Hard Rock Needs New License to Operate Online Casino in Michigan

Jessica Aletor
Jessica Aletor


  • Hard Rock’s purchase of 888 Holdings’ US assets no longer has a clear path to license as MGCB asserted that Sport Illustrated’s license will not be automatic.
  • The company’s future in the Great Lakes State remains uncertain as Hard Rock officials offered almost no explanation about their plans.
  • MGCB officials remained unrelenting in their effort to rid the state of unregulated and illegal wagering operations in order to protect Michiganders and legitimate operators.

The Michigan online gambling scene was prepared for changes when news about Hard Rock’s acquisition of 888 Holdings‘ assets in the US broke. However, it appears that Hard Rock’s entry into the Wolverine State’s online casino market is not a done deal.

This is based on the Michigan Gaming Control Board (MGCB) assertion that Hard Rock will have to freshly apply for its own license. Without acquiring the license this way, the company would be unable to launch an online gambling platform in the state. Hard Rock’s acquisition of 888 will not see it automatically take possession of 888/SI’s license.

Hard Rock Needs More Than a “Regulatory Approval” for Michigan Expansion 

A couple of weeks back, Hard Rock made the decision to acquire the B2C operations of UK-based 888 Holdings. Last month, the British company had chosen to end its partnership with Sports Illustrated and exit US markets.

Hard Rock’s acquisition of 888 assets presumably placed it on the fast track to become the newest operator in the Michigan online gambling market pending regulatory approval.

At the moment, it appears that Hard Rock’s expansion into Michigan will require more than approval. According to information credited to the MGCB’s Public Information Officer, Lisa Keith, Hard Rock would not be able to automatically take over the 888-Sports Illustrated license.

Instead, the sports betting subsidiary of Hard Rock International would have to make a fresh application for a license from the Board. A license will be issued after the application process is completed and receives approval from the Board.

So far, the company has not officially confirmed its intention in the Great Lakes State. However, there’s been an assumption among industry observers that Hard Rock would partner with Hannahville Casino for its open license.

Hard Rock Still Poised for Successful Outing in Michigan Without Automatic SI Casino License 

This new development is not much of a setback for Hard Rock. During its rather brief stint, Sports Illustrated was only able to garner less than 1% of the online casino market share last year. In addition, the platform only generated about $15.8 million.

However, Hard Rock is already a seasoned operator with an online casino in New Jersey. The Garden State has a comparably robust online casino market. In the first couple months of 2024, New Jersey’s online casino market generated $371.3 million while Michigan’s generated $369.9 million.

Hard Rock also operates online sportsbooks in multiple states, including Arizona, Florida, Indiana, New Jersey, Ohio, Tennessee and Virginia.

Michigan’s online casino operators have dropped by two and the state will be looking forward to licensing interested parties. However, nothing is sure yet as regards Hard Rock’s admission into the elite club.

MGCB Continues Crackdown on Unregulated Gambling Operations 

Meanwhile, the Michigan Gaming Control Board is not relenting on its effort to terminate illegal gambling practices already outlawed in the state. The Board took similar actions in 2023 when it removed casino-style gaming machines from multiple businesses across the state.

“Thanks to the vigilant supervision of the Michigan Gaming Control Board, last year agency personnel were able to target and disrupt several instances of illegal gambling activities that undermined the integrity of our legitimate, regulated gaming industry,” MGCB Executive Director Henry Williams said.

“With a commitment to maintaining fairness, transparency, and public trust, these proactive efforts were undertaken — thanks to many tips from concerned Michigan citizens — to ensure safe, regulated gambling environments. I encourage the public to please keep the tips coming, as we take each one very seriously.”

These efforts are being undertaken in order to protect consumers from unfair and harmful practices. Also, the investments made by legal and licensed gambling operators needs to be protected from the activities of unregulated gaming platforms.

The MGCB is also working on raising awareness about this issue in order to help citizens and business owners understand the negative effects of unregulated gambling in Michigan.

In 2023, the Board recorded significant progress in its crackdown on illegal wagering. A total of 167 machines were seized from Michigan businesses. On top of that, 24 persons were arraigned on illegal gambling charges and nine others were handed criminal gambling sentences.

There is absolutely no doubt about the MGCB’s zero tolerance for illegal wagering operations in its domain.

Jessica is a news contributor to Gamble Online Michigan. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Economics but has over three years of experience working in the hospitality and gambling industry. Despite her core finance and investment banking background, she has been a casino feature writer for N1 Interactive Limited and multiple gambling affiliate sites. Her work has been featured on the bet365 blog, casino.zone and Max Force Racing. She spends her time between Michigan and California, staying up-to-date on the latest industry developments