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Increasingly flooded airwaves with nonstop sports betting advertising is leading to questions of “how much is too much” and once this inevitable wave of scrutiny starts happening, it’s tough to put that genie back in the bottle.
What do you think of the requirements of many states requiring affiliates to be licensed for promoting online gambling?
I’m a fan of the concept of “registering” as an affiliate, we operate in a vice industry and I think it’s important for state gambling regulators to know who you are, with some basic requirements on who can and who cannot promote online gambling. The affiliate industry attracts both some of the best people I’ve ever met, and some of the worst. Just look at the people marketing to “non gamstop casinos” in the UK for an example of the greed this industry can attract - anyone who targets problem gamblers to profit doesn’t belong in a regulated industry.
However, while I’m a fan of the general concept of registering as an affiliate - I’d like to see the process simplified, with some basic requirements that are consistent across multiple states. I think it’s common sense that anyone with financial related felony records, or documented ties to organized crime, perhaps should not be tied to the marketing arm of online gambling. I do not think investigations should go much farther than that, nor do I think an affiliate licensing form should consist of much more than a typical job application normally would.
At first, it seemed like most states would require affiliates to get licensed. Lately the trend has reversed itself. Kansas, Ohio, Massachusetts, Illinois, Iowa, New York, Tennessee, and Louisiana are all legal online sports betting markets that do not require affiliates to get licensed. Notably, Connecticut will be the first state with a full suite of online gambling products that do not require affiliates to get licensed: Connecticut once fully operational will have online sports betting, online casinos, online poker, and online lottery available.
One thing that has never made sense in the way states approach licensing is that it’s only tied to online sports betting, online casino, or online poker. No state currently requires affiliates to be licensed to promote daily fantasy sports, online lottery, or online horse racing betting.
Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Virginia are all three examples: Affiliates can promote racebooks, fantasy sports apps, and online lotteries without being licensed - but must get licensed to promote sportsbooks, casinos, and poker sites.
How does this make sense? The approach is very inconsistent, it would also be great if states would develop reciprocity arrangements so an affiliate licensed in New Jersey for example, could use that license to work in other state markets. Insurance brokers, real estate agents, and other professions that require licensing on a state level usually have these types of reciprocity arrangements available to you - why does each state need to do a background check on me when one federal level investigation can be done by the FBI? It just creates needless hurdles for affiliates to jump through.
Was getting a license easy or hard and how does an affiliate go about doing this?
The difficulty of the affiliate licensing process varied by state, New Jersey is as simple as filling out a form, while Pennsylvania for me personally was frustrating, confusing, and took me significant time to get through. It’s toughest for small affiliate companies like myself who need to balance the time and expenses of going through the licensing process with the need to be working on growing the business. Big affiliate companies have the benefit of legal counsel, and dedicated staff to help speed up the process.
What are your thoughts on Florida, Texas and California opening up to iGaming, will it happen or will politics get in the way?
I generally leave speculation to the many pundits of the industry, but each of the “big three” states have significant challenges ahead. Of those three, it seems like there is renewed optimism for getting something done in Texas in the next couple of years. Florida and California are likely to have another several years of infighting between industry stakeholders, like card rooms and tribal operators, ahead of them.
Aside from the obvious challenges, each of those three markets would be a massive win for the industry. California, Texas, and Florida each have over 20 million people living in them, and California alone is one of the biggest economies in the entire world.
It is safe to say that lobbyists in all three states will continue to be winners in the short term.
What other sites do you manage?
I run a couple other sites, OnlineBettingSites.com is our international targeted website covering regulated markets in the rest of the world, and we’re launching some state specific websites to “hyper localize” our targeting soon, having built a portfolio of hundreds of premium domain names to use. We hope to fully launch BettingBonuses.com and TennisBetting.com and other niche specific affiliate portals, but currently we are lacking resources to properly devote to them, so they remain as future projects, with just a few pages currently published.
Hopefully we can expand our team in the coming year and start to build out more projects, we have a multi-million dollar domain portfolio begging for development - but I’ve found it incredibly difficult just to keep BettingUSA.com up to date with a very fluid and constantly changing market.
Your focus is on sports betting but what other iGaming verticals interest you the most and why?
Horse racing and online lottery come to mind, but we’re fully focused on the US online sports betting opportunity at the moment. It’s always good to be a step ahead and prepare for future market expansion, but we have our hands full at the moment trying to stay fresh in the US sports betting market.
Is iGaming too competitive to get into for any newbie affiliate wanting to get in this industry?
A couple years ago, I would have said absolutely not. New affiliates can jump in and find success - with careful planning and realistic expectations. Lately I’m starting to think the window might be starting to close - I expect greater scrutiny of affiliates to start creeping into the industry, and with more and more giant media companies entering the space, combined with it being a lot more difficult to get organic traction on new websites in under a year, it’s definitely going to require a laser like focus and a specific type of talent.
Affiliates that can leverage video platforms, Tik Tok marketing, and/or building valuable tools and what I frequently call “websites that do something” instead of just traditional organic SEO affiliate marketing, are most likely to find success in the next few years, in my opinion.
That said, I would still encourage anyone to try! Network with other affiliates, don’t be afraid to take chances - I have been an affiliate since 2008 and while my personal success came down to a combination of both hard work and luck (being in the right places at the right times), I certainly experience my fair share of naysayers in the early days.
Even from my own family and friends, in 2010 when I sold my first affiliate website for $80,000 - I was told to invest it in the stock market and never look back. Well, had I done that - instead of taking the risk of investing it all into my affiliate business, I would not have sold my next affiliate website in 2011 for $300,000. Since then, I’ve built and sold over a dozen other affiliate websites, not massive exits like the ones that have made headlines over the last few years, but significant to my quality of life and my ability to provide for my family and be comfortable.
I would absolutely encourage anyone considering entering the business to “take a shot”. I’m living proof you can get lucky, and that hard work pays off - it’s just exponentially harder than it was when I entered the business, and I can realistically say that if I entered the business today, I am not sure I would be able to replicate the success I’ve had.
Aside from any stats tools, what tools do you use to do your job as an affiliate?
I’m pretty invested in onsite and technical SEO, so I use tools like Ahrefs on a daily basis. I also use some content optimization tools, and tools that help with things like internal linking, but mostly human intuition and a natural approach to SEO is what works best for us.
What do you love the most about your work?
Freedom and independence, I frequently jokingly refer to myself as “psychologically unemployable”. I’m not cut out for a cubicle, or the corporate lifestyle. I don’t enjoy “ladder climbing” and frankly prefer to operate under the radar for the most part. Being an affiliate, I’ve been able to travel more, stay at home with my kids during their childhood years, be more engaged with friends and family, and enjoy life in ways that most people can’t under the many burdens of traditional employment.
It can be stressful at times, but it’s overall been very rewarding. I’ve also met some of the best people, and have developed some friendships I expect to last a lifetime as a result.
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