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Kambi Group To Power DRF Sports In 2022 Multi-State US Launch

James Murphy
by in Gaming Industry on
  • Kambi Group will power retail, digital and online sports betting for the forthcoming Daily Racing Form branded sportsbook, DRF Sports.
  • DRF Sports and the Daily Racing Form are owned by Las Vegas based Affinity Interactive which also owns land based gaming properties in Nevada, Missouri and Iowa.
  • DRF Sports is targeting Iowa for their initial launch with additional US states to follow.

The pace of business activity slows down across the board during the holiday season and that includes the sports betting and gaming industries. For some reason, it always feels like the ‘business’ side of gaming puts it in the bag for the entire month of December but that could be because it’s the industry I pay the most attention to. With Christmas in the rear view mirror and the new year upon us there’s finally some tentative ‘signs of life’ in the ‘business of bet’.

Gaming technology company Kambi Group plc has announced that they’ll power the forthcoming sports betting offering from Affinity Interactive which will feature the branding of the iconic Daily Racing Form. DRF Sports was officially launched in early September and for the time being has provided news and statistical data to sports betting enthusiasts. The full sports betting functionality was indicated as a ‘coming soon’ for later this year, though it won’t actually go live until early 2022.

Quick sidebar here to explain who Affinity Interactive is and what they do. If you want even more detail, you can check out the press release which outlines the July 2021 merger between two Z Capital Partners owned companies–Affinity Gaming and Sports Information Group. At the time of the merger, Affinity Gaming was a land based casino operator while Sports Information Group was best known for their ownership of the Daily Racing Form. The combined companies are now known as Affinity Interactive and here’s how they describe their business in the blurb from their website:

With Affinity’s leading regional casinos in Nevada, Missouri and Iowa, and Sports Information Group’s advanced technology, digital and media platforms, online betting presence, and nearly one million combined customers, Affinity Interactive is creating a leader in today’s gaming industry with a world class digital offering with significant growth opportunities.

At one point, Affinity Gaming owned the Golden Gates, Golden Gulch and Mardi Gras casinos in Black Hawk, Colorado but sold them to Twin River Worldwide Holdings in a deal completed in early 2020. Twin River has since changed its name to Bally’s Corporation and rebranded their three Colorado properties under the name Bally’s Black Hawk. The individual properties are now known as Bally’s Black Hawk North (the former Mardi Gras Casino), Bally’s Black Hawk West (the former Golden Gates Casino) and Bally’s Blackhawk East (the former Golden Gulch). The transformation from Twin River Worldwide Holdings to Bally’s Corporation and the company’s subsequent activity is another corporate ‘can of worms’ but one we’ve covered in detail.

Affinity Gaming is now ‘officially’ a subsidiary of Affinity Interactive and they own eight casinos in Nevada, Iowa and Missouri. The Nevada properties include the Silver Sevens Hotel & Casino on the corner of Flamingo and Paradise in Las Vegas (formerly Terrible’s Hotel & Casino and before that the Continental Hotel & Casino), the Rail City Casino in Sparks (known from 1978 to 1997 as the Plantation Casino) and three properties in Primm near the California border. The Primm properties are Whiskey Pete’s, Primm Valley Resort and Buffalo Bill’s. As of mid-December, Buffalo Bill’s remains closed along with the hotel at Whiskey’s Pete’s (the casino is now open 24/7). Primm, Nevada has an interesting and lengthy history itself dating back to the opening of Whiskey Pete’s by the Primm family in 1977. At some point, I’ll do an article about the history of the Primm Valley Resorts.

Heading to the midwest, Affinity Gaming owns the Mark Twain Casino in La Grange, Missouri (just over the border from Quincy, Illinois) and the St. Jo Frontier Casino in St. Joseph’s, Missouri which is on the other side of the state on the border with Kansas. The property that is most crucial to this story–in the short term, at least–is the Lakeside Hotel Casino in Osceola, Iowa. This property is located on I-35 just under an hour south of Des Moines and around a half hour north of the Missouri State line. DRF Sports is slated to launch first in Iowa and the gaming license held by the Lakeside Hotel Casino will no doubt facilitate that.

Affinity Interactive already had the gaming properties and the powerful Daily Racing Form brand and the Kambi technology will tie it all together. Here’s the details of the partnership from the press release making the announcement:

Kambi Group plc (“Kambi”) has entered into a partnership to provide its online and on-property sportsbook to Affinity Interactive™ (“AI”), an omni-channel gaming industry leader, to power AI’s upcoming retail, digital and online sports betting offering, DRF Sports.

