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    GPWA Aaron is offline Former Staff Member
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    Default Affiliate Interview Series: Ken Smith | BlackjackInfo

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    Age: 48
    Hometown: I grew up in a small town in South Mississippi, and still live near there in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
    Favorite Food: I love Asian food of all kinds, but for the last year or so I've been obsessed with finding the ultimate bowl of Vietnamese Pho, a noodle soup.
    Must Read Book: Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, by Douglas Hofstadter

    Sites:
    BlackjackInfo.com
    BlackjackTournaments.com
    SlotCharts.com

    You are a living blackjack legend. When did you first learn how to play the game? And what prompted you to get interested in the game?
    I was a self-taught programmer as a teenager, just as personal computers were becoming widely available. That fascination with software and math made blackjack an obvious fit. The idea of “beating the system” by learning to play a casino game with a true player advantage was a huge draw for me. Since I had the background in programming, it was easy for me to do my own analysis of the game.

    On my first trip to Las Vegas in the late 1980s, I knew enough about the game to play a solid basic strategy game. Although I already understood how card counting worked, there was no point in becoming proficient at it because I didn't expect to travel to Vegas very often. My opinion changed in 1992, when Mississippi legalized casinos close to home. By 1993, I was playing regularly and making a steady profit at the game.

    When did you realize you were good at the game, and might be able to play it professionally?
    Because I understood the mathematics of the game well, I knew early on that it would be easy to play with an advantage. Even so, the game remained just a profitable pastime for many years. I still had a “day job,” a partnership in a software development company that kept me very busy.

    If legalized gambling had not come to Mississippi when it did, what do you think you’d be doing with your life right now?
    With or without the gambling connection, I feel certain I would be involved in Internet marketing in one form or another. Software development was my principal interest early on, and the transition to Web development was an easy one.

    What is it about blackjack that still fascinates you, even to this day?
    For a skilled player, the actual play of blackjack becomes pretty boring. There are no decisions to make when you play perfectly. Instead, the decisions are made for you by the cards you are dealt, and your knowledge of the remaining cards through card counting.

    In my own play, I play a lot less blackjack these days, for many reasons. It's hard to stay welcome at the table if you are a consistent winner at blackjack. Other games are less scrutinized by casino personnel, and therefore can be more lucrative for the long term.

    Still, for any player who wants to become a winning casino player, blackjack remains the obvious starting point. Every successful advantage gambler I know started by learning to win at blackjack. For that reason, I still enjoy providing the information and advice that players need to become winners.

    You started competing in blackjack tournaments in the mid-90s. How do tournaments differ from cash games? Which do you prefer playing in – tournaments or cash games?
    Tournament blackjack is the most difficult gambling skill I know. No matter how much I learned and wrote about the game, there was always more to learn. It is truly staggering how complex the strategies can become when you take the simple game of blackjack and add the competition among players at the same table.

    I've always enjoyed a challenge, so tournament blackjack was a huge draw for me right away. The money was really good, too, although it was less reliable than the income from cash blackjack. No question for me, though: Hands down, tournament blackjack is far more fascinating than cash blackjack. If you're an avid game player, it's quite a rush.

    How did you get involved in televised blackjack? Were you on just as a player, or did you do more?
    I had been writing articles for some blackjack magazines for quite a while before the televised blackjack shows emerged. That, coupled with my tournament website, meant that I was well known in that niche. When Game Show Network developed a series of shows called the World Series of Blackjack, I was fortunate to garner one of the 40 invitations to participate. In subsequent seasons, the player field was expanded somewhat, but it was still a combination of invitations and qualifying events.

    Unfortunately, blackjack just doesn't work for television like poker. It is nearly impossible to convey in a TV show the strategies involved in skillful tournament play, and viewers aren't interested in working that hard to watch a show anyway. In the end, both World Series of Blackjack and a rival show, Ultimate Blackjack Tour, just couldn't draw the viewer numbers needed to survive.

    I am proud, though, to have been one of only three players who played in every season of GSN's World Series of Blackjack.

    Tell us about how your interest in blackjack eventually led to developing BlackjackInfo.com.
    I had a vanity webpage very early in the history of the Internet, and I wanted to learn about scripting languages. As a result, I created the first Blackjack Basic Strategy Engine using the Perl language, sometime around 1996.

    Because there were few reliable sites about blackjack strategy, the feature became popular, and it ranked well on the search engines of the day. (Google didn't exist yet, of course!) Seeing an increase in visitor traffic, I decided to migrate the Engine to a new domain in January 1998 and thus was born BlackjackInfo.com.

