Christopher, CEO of SureBety Ltd, joins the latest series of affiliate interviews on Affiliate Grand Slam
Christopher and the rest of the team of SureBety strongly believe in communication and in educating players. His priority is focused on the good of the player - follow his story below.
How did you first get into the affiliate space? From where did you start your affiliate business and how?
My betting adventure started in 2004 in Poland, when a friend showed me how to bet. In the beginning, of course, I was losing, so I was looking for information on how to improve my results. There was no place on the internet where this knowledge would be well organised, so I decided to create such place. On Christmas Eve 2007 SureBety.pl officially was launched.
I obtained my first affiliate programs from bookmakers, which I used myself. In the footer there was always links to “Affiliates” and that's how it all started for me.
What can you tell us about Poland’s Gaming Law? What is the gambling situation in Poland?
Until 2009, the gambling law in Poland was practically unregulated. In 2010, a new law was passed at a rapid pace of three weeks, which was full of holes and forbade foreign bookmakers to operate without a Polish license. In practice, it was unable to enforce against bookmakers and therefore the size of the shadow economy is estimated, according to Roland Berger's report, at 90% in 2010-2017.
In April 2017, a register of non-compliant domains and payment blocks was kept. After adding the bookmaker's domain address to the register of non-compliant domains, bookmakers added a sequential number to the end of the domain and redirected traffic from the old domain to the new domain with a different number.
Payment blocks also turned out to be ineffective because they only affected Polish banks, Skrill, and Neteller internet wallets. It must also be added that online advertising of foreign bookmakers has been banned. All these factors caused the share of the shadow economy to drop to around 40-60% in 2020, depending on the data source.
Currently, Poland has one of the highest turnover taxes in Europe. Players must pay 12% tax on each settlement of this coupon, and if the win exceeds 2280 PLN (~500 EUR), then 10% income tax is also added on the value of the win. A 12% or 22% tax on each coupon means that earning money on bets in Poland by legal bookmakers is almost a miracle. In the long run, this situation is unsustainable in my opinion. The example of the GGR tax in Denmark shows that state budget revenues can drastically increase. Despite this, the current political authority is not inclined to liberalise the market. Changing the law depends on the gambling lobby in Poland.
Can you tell us more about the legal and illegal gambling in Poland?
The years 2014-2016 were a period of punishing players for participating in illegal bets. The whole thing was publicised in such a way as to cause fear. However, the amount of the penalties was symbolic (125-1250€), and the punished players (17.700 players with only 27 mln PLN won amount gives 1500PLN/player) were amateurs whose data was obtained illegally.
From 2017, politicians changed their strategy and decided to punish website owners. In this case, it turned out to be more effective. SureBety.pl limited their online advertising to bookmakers that are not on the block list. Others may be advertised via non-public channels, for example via email.
Poland has the potential to become one of the most important gaming markets. What can you tell us about this?
From my perspective, Poland is one of the most legally unfriendly countries in Europe in the gambling sector. From what I remember, in 2019 only two bookmakers ended the year with gain. The remaining 15 were at a loss. This affects a smaller number of market operators, so maybe in this respect it is attractive for bookmakers?
What is Poland's position in the Eastern European market?
I don't know. I see Poland as a great potential, which is nevertheless suppressed by legal regulations. Poles like to bet, but they don't like racing where they lose 12% at the start.
Tell us a bit more about your business model, concept, and culture. Also, tell us a bit more about SureBety.pl’s project.
The SureBety.pl brand was built on the education of players. As a result, the percentage of SureBety.pl readers who earned money on bookmakers was around 13%. The rest of the respondents were divided into two groups, one of which circled around zero and the other regularly lost. I don't know what the average is for other sites, but I suspect the winning rate is around 2-3%.
From the bookmakers' perspective, this meant a very high conversion rate, as high as 10%, as players saw that the knowledge imparted was valuable and they trusted us. However, high conversion is not a sufficient condition to convert player traffic into profits. Weaker bookmakers, typical for recreational players, were unable to convert this traffic and such cooperation on the line “SureBety.pl – a weak bookmaker” did not pay off for either party. I recorded notorious losses on my affiliate account with bookmakers, which very quickly limit players to 1€ or 5€ per bet if players outplay them.
