So Are William Hill And Caesars Really Discussing A Joint Venture For Online Casino?

Speculation that William Hill and Caesars Entertainment might be working on a joint venture for online casino has lit up the gambling and investment media.

The two companies already have a tight-knit relationship when it comes to sports betting. At the moment, however, they conduct their business separately for other verticals. Caesars Online Casino currently operates in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. William Hill isn’t yet active in the casino space in the US, but announced in May that it plans to launch a casino product in New Jersey before the year is out.

The possibility of a collaboration between them in the casino space was first raised in a piece at Bloomberg. Speaking with the outlet in July, Caesars CEO Tom Reeg had described the possibility of merging the two companies’ mobile assets as “ideal.” In a subsequent interview, William Hill US CEO Joe Asher apparently confirmed that it was an “ongoing subject of discussion.”

There’s some ambiguity in what Asher meant, however. Furthermore, if such talks are underway, they must be in an early stage. Before the companies could actually form a joint venture like this, they would need to make a formal announcement through the Regulatory News Service. Since no such announcement has appeared, we can assume that any discussions currently underway are still quite abstract.

Consolidation is the name of the game

While the deal isn’t anywhere close to official yet, it wouldn’t be very surprising. It would be consistent both with the two companies’ history and with the overall industry trend during this period of gambling expansion in the US.

Since the repeal of PASPA and the ensuing boom of sports betting and gambling expansion more generally in the US, the trend has been towards consolidation. As time goes on, the number of truly separate competitors has been decreasing, as more and more brands unite under a shared roof. There are a few reasons for this, but operational efficiency, marketing power and cross-selling are the big ones.

The tie-up between Flutter and The Stars Group has been the highest-profile such deal so far, but numerous other examples exist. It’s rare at the moment that more than a few months pass between such announcements.

Caesars has already begun that process. It was acquired in July by its former rival in the land-based casino space, Eldorado Resorts, which took on its name in the process. As part of that deal, Eldorado also received a 20% stake in William Hill, which in turn took over sportsbook operations at both companies’ properties.

Roar Digital is a proof-of-concept for other online joint ventures

If William Hill and Caesars did end up engaging in a 50/50 collaboration for online casino, they wouldn’t be the first. We already have a blueprint for what that might look like in Roar Digital.

Roar is a joint venture established by MGM Resorts International and GVC Holdings. Roar manages all of those companies’ online products in the US. That includes the new, national BetMGM brand, but also local brands like Borgata and the operations of GVC’s international Party Casino brand within the US.

That collaboration has worked out very well in New Jersey. Roar Digital is the second highest-grossing licensee in the state, after Golden Nugget, and BetMGM is, by some estimates, the market leader among individual brands. It has been slower than most competitors in expanding into new states, but has strong growth potential due to the well-known MGM brand. Investment firm IAC recently placed a big bet on MGM with that exact reasoning.

For MGM and GVC, teaming up made perfect sense. MGM is very well positioned in the US brick-and-mortar casino space, but had no prior online presence. Conversely, GVC’s business is primarily online and more in the casino space than sports betting. However, it had only a minimal US presence and little brand power. The two therefore make up for each others’ shortfalls.

Teaming up is a more complex proposition for William Hill and Caesars

The same dynamic exists with William Hill and Caesars, though not to the same extent. Caesars is in a similar position to MGM. However, William Hill is historically an operator of retail betting shops, not an online casino company. It is pivoting towards online and towards gaming products, but this is an ongoing process. 2019 was the first year in which its online revenue equaled that from retail, and that it reached a similarly even split between gaming and sports.

The question of branding is also more complicated. GVC is not a customer-facing brand itself and none of the smaller brands it comprises have a lot of recognition in the US, except for partypoker. Having the joint venture use MGM’s brand for both sports and casino made sense.

Caesars and William Hill would have a harder time in that regard. They could continue using Caesars’ brand for casino products and William Hill’s for sports, but that mismatch somewhat undermines the point of a joint venture. On the other, each company has already invested resources in marketing their brand, so uniting under just one brand or creating a new one would mean such efforts have been wasted.

Such complexities are likely part of the reason that the companies haven’t announced any firm plans yet. It does seem it would be mutually beneficial. However, it’s not as obvious a decision as it was for MGM and GVC, and there are more practical details to iron out first.

- Alex is a journalist from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada. Now site runner for Online Poker Report, he has been writing about poker and the online gambling industry in various capacities since 2014.
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