    When did you launch the other two sites (BlackjackTournaments.com and SlotCharts.com), and what did you hope to accomplish with them?
    BlackjackTournaments.com was launched in 2003 to fill a void that appeared when a popular tournament magazine ceased publication. It became a popular hangout for the small but devoted community of tournament players. In recent years, as tournaments have become less common, I've spent very little time working on the site. It could use a major overhaul!

    SlotCharts.com was born in a classic moment of inspiration. It was the first site ever to show real-time graphs of online casino progressive jackpots, and show players which games were at unusually high payouts. The site had a few years of strong affiliate results, until UIGEA changed everything. I'm hoping that the U.S. market will provide a new life for it.

    When and how did you discover affiliate marketing?
    Because I had a prominent presence with BlackjackInfo very early in the popularity of the Internet, I was often approached with offers to buy ads on the site. Because I still viewed the site as a hobby, I didn't want to bother my visitors with ads. Finally, I sold a few ad placements in 2000. Then, in mid-2001, I began placing the first affiliate banners on the site.

    How long did it take for you to start earning money as an affiliate?
    I made money immediately upon adding banners to my site. I already had the traffic, so the money was decent right off the bat. Within a year or two, I was making more as an affiliate than in my day job. I went full-time in early 2005.

    Some states in the U.S. are now licensing and regulating online gaming. What do you think of the developments? And how much money do you think there is to be made by affiliates in a regulated U.S. market? What do you envision the marketplace looking like?
    The developments over the last six months in the U.S. have been both surprising and welcome. Still, I see the land-based casino lobby vigorously pursuing an agenda for poker-only online at a national level. The big names in brick-and-mortar casinos still do not want to compete online, and their lobbying efforts reflect that fear.

    Hopefully New Jersey and Delaware will have launched full casino-style games online before our “Do-Nothing” U.S. Congress acts. Once the cat is out of the bag, it will be nearly impossible to put it back in. And that will be great for American consumers as well as affiliates.

    I expect affiliate commission percentages in a regulated U.S. market will be lower than we are accustomed to in this business. But with the secure and regulated environment, I believe that many new players will be willing to trust the online games. I think it will be a strong business opportunity and I'm busy positioning myself for it with new site developments.

    Personally, I've been patiently waiting for this development ever since UIGEA went into effect in late 2006. At that time, I pulled the plug on all U.S.-facing casino ads immediately. Many in the business thought this was an overreaction. For me, I knew it was the right decision. Although my income took a huge hit that continues through today, I am well positioned to move ahead now that the winds have changed direction.

    What traits do you look for in an affiliate manager? How about in an affiliate program?
    Recent developments with some well-known programs make this a timely question. For both managers and programs, the answer is pretty simple, really: I want to deal with people who will treat me as a trusted partner of their brands. Give me a fair deal, and stick to it. I'll guarantee that I will never use any tactics that would risk your brand, and I expect the same level of respect from you.

    Of specific interest right now is how a program should deal with competitive pressures that are making their commission arrangements too expensive to maintain. We all understand this business can be tough, and margins are shrinking. If a program needs to cut rates or institute some kind of quota requirement, I'm willing to continue working with them in all but the most extreme cases.

    The key is that any changes not be applied retroactively for players I have already sent. As long as a player is generating revenue, the affiliate that sent that player should be compensated according to the terms that were active at the time that player was sent. It's complicated, yes, but it's the only way to be fair.

    If you had to pick five keys to success as an affiliate, what would they be?
    1. Stop researching and do something, already. With so much Internet marketing advice out there, it's all too easy to spend all your time in analysis paralysis. Just do it!
    2. Be honest and straightforward – with the programs, with your visitors and with your competitors.
    3. Your work ethic is key. Yes, this business can be passive income eventually, but you'll be rewarded handsomely for hard work.
    4. Deliver value. If you don't offer something that your visitors value, why would they come back?
    5. Have fun! Pick an aspect of the business that you enjoy, and focus on it. Otherwise, every piece of content you write will be a job.

    You joined the GPWA last October – about 14 years after getting started in the industry. What finally prompted you to join? How has it helped you?
    Talk about procrastination! It was long overdue. In the early days, I was more familiar with some of the regulars at CAP, and participated actively there. When I decided recently to renew my efforts, it took only a cursory look at GPWA to convince me of the value.

    What do you like about the industry?
    The idea that you can work on your own schedule and from any location is a powerful motivator to make this business work. I love to travel, and this business lets me do that on my own schedule.