In 2021, I decided to focus on promoting only a few or a dozen bookmakers that stand out with a unique offer for bookmakers from Poland.
What is SureBety.pl's position in Poland's betting industry?
SureBety.pl has been number one in Poland for years when it comes to educating players in the field of bookmaking. We have smaller ranges than the competition, but thanks to a much better conversion rate, we are able to stay in the market. I can notice that after 2017 many projects were closed.
Our competition in Poland are mainly websites promoting legal bookmakers. SureBety.pl promote also foreign bookmakers, help in resolving disputes between players and foreign bookmakers, and this raises our reputation.
Which markets do you focus on and do you see any potential in the emerging markets?
I only operate in the Polish market. I have 90-95% of my traffic from Poland.
Until 2020, I focused on the professional and intermediate market. The financial situation and the deterioration of legal regulations in Poland, however, force us to expand our activities so as to focus more on beginner players. Sports betting in Poland is still attractive, and young people are very familiar with new technologies and are looking for knowledge on the Internet. Esports is coming with big steps too.
In 2020, Ukraine improved the legal conditions for gambling. In Poland, the situation has been deteriorating since 2009, but as we say in bookmaking, it is always worth counting on a change in variables. The law in Poland must finally improve, and then those who have built a strong position on the market will win.
What sets you apart from other affiliates? What makes your traffic proposition/traffic sites unique?
I am a person who has a lot of experience in the sports betting industry. I have been actively betting for over 10 years. I worked for a few years for a foreign bookmaker. I focus on quality, not quantity, which often saves time and money both for the bookmakers and myself. If I see any glaring errors to be improved on the bookmaker's website, I report them. I have already done paid audits in this area.
Some bookmakers may not like the fact that I treat cooperation with bookmakers as a partnership. I am not a "link is here and post it on your site" type partner. I have to be convinced of the value of the bookmaker and in case of complaints I expect to be able to mediate if the player cannot get along with customer service. I am aware that this is not convenient for bookmakers, but in return they can count on a much better conversion rate.
There were bookmakers who ignored this need and are now blacklisted. I advise against using their services at every opportunity. So be careful how you treat your partners.
What's your priority? Is it the player's welfare or your relations with bookmakers?
I try to be impartial. My priority, on which the SureBety.pl business model is based, is focused on the good of the player, because the player has always the weakest position. Unfortunately, there are too many bookmakers on the sports betting market that treat players in a strong position and there is no legal possibility to enforce the rights of players, even if the players are right.
I know from experience that players often make mistakes or do not read the bonus conditions or the bookmaker's Terms & Conditions. In such a situation, the bookmaker is usually right. However, there are not clear situations and then I try to resolve the conflict at the stage of mediation – I listen to both parties and present possible scenarios for resolving the conflict.
I am only an intermediary. I try to keep both parties satisfied.
What helps make your performance successful? What are the main challenges?
I've always wanted to be a teacher. I think that I can pass on knowledge and this has determined the success of SureBety.pl.
Over the years, I missed something on the site. There are over 300 articles available online, but this knowledge is messy. In January 2021, I introduced new software and the technical obstacles are already behind me. The year 2021 will be the year of organizing knowledge about betting, so that a person who has never had contact with bets can understand them.
How important is social media activity for your affiliate business?
I do not focus on the social media. We have over 4000 fans on Facebook. From time to time I publish entertainment or information content.
I prefer to develop "ever green" content which will be valid longer than few hours or days. I don't know much about social media and I don't want to develop in this direction. It's just another channel that you need to spend time or money on. In the era of Facebook cutting the reach, I do not see any justification for incurring such costs.
How difficult is Google's constant updates?
Our strength has always been the channel from the Google search engine, due to the good quality of the content. Google updates aren't much of a problem. We follow them on a regular basis and adapt to new trends. We have started new SEO project in May 2020. You can see number of keywords visibility in Google TOP10:
Which qualities and skills are essential in an affiliate team/business?
In my opinion, the most important thing is communication.
