Where I am, in NC, you can only pay referral fees to licensed agents. It is against Real Estate Commission rules to pay referral fees to non-licensed agents. I don't know if it is illegal, but if caught in NC, your license could be taken. So we don't do that here.
The Real Estate Commission was formed to protect consumers. But for real estate agents, the Commission is your FRIEND. I check with them if I have any doubt. A real estate agent needs to have integrity without question.