    If you could change anything about the industry, what would it be, and why? Would suddenly shifting terms and conditions appear anywhere on your list?
    Oh yeah. As mentioned above, that's a big deal for me. Affiliates work hard. For all the successes a program sees, there are countless things that don't work out. The affiliate bears all the risk of that. When something does work, and they deliver a player, the program should honor their promise to compensate the affiliate.

    What do your family and friends think of your work as an affiliate?
    I've always made a living in unusual ways. I haven't had a regular job since I was in school. Immediately upon finishing college, I started a business. Since then I've been a software developer, a marketing affiliate and a professional gambler. My family knows that one way or another, I'll get the bills paid!

    How long do you give yourself for answering e-mail? What e-mail tips can you offer?
    Contrary to the Tim Ferriss idea of minimizing the time you spend on e-mail, I like to use a quick and detailed response as a way of building my tribe. Overdeliver, and do it quickly, and you'll turn a simple question into an opportunity to build a long-term fan.

    How do you manage your “to-do” lists? Do you use any special software to help you out?
    I've tried several systems for getting stuff done, and I'm still searching for the holy grail of productivity tools. My flavor du jour is Workflowy.com. It's a simple hierarchical list manager, but I like it so far.

    How much time does it take to keep your sites updated?
    I try to focus on evergreen content, so I don't get stuck on the treadmill of news posts that have to be current and updated. This year I've been working on a lot of behind-the-scenes changes, getting ready for some redesigns.

    How much time do you devote to SEO and/or social networking in order to drive more traffic to your sites?
    My naive approach of “build it and they will come” has been successful for me, although I realized after the first few years that I had been very lucky. Still, I don't spend much time and effort on link-building or SEO. Honestly, things have changed so much in the SEO world lately that it's tough to know the best approach.

    If someone were visiting you, what’s the one place you’d definitely take them to see? Why?
    It's all about the food for me. Whether a bowl of Vietnamese Pho or a good Pad Thai, I'll take you somewhere to eat!

    You’ve said that when you’re not playing or working on your sites, you love to travel. What’s your favorite destination?
    A trip last summer to Istanbul absolutely surprised and delighted me in so many ways. I posted commentary and photos to my personal blog at Sweet-Tea-No-Lemon.com.

    By the time this is published, I'll be back from my next adventure, a trip to Ecuador and Peru, including the Galapagos and Machu Picchu.

    If you could have one “superpower,” what would it be?
    Predicting the future would be awesome, and crazy profitable!

    What’s your all-time favorite movie? Why?
    I am a sci-fi and fantasy nerd, so I was happy to see The Lord of the Rings turn out to be an awesome series of films. Another quirky favorite is the cult classic Repo Man.

    If you could invite any five people, living or dead, to dinner, who would they be?

    1. Teddy Roosevelt: Our coolest President, I think. After his presidency, he went on an amazing adventure in South America. Check out The River of Doubt, by Candice Millard.
    2. Winston Churchill: A fascinating person, influential in a time of historical chaos.
    3. Charles Darwin: I'm heading to the Galapagos next month, remember?
    4. Philip Glass: One of the most intriguing modern composers.
    5. Sonny Rollins: A great jazz saxophonist, still touring at age 82. I really need to go see him somewhere.

    What are three things that nobody knows about you?

    1. I love the golden age of jazz, and all the Blue Note artists.
    2. I once had shoulder-length long hair. Not much left now!
    3. I can juggle.

  2. The Following User Says Thank You to GPWA Aaron For This Useful Post:

    IhreConsulting (27 November 2013)

  3. #2
    -Shay- is offline Public Member
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    Great interview! While there are numerous quotables, the below quote REALLY stood out to me and hopefully stands out to those who run affiliate programs.

    What traits do you look for in an affiliate manager? How about in an affiliate program?
    Recent developments with some well-known programs make this a timely question. For both managers and programs, the answer is pretty simple, really: I want to deal with people who will treat me as a trusted partner of their brands. Give me a fair deal, and stick to it. I'll guarantee that I will never use any tactics that would risk your brand, and I expect the same level of respect from you.

    Of specific interest right now is how a program should deal with competitive pressures that are making their commission arrangements too expensive to maintain. We all understand this business can be tough, and margins are shrinking. If a program needs to cut rates or institute some kind of quota requirement, I'm willing to continue working with them in all but the most extreme cases.

    The key is that any changes not be applied retroactively for players I have already sent. As long as a player is generating revenue, the affiliate that sent that player should be compensated according to the terms that were active at the time that player was sent. It's complicated, yes, but it's the only way to be fair.

  4. The Following User Says Thank You to -Shay- For This Useful Post:

    louie.wilson (27 November 2013)

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