- Affinity Interactive owns five Nevada casinos along with the Daily Racing Form and DRF Sportsbook.
- Affinity also owns the DRF Bets advance deposit wagering platform.
- DRF Sportsbook is currently available only in Iowa with retail and mobile wagering.
With the reopening of the Affinity Interactive owned Buffalo Bill’s Resort & Casino in Primm, Nevada comes the reopening of another William Hill Sportsbook location. Some of you are probably making like Obi Wan Kenobi and saying ‘that’s a name I haven’t heard in a long time’. In fact, if you live outside of Nevada there are no William Hill retail locations in your state. Within the past couple of years the William Hill retail locations outside of Nevada have been subsumed by Caesars Sportsbook. At last check, the William Hill mobile app was still available in Nevada, but nowhere else in the US or Canada (Ontario). The app can be found on the Google Play store and was last updated in late September. They’re still Nevada’s largest sportsbook operator but that does nothing to reduce the inscrutability of the brand’s future.
WILLIAM HILL RIP?
The last time we took a look at the future of the William Hill brand was in our article reporting on the grand opening of the DRF Sportsbook at the Lakeside Hotel & Casino in Osceola, Iowa. At that time, DRF Sportsbook had already launched in the state. The sportsbook operator at the Lakeside property prior to DRF Sports? Try William Hill. The William Hill retail sportsbook at Lakeside opened on August 15, 2019 and obviously much has happened for both William Hill and Affinity Gaming (Affinity Interactive’s gaming subsidiary) since then. For Affinity Gaming/Interactive, it was the merger with Sports Information Group–owner of the Daily Racing Form brand–on June 4, 2021. For William Hill, it was the £2.9 billion acquisition of UK parent company William Hill PLC by Caesars Entertainment. As expected, Caesars quickly sold the non-US William Hill assets they acquired (to Gibraltar based 888 Holdings in September 2021) but they initially indicated that the iconic brand would live on for their third party managed sportsbooks.
That plan changed quickly as Caesars has moved to get out of the third party sportsbook management business as quickly as possible. In the process, they’ve been establishing the Caesars Sportsbook brand for their mobile and retail sportsbooks. They’ve also rebranded some of their third party sportsbooks under the Caesars Sportsbook marquee such as the Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort & Casino in New Mexico. This property’s sportsbook was initially a William Hill branded location since they started offering sports betting in mid 2019. It’s unclear why Caesars has rebranded some third party locations, kept some (particularly in Nevada) as William Hill, and got out of their management relationship with others. There’s no doubt a remaining contractual responsibility for Caesars to operate their third party books. At the same time, they appear to be amiable to a termination of that relationship by ‘mutual agreement’. In addition, they may want to keep a property such as the aforementioned Inn of the Mountain Gods in the fold since they can add New Mexico to their roster of Caesars Sportsbook states.
The William Hill US website is now pretty hard to find–if you go to William Hill.com you’ll find a Caesars Sportsbook branded website. You have to dig around a little bit to find the actual William Hill US web presence which is clearly in a state of disarray. The ‘press release’ section hasn’t been updated since July 2021 and it hasn’t posted a ‘Media Hits’ item since–ironically enough” August 2021 when they linked to a Las Vegas Review-Journal report about Caesars Entertainment’s sportsbook re-branding initiative. The plan’s focal point was the consolidation of the William Hill and Caesars Sportsbook mobile apps in states where both were offered (Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, New Jersey, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia). Even then, the ‘party line’ was that William Hill books at properties not owned by Caesars Entertainment would keep their brand identity:
The change does not affect William Hill sportsbooks at locations not owned by Caesars, the company said. Caesars says that it plans to bring the new Caesars Sportsbook app launched in other states app to Nevada in the future.
The William Hill website still has the ‘locations’ search function but only three jurisdictions are offered: Florida, Nevada and The Bahamas. Some properties have been properly updated–the Tuscany Suites & Casinos in Las Vegas was previously a William Hill location but now has a Circa Sports managed sportsbook. That has been correctly updated. Other locations–including several in Mississippi–are shown as William Hill locations but now have self branded sportsbooks. The last Missisippi location for William Hill was the Treasure Bay Casino and Hotel in Biloxi which subtitled their sportsbook name with the ‘powered by William Hill’ sobriquet.
ENTER DRF SPORTSBOOK
The DRF Sportsbook at the Lakeside Casino property is now approximately 10 months old. It’s a really nice sportsbook and isn’t trying to masquerade as a brewpub or restaurant as so many retail locations are today. It has in the neighborhood of 14 65-inch viewing monitors with 4K LCD displays and two 86-inch viewing monitors with 4K Ultra HD displays. Betting kiosks are available along with several ‘old school’ betting windows. The location is open Monday through Thursday 12 PM to 8 PM, Friday until 9 PM and Saturday and Sunday 10 AM to 9 PM. Kiosk wagering is available 24/7.
The entire Lakeside property is in the midst of a ‘multi-year, multi-million renovation project’. I haven’t seen an update on the project since ‘phase one’ which included a new restaurant, bar and Starbucks location. Next up will be casino and hotel renovation projects but at this point there aren’t any detailed plans that I’m aware of. The bar/restaurant is the Westlake Bar & Grill. The Starbucks location has since morphed into a self branded operation called ‘Lakeside Express’ which ‘proudly serves Starbucks Coffee’. This is a good thing as I made it a point to avoid any gaming property that doesn’t have a suitable source of espresso based drinks. The bad news? They’re not open 24/7 like a casino espresso bar should be. Their hours are 10 AM to 4 PM with the exception of Saturday when they’re open 9 AM to 9 PM.
Speaking of plans, when the Iowa DRF Sportsbook opened there wasn’t much in the way of detail about the long term brand strategy. The only mention is in a quote is from James Zenni, Chairman of Affinity Interactive:
“The opening of the DRF Sportsbook is a significant event for Affinity Interactive’s expanding platform. This opening advances our overall strategy towards becoming the prominent omni-channel gaming provider in the U.S.”
There’s no doubt that DRF is doing very well with their advance deposit horse wagering. As of now, however, DRF Bets is live only Iowa. There was a press release report of a deal with Kambi Group plc to power a ‘multi state rollout’ of the DRF Sportsbook. The ‘money shot’ was a plan to ‘introduce the Kambi-powered sportsbook online in Iowa before launching in additional states throughout 2022 and beyond.’ The Iowa online interface is clearly ‘Kambi powered’ but future states are for now ‘beyond’.
NEXT STOP, NEVADA?
It’ll be interesting to see what happens to the retail sportsbooks at Affinity’s Nevada properties (the Primm Valley Casino Resorts, the Silver Sevens Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas (old timers will remember it as ‘Terrible’s Hotel and Casino’ and *real* old timers as the ‘Continental Hotel and Casino’) along with the Rail City Casino in Sparks. Northern Nevada OGs will remember that prior to 1997, the current Rail City property operated under the awful name ‘Plantation Casino’. There’s DRF branding on all of the Nevada properties’ websites but for the time being the retail sportsbooks operate under the William Hill brand.
Since Caesars appears anxious to get out of the third party sportsbook management business and get all of their retail sportsbooks under their own brand and Affinity is obviously anxious to get going with the DRF Sports retail locations you’d have to think they could work something out to untangle the relevant contractual issues. The websites of Affinity’s Nevada sportsbooks have added a link to DRF.com like this one at the Rail City Casino in Sparks. That sure suggests it’s just a matter of time before DRF Sportsbooks arrive in the Silver State: