In the latest edition of “iGaming Founders” we talk to iGaming industry veteran and Dutch Poker Hall-of-Famer Frank op De Woerd about his history and diverse experience in the gambling industry, and to find out more about his project CasinoNieuws.nl.
How did you get your start in the gambling industry?
Poker became increasingly popular in my country around 2005. I was one of many that picked up the game and started studying it. Through a colleague of mine, I discovered PokerNews.nl and its forum. This was when I became obsessed with the game, and I started playing more and more.
Soon enough, I found out that I was ok at the game, but I was probably never going to be great. I knew early on that a good mindset was the key to becoming successful, and at the time, I wasn’t cut out for that. Losing sessions hurt me much more than winning sessions gave me joy. But I loved the game and wanted to be around it all the time. On the PokerNews forum, Menno Vlek (at the time a very well-known player in the Netherlands) was looking for people to work for PokerLes, his company giving poker lessons to people at company events, bachelor parties, and such. I applied and got the job.
Through Menno, I got into contact with the owners of the Dutch PokerNews: Jordy Veenboer and Noah Boeken. I started writing articles for them and became a moderator on the forum. At one point, they were looking for someone to join their live reporting team in Las Vegas. I applied with a bit of a bluff that I could do all of it (reporting, filming, hosting) and got the job. I also did PokerNews Magazine for PokerNews.nl.
At one point, Remko Rinkema joined the live reporting team. He also started working for PokerNews.com, reporting in English. I joined him in working for the international portal and gradually started doing more and more for .com.
In total, I worked almost 13 years for PokerNews, my last few years as the Head of Content for PokerNews.com.
Can you tell us about your current venture CasinoNieuws.nl and how it all began?
At the end of 2019, my stint with PokerNews ended, and I started looking for other things. I received a LinkedIn message from Jan de Mol, someone I hadn’t heard from before but who knew me from my work with PokerNews. He had some ideas for a website covering casino news in the Netherlands.
While I admit I wasn’t sold on the idea of covering casino news right away, eventually, I came around. We had the same thoughts about honest reporting and fair coverage of developments in my country.
My initial love was with poker, but the other casino games grew on me quite quickly. Jan already had the domain CasinoNieuws.nl, and we worked together with developers and a designer to build the website. We launched a year ago after six months of them building and designing, and me writing articles and pages.
What are your thoughts on the future of the Dutch online gambling industry?
It’s kind of crazy that the Netherlands – in some aspects still a very open-minded, progressive, and modern country – is one of the last in Europe to regulate online gambling. But after years and years of debates, the law passed in 2019. In April of this year, the law came into effect, and on October 1st, the first legal online casinos are opening their doors to their first virtual customers.
The taxes are quite hefty but not unique in the world. The regulator is strict in who gets a license and who doesn’t, but I think there’s nothing there that we haven’t seen in other countries.
How the market will develop depends on a lot of things. One of the key things is how effective the regulator – de Kansspelautoriteit – proves to be in banning illegal operators from the market.
In general, I have high hopes for the regulated Dutch casino market. The Dutch are tech-savvy people with good internet available everywhere. Buying things online is second nature for us – especially since the pandemic hit, of course – so spending money online isn’t an issue. And while we aren’t the most eager to gambling, the Dutch still love it and have enough money to afford a hobby like gambling.
Following the news that Betfair is pulling their services from the Netherlands, do you think that any other operators might follow suit even at this late stage?
Last week, Betclic announced they’re leaving the market. Some others might join them on September 30th or October 1st, simply because there’s such a clear distinction between legal operators and illegal operators from that moment on.
Our minister Sander Dekker has been quite clear that he doesn’t expect operators to leave the Dutch market between October 1st and the moment they receive their license. Many international online casinos will have to wait for some time before legally offering their services to the Dutch. I expect most casinos to still offer their product to the Dutch gamblers during this cooling down period.
Do you have specific requirements when it comes to choosing an operator to work with?
There’s one particular requirement: they must be licensed by the Dutch regulator. I hope to work with all of them, small and big. When the licensing application opened, the regulator received 28 applications. Since then, I imagine some more applied and even more will do so in the coming months.
All the commercial aspects of CasinoNieuws.nl, I leave to my partner Jan de Mol. I focus on the content part of the equitation, but those elements regularly overlap, of course. When we work with a partner, our content plays into how good a deal we get. We will be objective in our reviews on what online casinos bring to the table for consumers. At the same time, we can push certain casinos more than others and offer special placements on the website to our best partners.
