Internet bulletin boards were instrumental in launching the online gambling revolution of the past decade. In the early days, they helped propagate information on how to get started offshore, as well as provided a "rate-and-review" system to identify dishonest sportsbook operators. They later evolved to take on more of an educational and social-networking role, and lent an air of credibility to an industry that had been foundering since the days of offshore call centers in the early 80s. With the online gambling scene effectively off the radar of law enforcement, this disjointed network of mostly anonymous web surfers did an amazingly efficient job of patrolling the wild west-like atmosphere of the offshore scene in the mid 90s.
Just a few years ago, any Joe Square with a few hours on his hands could set up an online forum dedicated to sports betting and find himself pulling in a steady stream of affiliate packages and advertising deals. Literally dozens of websites sprung up imitating the same models - an online "community" that was basically dependent upon its customers (members) to generate content. The website owner just needed to stick up some quick banner ads, kick up his feet, and watch the affiliate checks come rolling in. The offshore industry was booming, and there was so much money being thrown around that anyone could claim their fair share with little effort.
It hasn't been quite that easy as of late. A look at Alexa web traffic stats over the past 6 months shows the internet reach of nearly all gambling forums on a downward trend (MajorWager has actually shown a slight uptick, unusual among this sector). While some of this is due to seasonal fluctuations (as football wanes, so does the typical gambling audience), there is little doubt that message board traffic, at least that of regular, active forum users, has been in serious decline over the past two years. Perusing any of the leading sports gambling forums makes it quite evident that interest has taken a major hit. And with that, advertising dollars have dried up as well.
UIGEA has undoubtedly caused a decline in the audience for gambling-related information, as funding offshore accounts has become tricky enough to discourage many casual gamblers from pursuing their hobby. To a lesser extent we can also blame normal cycles of public interest in recreational "fads". With fewer eyes (at least temporarily) comes more competition for traffic, and thus competition for advertising revenue. UIGEA's effect on the offshore industry has taken a lot of that advertising money off the table, as sportsbooks scramble to make efficient use of their suddenly-limited resources. Hence, traffic has shrunk, many once bustling websites are now ghost-towns, and the few still standing are generally facing a crisis, not just financially, but from a long-term strategic viewpoint as well.
Forum owners wishing to stay ahead of the curve should re-evaluate their missions. Inane chatter and rumor-spreading may serve to gain temporary internet traffic, particularly during the doldrums of summer when the sports landscape is significantly less crowded, but that will not build a dedicated base of visitors from which a website can grow. Providing sports "picks" with no rhyme or reason may serve to attract a few gambling junkies, but none who will have the staying power to provide more than a temporary audience. And the old model of relying on the clients (forum participants) to provide the content is also old news, as web visitors are demanding more and more innovation and information from the sites they frequent.
To survive, forums must discard the old model that implies temporary traffic boosts alone are enough to stay competitive. With the rapid pace of information today, attracting and, more importantly, retaining visitors is becoming more difficult. We have already seen the decline of forum traffic and the closing down of many once-bustling websites. Some sites are moving towards paid-subscription models, an idea that has had very limited success in the past but might be coming into its own in the present atmosphere.
The primary driver of website growth going forward will be found in providing legitimately useful information in an open and free-thinking environment. Investing in relevant and innovative content is what will separate the winners from the has-beens in the coming months. Fortunately for readers of this website, MajorWager has spent the last two years focusing on providing groundbreaking offshore news and original articles, a substantial investment in today's climate of rehashed ideas and stale information. Of course, there are other niches to be occupied as well, but just "being there" on the offshore landscape is unlikely to reap benefits anymore. Gambling-related forums and web portals must start to produce a legitimate, innovative product to stay competitive, or risk being forced into obscurity by those with more grandiose plans.
Those gambling websites that are unwilling to adapt to change, and to put in the necessary groundwork, will go the way of the dinosaurs in today's highly-competitive climate. Those who are making investments into their product now, when times are lean, will be best positioned to take on leadership roles when the gambling situation eventually stabilizes and becomes profitable, and popular, again. There will be new niches to exploit in the future, and the time to start capitalizing on them is now, as gambling is a perennial growth industry and today's doldrums are only a temporary pause in the exponential growth of online gambling.
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