888 Holdings and Caesars Interactive Entertainment (CIE) have officially confirmed a multi-year extension to their partnership for the US market. The agreement specifically includes providing the online poker software client for the World Series of Poker (WSOP) brand.
The exclusive B2B poker partnership with CIE further advances 888’s plans to enter into new regulated markets, according to Senior Vice President – Head of US of 888 Yaniv Sherman:
“Our extended relationship will also enable 888 to gain a presence in new U.S states following the required regulatory approvals, which presents an important opportunity in our long-term development strategy for the U.S. market.”
The initial B2B poker partnership between 888 and CIE dates back all the way to 2013. As of 2014, 888poker has also been the official sponsor of the WSOP live festival in Las Vegas and has remained so for six years running.
“Our partnership with Caesars has been powering the hugely popular WSOP brand online since 2013 and we are looking forward to continuing this relationship for many years to come,” Sherman added in the press release.
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New Poker 8 Software to Power WSOP.com
As a key takeaway of the deal, the agreement includes the launch of the new and innovative Poker 8 client in the US market. Initially launched in Europe in October 2020, the latest software client represents a major overhaul in terms of functionality and graphics for the mobile and desktop version.
888 launched major promotions towards the end of 2020 to celebrate the launch of its new Poker 8 software client for all eligible markets. The Made To Play mobile app, for example, featured $1 million in prizes via Freerolls, happy hours, gift drops and more.
Key features such as multi-day and multi-flight tournaments will finally become available to US players on the WSOP.com poker client. 888 will also continue to provide the casino platform to CIE’s casino brands as well.
888poker currently operates the WSOP.com client in the states of Nevada, and New Jersey. CIE also holds a license to operate in Pennsylvania, which has been specifically highlighted in the press release. Thus far, PokerStars PA remains the sole operator in the Pennsylvania online poker market.
However, the addition of a second contender now appears more likely, as hinted to by Sherman.
“We are also excited at the prospect of adding new states to our unique interstate poker network in 2021 and beyond, which we believe would drive a significant increase in liquidity for poker players on the 888 platform.”
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888 and WSOP to Offer Online Poker in Michigan?
Neither 888 or CIE were included in the first batch of approved igaming operators by the Michigan Gaming Control Board (MGCB). Rapid progress after the Christmas holidays resulted in the authorization of nine operators on January 19, 2021.
Online sports betting and online casino games will be allowed in Michigan as of noon on Friday, January 22. Included brands in the first batch are DraftKings, FanDuel, William Hill, and BetMGM (in partnership with Roar Digital LLC), among others.
It is not clear at this point if any operator will offer online poker for the initial launch. Pennsylvania was the last state to launch online gaming in 2019, and there, online poker lagged behind online sportsbooks and online casino games.
However, every indication from the press release announcing the extension of the partnership between 888 and WSOP parent company CIE indicates that the pair plans to aggressively expand its multi-state online poker network in 2021.
Shared Liquidity in the US
888 currently provides its online poker software in Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey, representing the only cross-border liquidity sharing pool in the US.
Delaware players share the regular cash game and MTT traffic with the other two states thanks to the Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement (MSIGA). However, they are currently excluded from the WSOP online bracelet and Circuit Ring events due to the absence of the WSOP brand in the state.
Further inter-state expansion through shared liquidity networks remain in a current state of uncertainty. In particular, the changed stance of the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) opinion of the Wire Act has played a pivotal role in the lack of expansion of shared liquidity in the US.
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In 2011, the DOJ issued an opinion in which the prohibited interstate wagering detailed in the Wire Act only applied to sports betting. This stance changed in 2018 when the Trump administration reinterpreted the Wire Act to apply to all forms of gambling including casino games, poker, and lottery. However, this is likely to change once again with the imminent arrival of the new Biden administration.
A seemingly clear path for the expansion of multi-state online poker still requires additional steps. For, example, though the partypoker US Network is already set up for a shared market with New Jersey if they were to launch in Nevada, it seems unlikely that the operator would expand to just one sparsely populated state without the potential to expand into more highly-populated states as well.
PokerStars NJ could combine its player pool with its counterpart in Pennsylvania once the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) allows, but the regulator will be looking to see that federal law on the issue is settled before proceeding.
Pending the resolution of the Wire Act case, the state of Michigan could join MSIGA and allow operators to share liquidity with their operations in other states.
Thus far, the upcoming launch in the Wolverine State will likely only include sports betting and online casino games. However, poker will likely follow shortly and the launch of igaming in Michigan can certainly be seen as a promising sign of a growing regulated US online poker industry.