But the license requirement tops all others; that’s by far the most important.
How do you envision affiliate marketing changing in the coming year?
With the market opening, some bigger online casinos might opt not to work with affiliates initially. They might want to spend their budget on big traditional media like sponsorships and media campaigns on tv.
I admit that I didn’t envision this happening when I started CasinoNieuws. It does make sense, though, so me being unwitting of it is more on me than anything else. I think they’ll eventually come around, and all of them will work with affiliates in the end. Even when most people have already signed up, there’s still enough for affiliates like myself to work with. And when some more prominent operators enter the market later, affiliates might come in handy for them as well, convincing players to sign up.
What advice would you give a young affiliate marketer or someone trying to cut their teeth in the gambling industry today?
Make sure the content is right. There are many tricks you can pull to try and rank as high as possible for specific terms, but in the end, it’s the content that matters. Google has all of the brightest minds in the world working for them, trying to get the algorithm right so that people find what they’re looking for. If you put content at the core of your proposition, at least that’s something you don’t have to worry about when there’s a core update.
If the content isn’t your strong suit, work with people who know their stuff. There are countless options and freelancers working for cheap, but good content costs money, and it’s worth it. We have a team of three writers now with CasinoNieuws.nl, working full-time to produce quality content. That’s key for our website.
While this isn’t as important in all markets as it is in the Netherlands, I also feel it’s essential to be as honest and upfront when writing about gambling. It’s a pastime that has its darker sides; gambling addiction is dangerous and a real problem. It’s my advice to be very conscientious about the responsibility you have when writing about these subjects.
In my country, the legislation is quite strict on this subject matter. And rightfully so. The thing is, online casinos are responsible for what affiliates do in their name. When I write an article on how you can become rich playing blackjack, and I link to a particular online casino, that online casino might receive a warning or worse from the regulator for false advertisement. So in the Netherlands, affiliates like myself hold an incredible responsibility. Not just towards the consumer but also to our partners. It’s my responsibility as an affiliate to be up to speed on the current regulation to make sure I don’t break the law. I’m very much aware of that and want to be best in class when it comes to advocating responsible gaming. I’ll do everything in my power to make sure everything is on the up and up, so online casinos can feel confident in doing business with me.
Tell us more about yourself and what your life is like outside of affiliate marketing!
I’m married and have a 2-year-old son. We live in IJsselstein, a little town in the center of our small country. The last two years have been a bit hectic with my son getting born, my wife and I starting new jobs, and of course, the pandemic. So, nothing too exciting lately.
My wife and I used to travel a fair bit. We love Africa and the United States but haven’t been farther than Germany for the last two years. I love watching tv shows and movies, used to game a bit on my PS4, en loved running. In time, I’ll find time again for all those things. But for now, I’m just going to focus on CasinoNieuws.nl.
What does the future look like for Frank Op de Woerd?
I hope CasinoNieuws.nl will grow out to be a significant player in the Dutch gambling industry. I’m not a quitter, and I’m quite persistent, so I don’t see CasinoNieuws.nl as just another step in my career. Instead, I’ll work as hard as possible to make sure CasinoNieuws.nl is the last step in my career.
You’ve been in the industry for quite some time, so as a parting gift, can you tell us your funniest or strangest experience? You can leave out any names!
Some years ago, I was hired as a consultant for a tv show where the host would explore the world of poker. I set up interviews with Dutch poker players, helped the production to get permits to film in Las Vegas, et cetera.
I also had to teach her the game of poker because she had never played before. I figured that would be one of the easiest parts of the gig, as I had taught hundreds of people poker when I worked for PokerLes. Usually, within half an hour, people get the game, and we can start with a practice tournament.
Well, not this time. The presenter had never held a deck of cards in her life. She had no idea what the symbols meant or what a ranking meant. I tried comparing it to Yahtzee, but she had never played that either. She had absolutely no idea what playing cards were or how card games work. I mean, how many people do you know that have never played a single card game? Not even FreeCell Solitaire or Spider? Come on now! So that took a lot longer than I expected, but in the end, she got the gist of it and became really interested. While she wasn’t a fan of the folding part of the game, she absolutely loved the concept of bluffing.