Can online casino reviews help you find the top online casinos in 2017?
The sad truth is that most of them probably can’t.
Any time you’re discussing (or reading about) an online casino, real money starts to have an effect on the conversation.
Even the best online casino reviews have an ulterior motive–to get you to sign up and play.
Why is this?
Because most of the websites discussing the niche are affiliates.
What Is an Online Casino Affiliate?
I learned about affiliate programs when I worked for Hotels.com in the affiliate marketing department. A gambling affiliate is someone who runs a website and refers potential players to Internet gambling sites in exchange for commissions. If you’re interested in Web marketing, you’re probably already aware of affiliate (or “associate”) programs.
Amazon is probably the most well-known example of an affiliate program, in fact. When you refer customers to Amazon, you get a 5%+ commission on any items they buy. In the case of Amazon, that’s usually not even enough money to buy a cup of coffee–after all, a 5% commission on an $8 paperback is only 40 cents.
But gamblers spend A LOT of money. The average gambler is probably worth at least $1000. Sure, plenty of players gamble and only spend $50 or $100 once, but plenty of other gamblers will lose $1000, $2000, or more every month for months before calling it a day.
Gambling affiliates work with 3 different commission models:
- Rev share
CPA stands for “cost per acquisition”. When an affiliate works with this model, they get paid a flat dollar amount every time a customer is acquired. Definitions of an “acquisition” vary based on what agreement you have in place. It’s common in the gambling niche for an acquisition to be considered a player who makes a first deposit of $50 or more.
Most affiliate programs (and many affiliates) prefer to avoid CPA deals and stick with rev share deals, which I’ll cover next.
Rev Share Affiliates
Rev share means “revenue sharing”. Affiliates working with this model get paid a percentage of the revenue that their referred players generate. This amount is usually between 20% and 40%.
Here’s an example:
Joe Gambler reads my Club World review. He thinks it sounds like a good deal, so he clicks on the link in my report and signs up for an account there. He deposits $200 and loses it all.
My rev share rate might be 25%. If that’s the case, then I get paid a $50 commission that month.
Here’s the plus side to this kind of arrangement:
If Joe Gambler returns to Club World every month and continues to lose $200 per month, I continue to get $50 commissions every month.
If Joe Gambler has some extra money one month and loses $1000 instead of just $200, I get a commission of $250.
And I get those commissions on every player I’ve referred, theoretically for the lifetime of the player.
Here’s the drawback to a rev share deal:
Sometimes players win.
Let’s say I’ve referred 5 players. 4 of them lose $200 each, for a net revenue of $800. But player #5 has a good month and walks away winning $2000.
My net revenue in my affiliate account is -$1200. My player base actually cost money that month, so I don’t get paid any commissions.
The larger your player base is, the less likely it is for this to happen, but happen it does.
I’d guess that on smaller affiliate accounts, you’ll see months with little or no commissions maybe twice a year.
Proponents of this model like to point out how much money you might make if a “whale” signs up through your account. If you’re only getting a $100 CPA, then a player who gambles $10,000 a year was practically given away.
Here’s the problem with that thinking:
It doesn’t matter what a single whale does or doesn’t do. All that matters is what your players do on average over the lifetime of your account.
If your average rev share over the life of your account was $100 per depositor, but you’re getting paid a $150 CPA, you’ve come out ahead.
The other nice thing about CPA deals is that you get your money on the front end instead of having to wait for your players to lose it.
You also avoid situations where you’re having to root for your players to lose. That’s just bad karma.
Thousands of words have been written about the pros and cons of CPA versus rev share, and both sides are adamant that their model is best.
I’ve worked with both models, and they both have their advantages and disadvantages.
The cleanest and best affiliate model isn’t really an affiliate model. It’s a flat rate advertising deal.
Some sites aren’t interested in a pay for performance arrangement. This makes sense, too.
Why would I want to base my income on whether or not someone else is able to convert my referred leads to customers?
Advertising model webmasters get paid a flat monthly fee to feature advertising on their sites. This is the cleanest model of all, because the advertiser and the webmaster running the gambling information site both know what they’re getting, and they’ve both agreed as to its worth.
Here’s an example of how that might work:
Jim Gambling Webmaster has a website that gets 10,000 visitors per month. He makes 6 advertising spots available on that site, at a price of $1000 per month each. 6 different businesses buy that space, so Jim Gambling Webmaster has a monthly income of $6000.
After 6 months, he’s worked really hard to increase his traffic, and he now sees 20,000 visitors per month. He writes to his advertisers at renewal time and explains that since he’s sending them twice as much traffic, he’s raising his advertising rates to $2000 per month.
The advertisers are thrilled, because they were willing to pay $1000 per month for 10,000 eyeballs. But since traffic was growing over those 6 months, they got far more than they’d paid for. Renewing at the higher rate makes sense for them, because they know over the next 6 months that Jim Gambling Webmaster is probably going to increase his number of monthly visitors again.
