Google Tripped Up 888’s Launch of SI Sportsbook, says VA Lottery

888 had planned a Wednesday launch for its new Virginia sportsbook, but failed to get app approval through the Google Play Store. Another attempt to launch could come next week. Meanwhile, Betway will launch on May 18.
person in black sneakers slipping on banana peel on the pavement. Inability to get app approval from the Google Play Store has put the launch of Virginia's newest sports betting site on ice, though it may launch next week.
April 29, 2022

They were unable to go live because the Google Play Store had not approved their app.888 Holdings had planned to launch a Sports Illustrated (SI)-branded sportsbook in Virginia on Wednesday but got tripped up by an unusual culprit — Google.

That’s according to Gina Smith, Deputy Director for gaming compliance with the Virginia Lottery, the state’s iGaming regulator. Smith told colleagues at a Virginia Lottery board meeting on Wednesday that VHL, VA LLC — an entity associated with 888 Holdings — “was supposed to go live this morning.”

“Very early this morning, I did get a note from them that they were unable to go live because the Google Play Store had not approved their app,” Smith said. “Until they get that approval, they will not be going live.”

Smith added that it was unclear how long SI Sportsbook would be delayed launching in the Old Dominion — the second US state for the product, following Colorado’s launch last September.

“It’s hard to determine how long that approval [from Google] is going to take. I’m hoping by sometime next week we will have VHL live in our state.”

888 recently announced that it had hired a new president of US operations, a position tasked with helping get SI Sportsbook launched in more states, among other things. SI Sportsbook is the result of a joint venture between 888 and Authentic Brands Group (ABS), the parent company of SI.

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Betway Sportsbook to Launch in VA on May 18

Meanwhile, Betway will launch its online sportsbook on May 18, according to Smith. Virginia will be the seventh US state with a Betway Sportsbook — the other states are Arizona, Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

Virginia will have 14 active online sportsbooks once Betway and SI officially launch. That total includes Hard Rock Sportsbook, which began taking wagers on March 31, according to Smith. The online sportsbook is tied to the land-based casino license of the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Bristol. A retail sportsbook will be built at the future facility.

Hard Rock will open a temporary casino in Bristol on July 8 and a permanent facility in the summer of 2024.

Virginia Lottery: No Licenses Left to Issue

Once we reach our cap, that’s it. In the upcoming days, we will put out on our website that at this time there are no permits available.The Virginia Lottery is authorized to issue up to 19 online sportsbook licenses. Of those, 12 are mobile licenses and five are available to operators that partner with a land-based casino.

There aren’t any casinos in the state yet, but four — in Bristol, Danville, Norfolk, and Portsmouth — are in various stages of construction and development. A fifth casino proposed for Richmond failed in a referendum last November, but the city wants to hold another vote this fall.

Three of the four casino-linked operators are already known. Besides Hard Rock, BetRivers is partnered with Rivers Casino Portsmouth, and Caesars Sportsbook will operate through the Caesars Virginia Resort being built in Danville.

The Pamunkey Indian Tribe is planning to build its HeadWaters Resort & Casino in Norfolk but has not yet announced whether it will partner with an operator for its sportsbook or develop an in-house solution.

Virginia’s gaming law also allows the Lottery to issue a sportsbook license to any major league sports franchise that has its headquarters in the state, and another license to such a franchise with its home stadium in the Old Dominion, under certain criteria. FanDuel, through its partnership with the NFL’s Washington Commanders (and based in Ashburn), met the criteria for the former.

Smith said there were two sportsbook operators “in the pipeline that are a little bit slower to the finish line — by their choosing, not our choosing.” She continued the Lottery’s secretive stance on license applicants and did not disclose who the operators were.

But with the last two mobile licenses already spoken for, no fifth casino in Richmond, no major league sports team with its stadium in Virginia, and the identity of a sportsbook operator that would partner with the Pamunkey still unknown — the Virginia Lottery has no additional licenses to issue at this point. Because of this, Smith said the Lottery would not hold its annual application period, which was set to begin on May 15.

“Once we reach our cap, that’s it,” Smith said. “In the upcoming days, we will put out on our website that at this time there are no permits available. So, we will not go through that application period again. Everything that we have is spoken for.”

Although Virginia Regulatory Town Hall (VRTH) records from 2020 show US Bookmaking was among several companies to weigh in on state gaming legislation under consideration at the time, John Salerno, the company’s Director of Operations, told US Gaming Review that they are not one of the two entities in the “pipeline” mentioned by Smith.

Representatives for Handle 19 and Score Media, which was acquired by Penn National Gaming last October, did not return calls seeking comment Thursday. Both companies also submitted public comments back in 2020, VRTH records show. Bet365 and FOX Bet have also been mentioned as possible market entrants in Virginia.

Learn more about Virginia Sportsbooks and US Online Sports Betting in our complete guides »

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