In this interview of our PM Talks series, Artyom Matevosyan talked with Catie Di Stefano, director of community marketing at OnlineGamblers. Catie shared her journey from Sweden to the iGaming industry, her experiences, networking strategies, and her role at OnlineGamblers.
Catie shared insights on the unique dynamics of the US market, efficient player acquisition methods, emerging trends, and what American players seek from operators. The importance of responsible gambling education is a recurring theme for Catie, emphasizing the need for industry-wide commitment.
Let’s start with a bit of a background check. What is your story and how did you wound up in the iGaming industry?
I’m from Sweden, half Indonesian and half Swedish. I started my career path in iGaming in 2011. Back then, I just wanted to move somewhere where Swedish people could easily get a job. So, I googled “where can Swedish people work abroad”, and Malta came up. I booked a ticket two weeks later, very spontaneously, and went down. The idea was to find work for a period of 6 months, but just like many others, I got stuck there longer – for eight years.
I started at Betsson as a Swedish customer support agent and then just worked my way up. I was one of the first employees of Betit, which was later acquired by GiG in 2016. For six years I was doing everything from customer support to CRM. And through that experience, I ended up as a consultant from GiG to Hard Rock Atlantic City. That’s how I actually met you, Artyom.
After I became a self-employed consultant, Hard Rock approached me asking if I’d want to work with them directly, and I just went on that road. Since I was a consultant, Hard Rock helped me get my own vendor license in New Jersey with DGE and I focused on that state for a long time. After I joined Hard Rock as a Marketing consultant, but as I had been with GiG for so many years prior, part of my new job at Hard Rock was also to follow up GiG procedures, spot any mistakes or errors in the platform and quickly escalate to the right person at GiG to get things fixed. 2 Two years later, Hard Rock AC switched both platform and CRM system, and it was no surprise that my consultancy ended. That’s when I decided to start being extra active on LinkedIn as a way to market myself with personal branding to get a new job.
All of a sudden, Havard Lehn approached me, wanting to make me the face of a new affiliate website. Our focus would be on safe, legal and responsible gambling. And because I have seen what’s happened in the last 12 years with regulations in markets like Sweden and Spain due to a lack of RG information, I really truly believe we can be proactive in saving the USA from the same outcome by educating U.S players and operators on safe gambling. This is how I got here, and I believe that if we can continue working on sustainability, generational wealth will create generational health in America.
I know networking has a big role in your professional career. How do you manage to stay so proactive?
Interestingly enough, I’m very much an introverted and shy person. I needed money for my family, and to get more, I had to do stuff that made me uncomfortable, right? After the pandemic, I continued working from home, so conferences were the only times I needed to meet people. I could skip the conferences, by all means, if I wanted. But it’s an opportunity for me to stay up to date on what the latest products are and what the latest markets are that everyone’s talking about. At gatherings, I find new people who want to work with me and create precious networking. So, every two months, I just gather energy for three days to go to conferences, and then the rest of the time I can afford to be super-introverted, staying at home.
But overall, money is what keeps me motivated. I grew up very, very poor, so I think maybe I view money from another perspective, I can see it’s the key to a lot of things, such as access to a better life for me and my family. Besides, I also want to leave a legacy after me. This is why I focus on Responsible Gambling so that when I retire, I feel that at least I did something to make the industry go in the right direction.
Since we’re on this topic, what are the best networking tips and advice that you can share?
I think the best one would be to just show up, right? That’s the simplest one. Bear in mind that I’m an introvert, I don’t go up to the bar and say hi to everyone, but I feel like the best tip for people like me is to meet people you feel comfortable with. And if you’re with people you feel safe, you’re automatically going to be more approachable to others. There’s a high chance one person will approach someone from the group, and it is a good way to introduce yourself and make interesting connections. At the end of the day, networking is a long-term process, and you’re not going to do business right away.
Tell me a little bit about OnlineGamblers. Where does it come from and where it’s going?
OnlineGamblers is a new affiliate site that has been live for nearly a year since its launch in November last year. The idea originated from Havard Lehn, who recognized my commitment to responsible gambling and chose to invest in me, making me the face of the brand. We share a deep passion for responsible gambling and a belief that the industry isn’t doing enough in this regard.
