- The Sports Illustrated branded sportsbook powered by 888Sports is now live in Virginia.
- The partnership between Sports Illustrated’s parent company Authentic Brands Group and 888 Holdings was announced in June.
- Although there’s not any specificity on where and when the SI Sportsbook will launch next the company has previously indicated that ‘other states will follow’ a previous launch in Colorado.
One of the most iconic names has expanded further into the US bookmaking business. The Sports Illustrated branded sportsbook ‘SI Sportsbook‘ is now live in Virginia. The sportsbook is powered by 888Sports who have been plenty busy of late. They’re in the process of completing a deal with Caesars Entertainment for the non-US assets of William Hill and have recently launched sports betting and iGaming under their own brand in Ontario. In addition, they’ve expanded their WSOP.com partnership with the aforementioned Caesars Entertainment into Michigan and are preparing to launch the poker platform in Ontario. They’ve also re-upped on a European facing partnership with the National Football League (NFL).
This is the second new sportsbook to launch in Virginia during the past week. Last week, Hard Rock Interactive went live with their Hard Rock Sportsbook platform. They’re also in the process of opening a ‘temporary casino’ in Bristol, Virginia that will be housed in an abandoned Belk department store on the property of a dilapidated shopping mall. Seriously. Virginia has a sizable population base but it’s difficult to understand why companies are anxious to set up shop there. It’s one of those over-regulated jurisdictions where every element of the gaming industry is subject to ‘licence limits’ that help make them more of a ‘cash cow’ for politicians and bureaucrats. Strict license limits are an important ‘tell’ as to the corruption inherent in the regulatory process. Speaking of bureaucracies, the state lottery commission has been charged with oversight of casinos *and* sports betting. Nothing could possibly go wrong there….
So far ten sportsbooks have gone live in Virginia and there’s a limit of 12 licenses in all. But wait! These limits don’t count if you partner with a professional sports team located in Virginia! The licensing criteria has more to do with what sportsbooks can do for Virginia–more specifically, the state government, their financial benefactors and politically juiced in entities–than anything else:
Permit holders will be selected on a number of factors, including their past experience and success with sports betting in the United Sates, their efforts to solicit minority investors, and the number of new jobs and tax revenues they expect to generate in the Commonwealth.
When sports betting regulation was first completed, the state lottery bureaucracy promised all sorts of transparency:
The sports betting regulations can be viewed at www.vagamingregulations.com, a microsite providing key information and public transparency on issues around expanded gaming. The site includes information about the rulemaking process and timelines for when expanded gaming will become available in Virginia. In the coming days, there will be sample forms, user guides and checklists to guide the detailed application submission process.
There’s not actually a website at the aforementioned domain–it just forwards back to the lottery’s list of press releases about sports betting. Unlike the majority of US gaming jurisdictions, the lottery doesn’t provide archived agendas and minutes of their casino/sports betting regulatory meetings. And you can forget about any type of live stream or other method of viewing the proceedings. Instead, in Virginia the public and other interested ‘stakeholders’ (such as the sports betting media) gets a power point presentation that furthers whatever narrative the state is trying to present. So much for transparency.
You’re probably wondering if the bit about ‘efforts to solicit minority investors’ has been abused like it has in the neighboring District of Columbia. You know it! Never mind the fact that for the majority of the companies involved in Virginia sports betting becoming an ‘investor’ is as simple as buying their stock. The concept of increasing the involvement of women, minorities, etc. with the gaming industry is a good thing. That has nothing to do with what we’re talking about here. This has more to do with what organized crime used to call a ‘no work job’. The way it works in the gaming industry is what we saw in DC–someone with zero experience in the gaming industry (or anything remotely associated) but with the requisite financial and/or political contacts sets up a shell company. In some cases, the shell company might not have an office or any employees–just the home address of a single juiced in individual.
888’s partner in Virginia is a company called ‘Virtual Entertainment Partners’. You’ll be shocked to learn that one of the principals of this company is a former Executive Director of the Virginia Lottery. The only other person involved with the company is a former Director of the Virginia Department of Small Business and Supplier Diversity. The company was established in April 2021 and sometime between now and April 24, 2022 they changed the address on the LLC registration from a residence in Richmond, Virginia to one of the principal’s law office in Virginia Beach. The company’s website–which still has GoDaddy links in the footer–has little in the way of information. A link to ‘services’ takes you to a page that simply says ‘services coming soon’. There’s a ‘contact us’ page–and that’s it.
So what does this company do? Two individuals, with no experience in sports betting but plenty of experience working in state government, open a company. What do they bring to the table? Here’s what it says on their website:
We help our partners identify gaps and opportunities with the goal of driving diverse and meaningful value propositions to communities throughout Virginia.
Can’t run a sportsbook without a ‘gap and opportunity identifier’.
Here’s the obligatory press release quote from Howard Mittman, President of 888 US:
“We are delighted to launch SI Sportsbook in Virginia. Following the success of its debut launch in Colorado last September, this is an important milestone for both ourselves and our partners.”
“With its growing base of sports betting fans, we believe that Virginia will play a significant role in the continued development of SI Sportsbook over the coming months.”
“Expanding further in the US market is an important part of our ambition to become a global online betting and gaming leader, and we look forward to introducing the brand to players across the state.”
As for the future of 888’s US sports betting plans, the most recent earnings call of 888 Holdings indicated a plan to launch in ‘three or four additional states ‘ during 2022. Here’s 888 CFO Yariv Dafna:
The Americas, including the U.S., made up 13% of our revenue. Following the receipt of the license, we are excited about the launching on a locally regulated basis in Ontario in the coming weeks. Together with our plan to launch in three or four additional states in the U.S. during the course of this year, we expect to see further growth of the American business.
From the sound of it, they’ll be emphasizing the SI Sportsbook brand in the US but will be using the 888 brand for their poker offerings. In a subsequent article, we’ll look at the company’s future plans for North American growth.