I can’t remember exactly what year it was, but I believe it was around 2003-2004. Chris Moneymaker had just won the World Series of Poker in 2003 after qualifying for the tournament by winning games on an online poker site. Texas Hold’em poker blew up pretty big right after this, as did online poker in general.
I, along with a lot of people my age, also jumped on to the poker bandwagon and began playing quite a bit. Whether it was online poker or the weekly game my friends and I used to throw, it was all poker all the time. A few buddies and I actually planned a road trip from Chicago out to the West Coast with the specific intention of ending in Vegas and playing poker.
If I’m being totally honest, the main draw of poker was the fact that there was money to be made. I was finishing up college and really wanted to just start making money as opposed to splitting my time between work and school. I realized pretty soon that there’s not that much money to be made when you’re just playing against your friends once week and it’s only for maybe $20 a person cause it’s just a friendly game. Sure, I entered a few tournaments in the area, and met up with some random people I met on some of the car forums I was on at the time, so there was a little more money, but it quickly dawned on me that if I wanted to make some money I would have to jump into this online poker trend.
Online Poker and Making Money
Online poker popularity skyrocketed when people found out that Chris Moneymaker won the World Series of Poker by qualifying through an online poker site, so I wanted in on the action as well. It was a bit tricky to get money in and out of the sites at time, depending on your bank, but once you established a way that worked, it wasn’t that bad. I found myself playing in a lot of of sit-n-go tournaments, which are basically 1-2 table tournaments that start as soon as enough people sign up. I was doing ok in these tournaments, but I don’t think I was making much money.
The problem with online poker is that anyone can sign up, including people who have no clue what they are doing; and that’s not always a good thing. Players that kind of have a sense for the game will know which cards to play and which to fold, whereas players who don’t know what they are doing will just play everything and end up getting lucky. Sure, if you play only your cards and the odds, you’re likely to come out ahead in the long run, but I just started getting too frustrated with the people in these low stakes tournaments pushing all-in with shitty cards, and I wasn’t about to risk more money to move up to the larger games. And it’s then that I discovered the online poker affiliate programs.
Online Poker Affiliate Programs
There was a website out there called, I believe, FreeBankRoll.com (it doesn’t look like it exists anymore if that was indeed the site), and what they would do is give you $50 free to sign up for an online poker account with Party Poker or Poker Stars. There were no strings attached, nothing, you just couldn’t immediately withdraw that money, you had to play X amount of raked hands before you could withdraw any money.
I signed up for this site a few time to bankroll myself so I didn’t have to actually put any of my own money into the accounts, but I never understood why this site would just give people free money… until I discovered the affiliate program for Party Poker.
The Party Poker affiliate program worked basically like other affiliate programs, you make money for getting other people to sign up. The only catch was, the people that signed up had to deposit $50 and play x amount of raked hands before taking the money out. If a person you got to sign up met those criteria, you would receive $75, with bonuses for signing up X amount of people each month. So now I was starting to see how Free Bank Roll was able to give people free money… By giving away $50, they would make $25 on each person and hit bonus numbers because enticing someone to signup by giving them money was much easier than just throwing a banner up on a site and hoping people clicked it.
So I decided I wanted in on the action, but I wasn’t sure how Free Bank Roll was keeping track of the people they signed up and how much they played and if they just took the money and ran, and what not… and honestly, through the whole process, I never figured that out, but I ran with the idea anyways.
I started advertising on the popular car forums that I was on that I was giving away free $50 (real money) to Party Poker, and to PM me for details. Obviously everyone thought it was a scam at first and didn’t believe I would actually send the money, but I assured them through multiple posts that it was legit and finally got someone to sign up under me to test it out.
I was able to track who signed up for an account under my affiliate link/code, so I once someone said they signed up, I would verify that they appeared as a referral under my account, then I would transfer $50 into that account and told them that they could go ahead and start playing, but they had to play X amount of raked hands before they could withdraw the money.
I’m not sure if people just never tried to withdraw the money beforehand, or if Party Poker wouldn’t let them do it, or what, but I never got screwed and nobody just took my money and ran.
Once that first person verified with the rest of the forum that I was legit just passing out $50 to people, the whole thing just blew up. I didn’t even bother setting up a website for it, I just did everything through these car forums, and it worked out pretty well for me.
I don’t have the exact numbers anymore, and I’m not sure where my accounting spreadsheets ended up (I can’t seem to find them), but between just the sheer referrals and the bonuses each month, I was pulling in between $1200-2000 profit each month for a few months, with the majority of that money coming from the bonuses because I would limit the amount of people I would sign up each month, only because I had to front the $50 to each person up front, so I didn’t want to be shelling out thousands of dollars each month. Yes, that would have lead to more returns on my investment, but in hindsight I’m glad I didn’t because Online Poker didn’t stick around for the long haul.
The experiment only lasted a few months and I started getting a bit sketched out by it. A lot of people were starting to make fake 2nd and 3rd accounts to get money out of me, and although it still netted me the referral money, I just had a feeling that I would get caught eventually and they would kill my affiliate account.
I think I ran the program for like 6 months before I slowly started letting it trickle off and die, since by then I was out of college and working a full time job making money, and didn’t really have the time to sit around at night after work and knock out all these accounts for people. Plus, as I said before, I had no real way of tracking things for all of these new people that wanted to get in on the free money, it just became a big pain in the ass with extremely high risk, so I just slowly let it die.
I would still sign up a few people here and there, but nothing like I did for those first 6 months. And I’m glad I slowly let the project die, because in 2006 Online Poker was made illegal in the United States and unless I wanted to target other countries, I would have been shit out of luck anyways.
It was a fun experiment while it lasted and it allowed me to see just how much money could be made from affiliate marketing at the time, and was definitely the catalyst for my next few projects after that.