Our conviction is that promoting responsible gambling should extend beyond operators to include affiliates. While some argue that operators alone are responsible for preventing addiction, we disagree. We are delighted to find like-minded individuals who want to assist players and recognize that long-term responsible gambling is not only vital for sustainability but also for eliminating the stigma associated with vulnerable players. Our goal is to prevent the entire industry from facing potential bans, especially in the rapidly evolving U.S. market. We anticipate that a single influential individual or politician, or their family member becoming addicted to online gambling could lead to industry-wide prohibition. We are committed to preventing such a scenario.
Therefore, our mission is to create a safer environment in the U.S by educating players on how to identify licensed sports betting and casino sites. Unlike in Europe, where displaying the MGA logo on your website suffices, the U.S lacks such requirements, leaving players to conduct their own research. We aim to take a proactive approach by teaching players how to determine a site’s legitimacy, set limits, and recognize when it’s time to stop playing.
You’re operating in the quite unique U.S market. What are the specific characteristics of the market? And do they vary based on the state?
The most significant difference lies in the fact that every online operator in the U.S must collaborate with a land-based operator to obtain a license. Additionally, geolocation is crucial, ensuring that all users are within state lines. For example, before New York legalized sports betting, residents would cross over to New Jersey to place their bets.
States vary significantly in their regulations. While many have legalized sports betting, they may not permit fantasy betting or wagering on local college teams due to proximity. Affiliation in the U.S presents unique challenges. We must conduct separate reviews for each state, even for the same operator, like DraftKings in New York and New Jersey. With 52 states, this can be cumbersome. Some also require separate tracking links. We’re still building infrastructure and adapting to a new market, so answers are only sometimes readily available.
For newer affiliates, I recommend exploring multiple states rather than focusing on just one or a few. The U.S market differs significantly from Europe, and regulations are distinct. For instance, SMS marketing, commonly used in Europe, is not allowed in the U.S due to regulatory requirements. Marketing strategies in the U.S often prioritize reaching a broad audience without extensive segmentation.
The next question ties up with the previous one. What would you say are the most common and efficient ways of acquiring players in the US?
The most effective way to acquire players in the States is through news content and social media. However, social media can be highly competitive. News content boosts credibility, especially if it demonstrates knowledge of the latest games and providers. In the US, social events like FanDuel’s fan fest are common, unlike in Europe. Staying informed about such events and engaging with players is crucial. If using social media, respond to comments and build loyalty with individuals who can represent your brand.
Are there any new trends in the U.S market that not a lot of our readers would know?
Newer trends that caught my interest involve the rise of alternative sports. For instance, the Power Slap, launched in March this year, has garnered more social media attention than the NFL, NHL, and NBA combined. We’re seeing an influx of such small-scale sports, like pillow fights, gaining traction. OnlineGamblers has successfully tapped into these trends, driving significant traffic as few others cover them. My recommendation is to explore these emerging sports.
On a broader scale, states are gradually legalizing sports betting, leading to a shift in the American audience’s preferences. Traditional sports events are becoming less appealing, while smaller, more engaging events are in higher demand. This trend prompts the creation of various betting markets, as these events are primarily for entertainment and wagering.
What would you say the American players want from casinos or gaming websites? In other words, what should operators do to enhance their player experience?
To connect better with American players, operators should focus on social engagement. Tournaments and leaderboards are especially popular because they allow players to see and compete against their, let’s say, neighbors. Unlike in Europe, where players are often anonymized, in the US, operators promote social interaction by highlighting players’ identities. Enhancing social engagement is one of the keys to improving the overall player experience.
If you want to add something, or if you want to talk about something that you think is worth getting into, feel free.
When it comes to improving the player experience, responsible gambling education is crucial for both operators and affiliates. We need more innovation in this area beyond just setting limits and providing materials. I can highlight how FanDuel stands out as an example by running TV commercials dedicated to educating users on setting limits, which is a step forward in this regard. But this is something all sides of the industry should participate in.
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