Occasionally advertisers will be disappointed in the number of conversions they see from an advertising campaign. Savvy webmasters will adjust accordingly. I’ve known webmasters who have refunded advertising dollars in order to salvage a future relationship.
Situations differ, but flat rate advertising deals are better than rev share or CPA deals in a lot of ways–especially if you can get paid upfront for a period of time.
Having money in the bank that you can invest in your business is nice. Ask anyone who’s run a profitable business that had cash flow problems.
What Does this Mean in the Context of “Best Online Casino Reviews”?
That entire section about how affiliate programs work might seem like a lengthy digression, but it’s not. We’re talking about the “best online casino reviews” here. Understanding the motives behind those pages is pertinent in the extreme.
Many people working in the more lucrative Internet marketing niches have questionable morals. They might justify their behavior in any number of ways, but let’s just say that not all Internet marketers are slaves to the truth. And the more money that’s on the line, the more they’re willing to compromise their principles to get their hands on that money.
So that means when you’re reading an online casino review, it’s usually not a review at all. Often it’s just a sales letter.
In fact, some affiliates don’t even care about rigged games or refusals to pay out winners. As long as they’re getting their money, they’re fine.
Some affiliates do care about such things, but they don’t give much thought to the integrity of the information they provide on their sites.
Here’s an example:
Johnny Wager runs a website. He offers ratings on a scale from 1 to 10. His goal is to get players to sign up at these properties.
He lists 5 casinos on his homepage. He decides that a score with 2 decimal points looks more scientific and will help him maximize his conversions.
So his ratings have the following scores: 9.21, 9.88, 9.55, 9.77, and 9.66.
One wonders why he’s ordered these sites in this way, since the lowest rated is listed at #1. Maybe it’s because they offer a better commission rate?
One also wonders how anyone, even an expert in the field, might distinguish between the quality of an Internet casino within 1/100 of a point.
Can the differences be so subtle that you can distinguish between them with such a fine eye for detail?
What to Look For When You’re Trying to Find the “#1 Site for Best Online Casinos”
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a site that actually qualifies as the “#1 site for best online casinos”. When I search Google, most of the results on the first page are affiliate nonsense. I’ll describe what’s wrong with those pages below. You can then look for sites which don’t do the things I’ve described.
Nonsensical Numerical Rating Systems
Most sites which provide a numerical rating are selling you a load of bull. When you read a movie review, you don’t look for ratings on a scale from 1 to 10 that are differentiated by hundredths of a percentage point. They’re usually given a star rating from 1 to 5 stars, and their might be half stars involved.
TIP: Look for Internet gambling site evaluations that use a simpler numerical rating system. Such a site is likely to be more accurate, useful, and honest.
TIP: Don’t assume that just because someone is using numerical ratings that those ratings in any way resemble reality. Marketers are canny enough to know that numbers, even if they’re completely made up, increase the perceived legitimacy of their materials.
Look for Hyperbole and Advertising Speak
Legitimate reviews don’t sound like advertising.
What does advertising sound like?
Here’s an example:
“Are you from the United States and having trouble finding a place to play for real money? Do you enjoy large signup bonuses? If your answer to those questions is yes, you’re going to love this suggestion. Try playing at the unique, one-of-a-kind We Want Your Cash Casino!”
TIP: Real analysis offers real information. They don’t use that kind of breezy, hey-you’re-gonna-love-this kind of tone in their language.
Any time you read something like the above in the first paragraph, you’ll know to look elsewhere for an honest assessment of whether or not you should play at a particular site.
Word Count Matters
Most people running affiliate sites are in business. Their return on investment is a major issue.
And one of the easiest ways to maximize your return on investment is to reduce the size of your investment.
When it comes to publishing pages to the Web, you’ll invest more money in longer, well-researched content than you will in shorter, more generic content.
TIP: If you come across a site offering gambling information, be more cautious of sites with shorter, less-detailed information.
All Positives, No Negatives
You’ll find lots of sites which mention nothing negative about the websites under consideration. This is a huge red flag. Good reviews tell both sides of the story, so look for pages that mention the pros and cons.
An example of a legitimate review with pros and cons might mention that the software looks and sounds great, but the turnaround time for cashing out winnings is lower than average.
A bogus review has nothing but glowing things to say about the site in question.
Where Can You Find Legitimate Online Casino Reviews?
Of course, I’ve written some on this site and I think you’ll find them to be even-handed, accurate, and honest. Here is a list of sites I have reviewed personally.
But I’m not the only webmaster publishing honest reviews. Best Gambling Sites offers some well-written pages, too. They’re light years ahead of most other sites. You can find a lot of useful information at the Casinomeister site, too. The owner has been a player advocate for years, and he’s not shy about calling out businesses on their bad behavior when warranted.
Online casino reviews are a mixed bag, but you can find useful information pages on the Internet if you’re willing to develop some discernment about which pages are nothing more than sales letters and which ones offer actual useful information.