Sports Illustrated Casino Confirms Fourth-Quarter Market Exit From Michigan

The Sports Illustrated-branded SI Casino and Sportsbook has now committed to a timeline for its departure from Michigan. Its owner, Evoke (formerly 888 Holdings), announced in March that it would shut down all US business-to-consumer operations. However, SI Casino is still operating in Michigan for now and will continue to do so until October at the earliest.

A spokesperson for Evoke told Corey Sharp at PlayMichigan that the company plans to leave the market in Q4, pending regulatory approval. They also emphasized the company’s commitment to delivering “fantastic betting and gaming experiences for players in the state” until that time.

In early March, Evoke announced it had terminated its agreement with Authentic Brands Group, which controls the Sports Illustrated brand. Severing that contract cost Evoke $50 million.

At the time, it said it was still evaluating its overall US business. That process appeared to have gone swiftly, as less than three weeks later, Hard Rock Digital announced that it would be acquiring Evoke’s customer-facing US assets. That includes the SI Casino in Michigan, SI Sportsbook in Colorado, Michigan, and Virginia, plus 888 Casino, Sportsbook, and Poker sites in New Jersey.

The deal gives Hard Rock Bet the infrastructure to launch sites in Michigan and Colorado, but it still needs to secure its own licenses. Hard Rock Bet already operates in New Jersey and Virginia, so it can fold Evoke’s assets into its existing operations.

Michigan Online Casino Licenses Change Hands

Hard Rock Bet is by far the most likely candidate to take Sports Illustrated’s place despite needing to go through the licensing process. If it doesn’t, another operator would probably step forward to claim the license. Caesars recently purchased WynnBet’s Michigan license to launch a second brand in the state. There are a few multi-state US operators like Bally’s that still lack Michigan market access and might be interested.

Unlike New Jersey and Pennsylvania, Michigan limits each of its land-based casino licensees to a single online skin. That means there can only be 15 skins in the state, compared to 45 in New Jersey.

Michigan has been challenging for smaller operators like SI Casino. Whichever brand replaces it will be the third partner for Hannahville Indian Community and its Island Resort & Casino. SI Casino was a late entry to the market, replacing TwinSpires when it decided to exit the online casino and sports betting space.

Other shifts in the Michigan landscape have occurred due to acquisitions or changes in partnerships.

In another failed media branding deal, Penn Entertainment moved on from its relationship with Barstool Sports last fall. The company then partnered with ESPN to switch from Barstool Sportsbook to ESPN Bet. At the same time, it fell back on its in-house Hollywood Casino brand, a name it had previously only used for iGaming in Pennsylvania. The change has already paid dividends, with the ESPN Bet/Hollywood combo earning higher revenues than Barstool.

Meanwhile, in February, Fanatics Sportsbook and Casino made its Michigan debut, rebranding assets it had acquired from PointsBet. Last year, Fanatics acquired PointsBet’s US operations for $225 million as part of an expansion strategy and has taken over its license in most states.

US iGaming Market Proves Tough For European Giants

Evoke has been in the US since the early days of regulated online gambling but has been spinning its wheels recently. The 888-branded products never clicked with US audiences, and the partnership with Sports Illustrated failed to garner as much attention as it had hoped for.

Evoke’s struggles can be summarized by the result of its exit from Delaware last year, where it had served as the lottery’s online casino technology provider for 10 years.

Delaware’s online casinos consistently underperformed compared to those in other iGaming states, which some blamed on the limitations of Evoke’s offering. That theory seems to have been confirmed since Delaware changed partners to Rush Street Interactive (RSI) and its BetRivers product. In the first month using RSI’s technology, Delaware revenue nearly tripled. It has only grown higher since.

Few European companies have fared well in the US market, save those that elected to work with US brands. Flutter is now the market share leader thanks to its acquisition of FanDuel, while Entain has done well through its joint venture with MGM Resorts. 

Others have decided to play a waiting game. Bet365 took a measured approach initially but has shown signs of changing gears over the past year. It could eventually become a candidate to snap up a Michigan license should another become available. Betfred US CEO Kresimir Spajic told the audience at iGaming NEXT in New York City that his strategy was likewise to bide his time and wait for the field to thin out.

About the Author

Chav Vasilev

Chav Vasilev

After years of managing fast-casual restaurants, Chav turned his passion for sports and occasional slot wins into a career as an iGaming writer. Sharing his time between Europe and the US, he has been exposed to betting and gambling for years and has closely followed the growth in the US. Chav is a proponent of playing responsibly and playing only at legal online sites. When not writing, you will find him watching and betting on sports, especially soccer, or trying to land the next big bonus on a slot.
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