You can get to know someone's needs and build a product to meet them, but if you can't communicate it, it won't work. People want to be heard. They will be happy to tell you about their needs, if you just give them a chance. Communication at a low level will generate constant misunderstandings and conflicts, and thus losses or unused potential.
Which emerging technologies like AI and big data will impact the affiliate industry in 2021 and beyond?
I would like to implement artificial intelligence on the website tomorrow, but preparing for this step requires a lot of work and a lot of capital. It should also be remembered that artificial intelligence is still in the early stages of development and, inevitably, there are many errors that can negatively affect the experience of recipients.
Therefore, we focus on building a big data database, and when the time is right, we will simply implement it. There are still a lot of things to optimise for now before this deployment makes sense.
How can affiliates be more unique in their approach?
There are many ways to stand out in the market. Most often it is discovered by chance while surfing the internet. See if something is missing and wonder why someone isn't doing it yet? What could be a YouTube channel or a new podcast or some specific unmet need. All this makes it worth considering the profitability of meeting such a need and base your uniqueness on it.
What are your predictions for the future of the sector?
Sports betting is moving towards automation. Both on the side of bookmakers and players. Bookmakers want to offer odds at lower costs, and players want to spend less time looking for valuable tips. I think this trend will gain momentum in the coming years. However, lowering costs comes at the expense of quality. Since the gambling market is growing at a rate of around 20% per year, most bookmakers focus on gaining customers, not on satisfying them.
I am observing a tendency to launch new bookmakers who buy ready-made software and hope that their main advantage will be marketing. This approach works well in the short term. In the long run, customer loyalty is more important, and this can be maintained with a unique and valuable offer.
How do you choose your operators and how do you manage relationships with them?
Most affiliate partners accept all cooperation offers. We try to be very selective, because ineffective cooperation is time wasted on both sides.
I have to admit that affiliate relationship management is not yet developed at SureBety.pl. We have so many activities on a daily basis that we are basically reactive instead of proactive. In my opinion, the bookmaker should care more about acquiring partners and he should take care of good relations with the partner.
In my experience, people employed in affiliation often do not have the appropriate skills and qualifications to properly manage relationships with partners. Most of them focus on getting a partner and then forget about him. Many bookmakers lack building relationships with affiliate partners, and perhaps selecting partners in terms of revenue growth potential.
Due to the above-mentioned factors, I am skeptical about new cooperation offers. We have a large website and the cooperation offer is not personalised in any way. What's more, partner mentors are often unable to provide unique characteristics of the company they work for. They try to convince me to cooperate without asking my needs. They focus on the number of acquired partners, not on quality.
I am open to new cooperation, but only with this bookmaker who really have something unique to offer to players from Poland. I can sell gambling product, but I need to know why players should choose this particular bookmaker over 500 others. If the partner's manager cannot sell it to me and cannot give a reason why it is worth registering with a given bookmaker, I will not do the job for him.
Ultimately, I limit myself to a few bookmakers that generate the highest profits and I try to tighten my cooperation with them.
Have you ever been to SiGMA? SiGMA Europe, Africa, Asia, or Americas - which of these four expo shows would you likely book on your diary for 2021, COVID-19 permitting?
Yes, back in 2016 and I have very fond memories of this event. However, I'm not looking for new bookmakers as I get many cooperation offers and sometimes I can't keep up with replying. Moreover, booking 2-3 days for travel is a big challenge for a father of three kids and I often don't have time for Polish meetings. But I would definitely like to go to the expo one more time.
Tell us a bit about yourself - after all, business is done with people, not just companies! Your hobbies, favourite book, favourite quote, whether you are into Gaming yourself, etc.
Chess is my hobby. I even ran an amateur chess club for 2-3 years, but then the family took more time.
In the sports betting industry, a lot of themes revolve around money and competition. I have already achieved my goal. I wanted to be fully financially independent and build a happy family.
It is very easy to lose yourself in the pursuit of money. I could make more money, but the question is at what cost? I think it is very important to find a balance between the betting world and private life. Would your life be the same if I were € 10,000,000 richer? If the answer is yes, then I guess everything is fine.
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