Turmoil at Sports Illustrated: Dreams of an 888-Powered SI Poker Fade Turmoil at Sports Illustrated: Dreams of an 888-Powered SI Poker Fade

SI Poker has always been a longshot. Now, it’s even more of one.

It’s been nearly three years since 888 Holdings and Authentic Brands Group (ABS) first floated the idea of creating an online poker room powered by 888 software but with a Sports Illustrated (SI) theme.

The concept of launching SI Poker — or a similarly named skin of 888poker (e.g., 888poker by SI, SI Poker by 888) — was part of a $10 billion joint venture between 888 and ABS, the parent company of SI. The idea for an online poker product was included in a 20-page joint presentation released on June 24, 2021 — nearly 1,000 days ago.

SI was lauded in the presentation as “the trusted leader and most iconic, impactful name in sports media” and a “leading brand.” 888 was clearly banking on nostalgia for a venerated SI brand — to the tune of a $10 billion JV that could be extended to 20 years.

Sadly, SI’s reputation has taken a big hit since then. Last November, an investigation by Futurism found AI-generated content across SI websites. The spectacle saw fake writers writing fake content for SI — complete with fake mugshots for the fake writers.

The incident was such an embarrassment, it reversed years of building a solid reputation for journalism and made people forget SI was a pioneer in online reporting, according to Bryan Curtis, media critic for The Ringer. Arena Group, a company that was — until last week — licensed by ABS to publish SI in print and digital media, blamed a third party contractor for the incident, according to Futurism.

Yes, you read that right — SI no longer has a publisher. That’s because Arena reportedly missed a $3.75 million payment to ABS that was due three weeks ago. ABS ended its contract with Arena as a result, according to Front Office Sports. SI has since started laying off its entire staff. As of this writing, the future of the SI brand is quite uncertain.

888 Never Really Pushed for SI Poker

For over ten years, 888 has had a US online poker presence; a hodge-podge of own-brand effort alongside partnerships and a mix of networks and software platforms. It provides the software for four WSOP online poker sites in four separate US states, two of which (New Jersey and Nevada) connect to form a single player pool, WSOP USA.

On that network, it also operates its 888poker NJ site, the sole 888-branded online poker site in the US. It also previously ran three sites in Delaware, but lost that contract last year (RSI won the contract, and plans to launch an online poker site of its own). Its online poker efforts in the US have been stagnant for many years — it still runs legacy software in some of WSOP’s markets, and has yet to connect Michigan with its existing multi-state online poker network.

SI Poker could have been the shot in the arm needed to jolt its US online poker efforts back to life.

888’s Online Poker Efforts in the United States

Brand Market Platform Network Status
888poker NJ New Jersey Classic WSOP USA Active
WSOP NJ New Jersey Classic WSOP USA Active
WSOP NV Nevada Classic WSOP USA Active
WSOP MI Michigan Modern Separate Active
WSOP PA Pennsylvania Modern Separate Active
Delaware racinos Delaware Classic WSOP USA Closed
SI Poker Michigan, Pennsylvania Never launched

One month after the partnership between 888 and ABS was announced, Yaniv Sherman, then 888’s Senior Vice President and Head of US, told Poker Industry PRO in an exclusive interview that SI Poker — and, yes, he used that name — could launch initially in Michigan or Pennsylvania.

But Sherman said that either Michigan or Pennsylvania would first have to join the Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement (MSIGA) before SI Poker could launch. And when Sherman spoke with PRO, 888 was right in the middle of working with Pennsylvania regulators to get WSOP PA off the ground.

WSOP MI launched in March 2022 and, like WSOP PA, uses 888’s newer Poker 8 software. Presumably, SI Poker could have launched in Michigan and run Poker 8 software as well — that would have allowed 888 to set up an in-state online poker network that included WSOP MI and what would have been SI Poker MI.

Michigan joined MSIGA in May 2022, but to date there has been no movement on SI Poker. With the SI brand facing a potentially existential crisis, the likelihood of an SI Poker launch seems more remote than ever.

The 888-ABS partnership did bear some fruit — SI Sportsbook launched in Colorado, Michigan, and Virginia. Michigan also became the first (and so far only) state to offer SI Casino. SI Casino and SI Sportsbook remain online in their respective markets and are still accepting wagers, despite the chaos at SI itself.

But it seems like an SI Poker launch is now off the table.