TwinSpires will soon shut down its Pennsylvania online casino and sportsbook, as it already has in Michigan and New Jersey. However, its parent company Churchill Downs Inc. (CDI), revealed on Jan 9 that it has other plans for its license. It will be using it to grant market access to Bet365, an international giant with what is so far only a limited presence in the US.
TwinSpires operated on the interactive gaming certificate held by CDI’s Pennsylvania property, Presque Isle Downs. Although Pennsylvania regulations allow multiple brands per certificate, CDI had no other online partners. Without this Bet365 deal, the certificate would have fallen into disuse following TwinSpires’ shutdown.
There’s no date yet for Bet365’s Pennsylvania launch, as there are still some licensing steps before it can do so.
Bet365 is a UK-based company with additional offices in Gibraltar, Malta, Bulgaria and Australia. It’s an oddity in the sector as one of the largest online gambling companies never to have been publicly traded. Throughout its life, it has been under the majority ownership of British billionaire Denise Coates, who founded it in 2000.
That consistency of vision and brand identity may have helped it grow to be one of the most popular online sportsbooks outside the US. It’s often mentioned as a contender for offering the best user experience for casual bettors. On the other hand, it was slower than some competitors to build out its online casino vertical but has become competitive on that front as well.
Bet365’s US Presence
Coates has also taken a similarly slow-and-steady approach to the nascent US market. At first, it seemed almost as though Bet365 would pass on opportunities this side of the Atlantic.
It launched its product in New Jersey in 2019 but failed to establish much in the way of market share there. There were no further US Bet365 launches until Sep 2022, when it entered Colorado.
However, industry analysts Eilers & Krejcik issued predictions for 2023 that included the claim that this would be the year Bet365 finally makes a splash in the US. That does indeed seem to be the plan, at least, with this announcement coming on the heels of its launch in the newly-opened Ohio market.
The US market has proven to be a difficult one for non-local brands. The biggest success stories for international companies have been Flutter, which acquired FanDuel in 2017, and Entain, which formed BetMGM as a joint venture with MGM Resorts International. Those trying to introduce their own brands to American gamblers, like Unibet, have not met with much success.
So far, that has been Bet365’s fate in New Jersey. It may prove to be the case in Pennsylvania and Ohio as well. However, the delayed entry strategy may prove to work out in the company’s favor.
From 2019 to 2022, new market entrants had to contend with an environment absolutely flooded with marketing dollars. The biggest US companies were spending at a rate that many called “unsustainable” or even “irrational.” That made it impossible for anyone else to get on the radar unless they were willing to spend at similar levels. By waiting for that frenzy to die down, Bet365 may be able to stretch its marketing dollars a little bit further.
CDI’s Ill-Fated Foray Into iGaming & Online Sports Betting
TwinSpires itself serves as a reminder of how difficult it can be to penetrate the US market. CDI is a local company and one that’s known to at least a subset of US gamblers. Even so, its foray into the online casino and sportsbook business lasted barely two years before the decision came to throw in the towel.
TwinSpires began under a different name, BetAmerica, in December 2019. When its first year didn’t go as hoped, it tried another name, rebranding to TwinSpires in Jan 2021.
It took the latter name from the iconic spires at the original Churchill Downs Racetrack in Kentucky. However, the change of identity didn’t improve things. CDI announced in Feb 2022 that it would be exiting the casino and sports betting space.
Its various sportsbook and casino sites have been shutting down in a staggered fashion ever since. The Pennsylvania site will be one of the last to do so. For now, it’s still operating, but CDI said in Q3 2022 that it expected the closure to happen in “December or January,” so it is likely imminent.
As a brand, TwinSpires will remain active. However, CDI has chosen to refocus on its original business of parimutuel race betting. (Race betting is distinct from sports betting under federal law).
Exiting the space has allowed it to strike new deals with former competitors. In addition to this Bet365 partnership, it has become the race betting technology supplier to both DraftKings and FanDuel.