TwinSpires’ exit from Michigan may have sped up plans by 888 Holdings and the parent of Sports Illustrated (SI) to launch SI Poker in the state.
A launch of SI Poker — a skin that hasn’t been explicitly mentioned in any recent 888 financials — was identified by name in a wide-ranging interview from July 2021 with an 888 executive.
That executive — Yaniv Sherman, who, at the time, was 888’s Senior Vice President and Head of US — told Poker Industry PRO that 888 and its joint venture partner, Authentic Brands Group (ABG), were likely to launch a real money US online poker product in either Michigan or Pennsylvania and that it would be offered under either an SI skin or 888poker.
SI Poker is more likely because 888 has already mentioned launching an SI Casino product.
Four Specific Criteria Have Been Met
During the interview, Sherman identified four criteria that would precede the launch of the SI Poker App. All four of those criteria have now been met. The executive said explicitly that:
- 888 would shift its attention to SI products (online sportsbook, casino, and poker — in that order) following the launch of WSOP MI. The poker room, powered by 888, went live in March and currently competes against BetMGM Poker MI and PokerStars MI.
- 888 would move forward if it was satisfied with SI Sportsbook’s performance in Colorado. During an earnings call on August 12 to discuss 1H 2022, CEO Itai Pazner called Colorado “a very, very competitive market” but didn’t indicate that the brand wasn’t holding its own after launching in CO in September 2021. It followed up with a launch in Virginia in May 2022.
- 888 would discuss launching an online casino skin called SI Casino. Plans to create an SI-branded presence in the vertical appear to have been made in the 1H 2022 call mentioned above and in the accompanying slide presentation, which specifically calls for SI Casino to launch in Michigan in Q4 2023.
- 888 was looking forward to either Michigan, Pennsylvania, or both, joining a multi-state compact for poker. Michigan has since signed the Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement (MSIGA) and has been an interstate online poker compact member since May. Pennsylvania is also rumored to be interested in joining MSIGA.
Plans for SI-branded Poker “Alongside WSOP”
On that last point, Sherman said, “assuming Pennsylvania and Michigan join the existing compact in the near term, we’re looking to launch that five- or six-state interstate poker liquidity network that we all think will be a milestone in US gaming.
“A venture like SI and 888poker will be a prime member of that alongside WSOP.”
That would strongly suggest that 888 and ABS are ready to launch online poker, something the two joint venture partners said would be part of their partnership when it was first announced in June 2021.
Since 2013, 888 has had a separate partnership with Caesars Interactive Entertainment, whereby 888 provides the online poker platform for Caesars’ World Series of Poker (WSOP) brand.
The departure of TwinSpires MI, coupled with Michigan joining MSIGA, allows 888 to create the “five- or six-state” multi-jurisdictional network envisioned by Sherman — who, in July, was named CEO of Bragg Gaming Group. Through the compact, players on the SI Poker MI app could go head-to-head with those on WSOP MI, WSOP NV, WSOP NJ, and 888poker NJ.
Three racinos in Delaware running their own branded skins of 888poker would also be on the network.
888 Looks Set to Launch SI Sportsbook in Michigan in September
888 appears set to launch SI Sportsbook in Michigan under the land-based casino license of the Island Resort & Casino, a tribal facility owned and operated by the Hannahville Indian Community.
SI Sportsbook would replace TwinSpires, which announced it would shut down its online casino and sports betting operations, including TwinSpires MI, on September 6.