“We thought America would develop into a market where poker and casino games were leading, but the market has turned and sports have become the leading product.” Was a comment made following the news that 888 and Sports Illustrated joined forces to open their own sportsbook in Colorado recently.
The SI Sportsbook will also soon be available in Indiana, Iowa and New Jersey too but it’s a little startling if not surprising to see the company make such a turn. Especially as they’re potentially moving away from a product in online casino gaming which Statista.com outlines was worth a whopping $261 billion in 2019.
That above comment came from 888 CEO, Itai Pazner, who also suggested that they had noticed a change in the trend two years ago. But with the forecasts being so high, it does beg the question what is it that’s making them step back away from an arm of the gaming industry that has previously been so lucrative?
It could be argued that one reason is that the impression of the world of poker is one which is a little too underground. After all, one of the most famous poker stories in the US and the world is that of Molly’s Game. It was a story so huge it was adapted for the silver screen and became a Hollywood hit. The Academy Award nominated movie told the story of Molly Bloom’s rise from being an US Olympic skiing hopeful to becoming the domineering matriarch of one of the biggest poker rings in the country. It ignited interest as there weren’t only high rollers from big business involved, but celebrities and politicians who were too happy to go all in. The movie attracted worldwide acclaim and was nominated for Academy Awards so, it could be said there’s still somewhat of a romanticism for that impression of the game portrayed in the movie which is played by over 100 million people worldwide.
However, there’s a financial resurgence predicted in 2021 for the gaming industry to levels over and above those recorded in 2019 proving there is still life at the virtual table. There are opportunities to play for real money in the U.S. and as outlined on Poker.org, the process is actually pretty simple. A quick sign-up process and an initial deposit can have you all ready to go. The only problem is that this process is still only available in a small handful of states and not across state lines and the rules and regulations around it are complicated and confusing. Whilst there are signs of growth, it may well be legislation rather than outgoing impression that is the real driver of the pivot.
Following a New Jersey Supreme Court ruling in 2018 stating that any state can legalize sports betting, it became easier for people to access it, if they chose to, of course.
Now consider that sports betting is now already legal in 22 states across the country, by contrast only a handful of states are regulating online casino betting. If you then add into to that the infiltration of Sports Illustrated into homes across the U.S., readership figures of the magazine and the subscriber base of SportsIllustrated.com are believed to total 26 million people. There are said to be 23 million readers and a steady captive audience of over 3 million subscribers to the publication.
Whilst Pazner and co talk of making a big bet on sports betting, maybe it’s not such a bet after all.