The multi-year partnership will provide AI with access to Kambi’s best-in-class betting solutions, from compliance provision and odds compiling to customer intelligence and risk management, all built on Kambi’s proprietary software platform.

AI’s significant online and mobile presence, including the iconic, 127-year-old Daily Racing Form, a leading provider of premium data and authoritative editorial coverage to horse racing and sports enthusiasts in North America, and DRF Bets™, one of America’s fastest-growing online and mobile wagering platforms, will enable it to provide Kambi’s technology and services instantly to customers.

Kambi is a leading B2B provider of premium sports betting technology and services to the regulated global betting and gaming industry, with dozens of partnerships across six continents.

The multi-state agreement will introduce the Kambi-powered sportsbook online in Iowa before launching in additional states throughout 2022 and beyond.

Launching in Iowa is a no-brainer–in addition to Affinity’s pre-existing presence there it happens to be one of the handful of states to get sports betting right. Iowa has very reasonable licensing fees and one of the lowest tax rates in the country (6.75%–same as Nevada). Iowa’s online betting ecosystem was initially hampered by a boneheaded ‘in person’ registration requirement but it expired in January 2021 That was one of the few regulatory missteps the state made and they were smart enough to put an ‘expiration date’ on it. The state was already doing decent business and once remote registration began it has done even better. At last count, there were 11 different brands providing retail wagering and 18 offering mobile wagering. There is a footnote to that–these numbers assume that you count William Hill and Caesars Sportsbook as two separate entities. I don’t, but for the time being at least the Iowa Racing & Gaming Commission (IRGC) does. A number of additional companies are waiting in the wings including Tipico, 888’s SI Sportsbook and Carousel Group’s Maxim Bet. The IRGC didn’t have a December meeting meaning their last meeting was on November 18. Their next meeting is on January 13 and there should be plenty of activity there and in the first few months of 2022.

Speaking of William Hill–all of the Affinity Gaming properties that offer retail sports betting (eg: their Nevada properties and the Lakeside in Iowa) all have William Hill branded sportsbooks. Since the press release repeatedly mentions that the partnership with Kambi includes retail betting that might be changing sooner rather than later. 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. I did notice that all of the websites Affinity Nevada sportsbooks had added a link to DRF.com like this one at the Rail City Casino in Sparks:

William Hill’s name is still on the marquee at Affinity Gaming’s retail sportsbooks but DRF Sports is clearly ‘waiting in the wings’.

All eight of the Affinity Gaming casinos are promoting the DRF Cash Grab ‘free to play’ app and have added the DRF logo with a link in the header of their websites:

DRF Cash Grab promo graphic on the Primm Valley Casino Resorts website

Here’s what James Zenni, Chairman of Affinity Interactive, said about the partnership with Kambi and the forthcoming launch of DRF Sports:

“This is an exciting time for Affinity Interactive and the sports betting industry, and partnering with Kambi will allow us to capitalize on a number of compelling opportunities and position our businesses for shared success. This is the first step in our strategy of rolling out the DRF Sports brand to online customers for sports betting and iGaming.”

Kristian Nylén, CEO of Kambi, is pleased to add to her company’s burgeoning portfolio of US sports betting clients:

“We are thrilled to work with the talented team at Affinity Interactive to provide our leading software to sports enthusiasts across the U.S. This agreement is an exciting opportunity to showcase the strength of our product and leverage our experience to succeed in the competitive sports betting market. The combination of Kambi’s advanced technology, DRF Sports’ multimedia information capabilities and Affinity Interactive’s regional casino assets makes for an enticing sports betting proposition.”

I’m still planning on spending some time in Iowa. I spoke with a number of media outlets in the state when sports betting launched and mentioned this repeatedly. The COVID-19 pandemic put that on hold but hopefully this spring or summer it’ll be good to go. Even before the launch of sports betting, I heard nothing but good things from people that had actually spent time in Iowa. Most were well traveled gaming industry types and in no way ‘easy marks’. The Iowa media members I spoke with were all great and extremely well prepared on what was for most an unfamiliar topic. This isn’t always the case. With Iowa now among the best half dozen or so sports betting jurisdictions in the US it’s high time I check it out firsthand.

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