Stealth Web Advertising Tactics Of “Illegal” Sites

Advertising a website is never easy. But imagine how much harder it would be if advertising your website were illegal.

Gambling websites face just that challenge in reaching US and Canadian audiences. In both countries, the government has put media outlets on notice that accepting advertising from gambling websites is illegal. (Note: in the US, at least, the industry disputes this, and charges have never been filed by the US or Canadian federal governments.)

The sites have come up with some pretty creative ways around the law. Are their tactics worthy of imitation? Or do they threaten to drag down the image of ecommerce faster than a wave of no-prescription online pharmacies dispensing questionable images of minors via browser-hijacking adware?

Have a look at some of these stealth web advertising tactics:

Domain Name Games

A while ago I saw a TV commercial for a poker-related website. The commercial carried the prominent warning “not a gambling website.” Curious how such a site could make money, I typed in the domain name. What did I see? Gambling!

I later realized I had typed in the dot-com version of the domain name rather than the dot-net. The dot-net version, the one advertised, has only play gambling with no money. The dot-com version is the real moneymaker.

Web experts have long said that any serious business website needs a dot-com domain name. Many consumers won’t remember any other extension such as dot-biz or dot-net, and will instead simply type in the much better known dot-com. You can call them stupid, but they’ll spend their money on the other site.

It seems the marketers of that poker website were definitely not stupid. But is this ethical? Worse, could this open up a can of worms for other websites that have a dot-com and dot-net version, if policymakers try to close this loophole?


One casino website has taken to buying items on eBay that have generated a lot of media coverage already. The items have included a grilled cheese sandwich with the supposed image of the Madonna on one side. The site has managed to ride the wave of publicity of items such items by buying them. They thereby get their company name (which contains their domain name) in any story about the bizarre auction item (well, except this story).


Gambling websites have tried hard to get their domain names plastered over as much sports-related real estate as possible. It hasn’t been easy. Professional sports world has long been wary of anything relating to gambling. Billboards in major stadiums and arenas are out of the question. So, some sites have started sponsoring rodeos and other smaller events. One site even bought advertising space on a female model’s midriff.

Are any of these tactics working? There are some gambling websites that say it’s all more hype than substance. They stick to buying ads on other websites.

The battered image of the internet, meanwhile, seems to have suffered relatively little from all this. After all, even the strongest gambling opponent has to admit there are more dangerous things online than poker.