Affiliate Q&A - Sam Darkens, Commercial Manager at OLBG

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With our latest Affiliate Q&A, we speak with Sam Darkens, Commercial Manager at OLBG. Sam has vast experience in the iGaming industry, and he shares his insights on regulated markets, casino and much more!

Income Access (IA): Thanks for speaking with us Sam! Can you tell us a bit about your background in the iGaming industry and current role with OLBG?

Sam Darkens (SD): My pleasure Michael, always great to catch up! OLBG was actually my first foray into the industry and primarily brought on through my interest in sports. I did some freelance writing work on both the UFC and Bundesliga while at University and wanted to get more involved in the sports side of things, but my writing days are very much behind me now.

I joined the team initially as a data analyst for the commercial team, which coincided with our pivot in focus to longform content on the UK side of the business. Currently, however, I'm the Commercial Manager for all GEOs and products that OLBG promote, but still ensure that we keep that data background as a strong part of the process when looking to deliver on our core MO of delivering high quality players for our partners.

IA: You’ve been with the OLBG team for nearly seven years now, congrats! What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the industry over your time?

SD: I definitely feel as though I've seen a large amount of change, but given that OLBG has been around since 2002, there's always somebody on the team that can tell me I haven't seen anything yet!

The largest shift I've seen was definitely the onset of Google moving to mobile-first in their algorithms. Obviously as an SEO affiliate, Google has a large hand in where things move, but the rapid shift to mobile performance being above all was the most dynamic period I've seen within the industry by far.

There's also been a lengthy process of quality upgrades a well, especially in the UK market. As compliance and regulation has increased, it's meant that affiliate sites have had to ensure that they deliver accurate and useful content to the user if they want to prove themselves in the space. What I think we've seen now is that those affiliates that can deliver strong quality and acquisition to operators in the market are the ones that are delivering concise, accurate and transparent information to their users.

IA: OLBG has a strong focus on regulated markets and working to reach users there. Naturally, compliance is an important element when looking at regulated markets. What developments have you seen to compliance recently?

SD: I think the most interesting developments have come from newer regulated markets in the space, rather than the more saturated ones.  We've worked within UK regulations for years, and so are very much used to the requirements in order to promote compliantly in the market, but we were very interested to see two divergent paths in North America, specifically the US and Ontario.

Ontario pretty much launched into a state similar to a solidified, mature market - promotion or mention of offers is not permitted, and operation is not too dissimilar to Australia in that sense. However, strict regulations like Australia have been brought in over time as governing bodies have assessed the impact and decided best conduct moving forwards, so a new regulator starting from this position was a welcome surprise.

The US on the other hand has been more fragmented due to the state-led approach to licensing and regulation. Generally speaking, it was a bit more akin to the 'Gold Rush' period in the early UK online market, but we're starting to see more and more operators be conscious of their promotional language just as we are in the UK now. I think generally we expected the US to mature at a much faster rate than the UK did, but I think this year we'll see a rapid shift in the language and promotional approach permitted by stateside operators.


IA: Recently, casino has become a big focus for the team at OLBG. What’s the biggest difference from working on casino to sportsbook in your opinion?

SD: Absolutely - casino only started for us in the middle of 2020, so the speed at which we've seen the project grow has meant we give it the same amount of attention as our sports operation now.

The biggest difference with casino when compared to sports is the pace across the board. Generally speaking, casino operators have a great understanding of how their product converts, what kinds of players they want, and what sort of budget they have to acquire them. This means that if you have the volumes, operators will look to secure a portion of those volumes however their budget allows.

Sports on the other hand is very much longer tail when building accounts. We focus on the same metrics for both sports and casino when assessing players - deposit amounts and frequency, wagering profiles, churn rate etc., but cohorts of players take months to reach their true value, whereas casino can be much, much quicker.

It's definitely something we're learning more about over time however - as we've been promoting sports for so many years, we have a very good handle on what player values should look like at certain points in the player lifecycle. As we're still growing our casino project, these player quality indicators are increasing monthly, and so it becomes hard to get a confident read on 6-12 month indicators!

IA: OLBG is known as The Most Knowledgeable Sports Betting Community in the World and rightfully so! Can you tell us more about the terrific community you’ve fostered there and how you work to retain them?

SD: I think the community has thrived over the years since our products always have a user's hand in their development. We have multiple team members that either love to tip, or have specifically used OLBG in the past, so as such we have a wealth of experience to draw from when creating tools and content for our tipster community.

Our core focus is to ensure that users lead the majority of our content on site - if the users feel rewarded; by seeing their tip comments rated highly by others, climbing up the leaderboards, winning one of our free to play competitions - they feel as though they have a real hand in shaping the site, which is exactly what we want.

Even on the commercial side, I work with the community team to encourage our users to leave their genuine reviews for our bookmaker and casino partners, as it's important to us to ensure they can assist other users with their feedback wherever possible.

For more information on OLBG or to discuss a partnership opportunity, contact Sam and the team today.

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