Hard Rock Bet Likely Coming to Michigan Thanks to Acquisition of 888’s Assets

Hard Rock Digital will acquire the customer-facing US assets of 888 Holdings as the latter abandons the market, which will likely accelerate the expansion of Hard Rock Bet into new states. 888 announced the sale on March 28, about three weeks after revealing that it was throwing in the towel on its Sports Illustrated-branded US platform.

One immediate impact of the acquisition for Hard Rock Bet will be access to the Michigan online casino market. Michigan allows only one online gambling partner per retail casino license, capping the number of brands in the state at 15. When TwinSpires exited the online casino and sports betting space in 2021, 888 stepped in to try expanding the Sports Illustrated brand into iGaming with SI Casino. Now, it seems likely that Hard Rock Bet will be the new partner for the Hannahville Indian Community.

888 is a giant in the European online gambling space and was among the first entries to the US regulated market in 2013. Its US presence has taken several forms:

  • Offering poker, casino and sports betting under its own brand in New Jersey.
  • As the technology supplier to the Delaware Lottery from 2013 to 2023.
  • In partnership with Sports Illustrated, as SI Sportsbook and SI Casino.
  • In partnership with Caesars, as the technology supplier for its WSOP.com online poker network.

Bonus has confirmed that WSOP.com is not part of the Hard Rock deal. 888poker will continue to be the technology supplier for that site.

Can Hard Rock Make Up For Lost Time?

Unfortunately for Hard Rock, it didn’t have a retail presence in Atlantic City when online casino gaming first became legal in New Jersey in 2013. It only arrived in 2018, taking over what had until then been the Trump Taj Mahal.

It launched its first online casino product almost immediately. By then, its competitors had enjoyed up to a five-year head start.

However, it began making a concerted effort to catch up last year through a deal with Playtech. This saw the technology supplier take a single-digit percentage stake in Hard Rock and provide it with the technology to develop a new in-house platform for sports betting and online casino.

The new Hard Rock Bet launched last year and has been rolling out incrementally, state-by-state. This included the debut of its new online casino in New Jersey in October.

Now, having a competitive online product and an integrated loyalty program, expanding its geographical footprint is undoubtedly next on Hard Rock’s agenda. The acquisition of 888’s assets will only help with direct access to Michigan, plus sports betting in Colorado. SI Sportsbook also operates in Virginia, but Hard Rock Bet already has a presence there.

That said, the additional physical assets and personnel Hard Rock is acquiring should also further the goal of expansion. Pennsylvania is likely high on Hard Rock’s list of priority markets, while West Virginia may come later.

European Companies Never Figured Out the US Market

The divestment of its assets to Hard Rock will finalize what 888 calls a “controlled exit” from the US business-to-consumer space. Terminating its branding deal with Sports Illustrated was another component of this.

Perhaps the most telling example of 888’s difficulties in the US was the loss of its Delaware Lottery contract to Rush Street Interactive (RSI) last year. Immediately upon taking over, RSI’s BetRivers product began producing triple the revenue that 888’s had been.

888’s failure in the US echoes the departure of Kindred Group’s Unibet brand, announced last year. That shutdown is still underway.

Overall, European companies seem to have had difficulty figuring out how to break into the much newer US market. Some may have been reluctant to enter in the first place and doing so with low expectations. Speaking at iGaming NEXT in New York City, Betfred US CEO Kresimir Spajic summarized the problem to the audience:

European shareholders will punish you if you don’t take a stab at the US market. But they punish you again for not leaving fast enough when it doesn’t work.

He said his plan for BetFred is to be patient and wait for other operators to leave the market before making a move.

The only European companies that have done well in the US are those that found a US brand to work with. Flutter acquired FanDuel Group in 2017 and has focused on keeping it a top-three brand while letting go of other efforts like Fox Bet and Stardust Casino. And, of course, Entain’s partnership with MGM Resorts to form BetMGM has been lucrative, if occasionally uncomfortable.

About the Author

Alex Weldon

Alex Weldon

Alex Weldon is an online gambling industry analyst with nearly ten years of experience. He currently serves as Casino News Managing Editor for Bonus.com, part of the Catena Media Network. Other gambling news sites he has contributed to include PlayUSA and Online Poker Report, and his writing has been cited in The Atlantic.
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