Rogue Affiliates Embarrassed Us, Sky Bet CEO Says

Sky Betting & Gaming decided to kill its online gambling affiliate programme after it discovered rogue affiliates touted its brand on pornography and illegal sports-streaming sites, and others posted advertisements that got it hammered by regulators, Sky Bet’s chief executive has said.

An August rebuke from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) came courtesy of an affiliate plugging an alleged £296,000 win by a McDonald’s employee on Sky Bingo Casino.

“That was totally made up; it was fake news,” CEO Richard Flint said. “We couldn’t identify who the affiliate was. I just said, ‘forget it’.”

Today, Sky, along with rivals Ladbrokes, 888 and Casumo were all chastised by the ASA for a series of very similar affiliate-sponsored advertisements hyping debt-laden “William”, a gambler hoping to cheer himself up by winning a million-pound jackpot.

“That was the last straw,” Flint said.

Flint and others were speaking at Tuesday’s World Regulatory Briefing London conference on responsible gambling, self-exclusion and harm minimisation.

Sky Bet’s move to torpedo its affiliate programme is shaking up the free-wheeling, entrepreneurial world of affiliates, but companies including Ladbrokes Coral Group and 888 are also seeking to rein them in as data and consumer protection rules tighten.

Also speaking on Tuesday, at the IMGL Autumn Meeting in Copenhagen, Sky Bet’s chief legal officer Ben Murphy cited increased pressure from the UK Gambling Commission as another key factor in the decision to end all affiliate relationships.

“There does see to be a real nervousness and frustration within the commission about a lack of compliance around advertising in particular,” said Murphy.

Ending Sky Bet’s third-party affiliate programme was an “easy decision”, Flint said. “We have enough regulatory challenges, and I don’t mind if we have to sacrifice some profit.”

Murphy described Sky’s decision as a “wake up call” for affiliates, adding “it’s about time they review their practices and take heed of recent developments”.

“I’m sure that other operators will be looking closely at what we’ve done,” said Murphy.

Sky Bet owns Odds Checker, one of the largest affiliates, but it has “control” there, Flint said.

In contrast, Stockholm-listed Mr Green is not in a position to cancel its affiliate programme, but it keeps a tight rein with what it calls a “no excuses, no bullshit” policy, said CEO Jesper Kärrbrink.

“No streaming, no porn, no racist material,” he said. “We have to approve every offer; we have to approve every link they’re using.”

If an affiliate is found to have used an improper channel, “we don’t pay”, Kärrbrink said. “It’s an extremely effective policy.”

This week, Mr Green debuted a player protection tool it calls Green Gaming.

Players can opt into a programme which gives them a better picture of their own gambling habits, and gives the company indications that a player may have or may be developing a gambling problem, Kärrbrink said.

Players start with a self-assessment, then within a week or two the data tool will have assessed their habits and the company can respond with suggestions or warning messages.

Mr Green and others are looking forward to Sweden’s planned online gambling licensing legislation, and officials have made it clear they want operators to take the lead on player protection, Kärrbrink said.

“We need to be proactive and get ahead of the regulatory wave that’s headed our way,” he said.

Additional reporting by Joe Ewens.

In focus: Affiliates