Bally’s shutters Monkey Knife Fight as part of larger corporate digital strategy
Monkey Knife Fight, once among the most high-profile up-and-coming daily fantasy platforms, ceased operations Tuesday without prior warning.
The closure came as parent company Bally’s looks to turn the tide on hundreds of millions in losses from its digital division.A DFS site focused on individual player props, Monkey Knife Fight had emerged as one of the leading alternatives to daily fantasy pioneers FanDuel and DraftKings. Bally’s, as part of a massive spending spree, acquired the company for $90m in stock in 2021.
Less than two years later, the site is no more. The company had reportedly sought to sell Monkey Knife Fight but ultimately decided to shut the platform down entirely.
“When Monkey Knife Fight was founded in 2018, we wanted to revolutionize the daily fantasy sports game. Through COVID and Crotchball and multiple Tom Brady retirements, we did just that,” the company wrote in a tweet Tuesday announcing the platform’s closure.
Bally’s digital turnaround effort
Tuesday’s unannounced closure comes shortly after Bally’s revealed massive losses in its digital division.
Starting as a small regional casino operator, the company formally known as Twin River Worldwide Holdings went on a massive spending spree in the wake of the 2018 Supreme Court decision that struck down the federal wagering ban.
First acquiring the name “Bally’s” from Caesars Entertainment and undertaking subsequent rebranding, Bally’s acquired naming rights to regional sports TV networks (RSN) in what was at then an unprecedented media partnership between a gaming company.
Along with expanding its brick-and-mortar casino property portfolio, Bally’s undertook a massive digital sports betting push.
We’re gonna miss you ❤️
Drop your favorite MKF memory in the comments 😢 pic.twitter.com/HwVl3qslZh
— Monkey Knife Fight (@mkf) February 28, 2023
The company acquired European gaming platform Bet.Works in 2021 to create its Bally Bet sportsbook. While other major US operators such as DraftKings and FanDuel as well as BetMGM and Caesars had begun undertaking their own in-house sports betting platforms – and billions of related promotional spending – Bally’s waited for the integration onto its own in-house platform.It largely stayed out of the state-by-state expansion race that dominated the first few years of legal single-game sports betting outside Nevada.
The Bally Bet sportsbook is still only live in six states. All of its aforementioned rivals are taking bets in at least 15 each.
Bally’s spent $200m on just the Monkey Knife Fight and Bet.Works deals. That doesn’t include money for the RSN moves or its own promotional, free bet and other marketing costs.
The RSN deals proved ineffective at capturing market share, especially because what would have been its partner sportsbook failed to launch in the vast majority of served markets. In live markets, Bally Bet continually fell behind its major (and many smaller) rivals for market share.
This helped lead the company to generate more than $400m in losses from its digital division in 2022. Though many other operators have posted hundreds of millions of dollars in losses, they have at least generated significant market share that could indicate a pathway to profitability in the future.
In January, Bally’s announced it was cutting 15% of its digital workforce.
Financial struggles in Bally’s digital division were one reason CEO Lee Felton stepped down from his position earlier this year. Incoming CEO Robeson Reeves called the company’s digital performance “unacceptable.”
In his first public earnings call heading Bally’s, Reeves said the Bet.Works platform itself had put the company at a competitive disadvantage for sports betting. Reeves said, like Monkey Knife Fight, it too could be up for sale though it may too be on the chopping block should the company look to again create a betting platform, this time likely through a third-party tech provider.Meanwhile, the parent company of the RSNs is reportedly nearing bankruptcy. Though Bally’s only has naming rights, not actual ownership, it’s another difficult blow for another of the company’s most high-profile moves.
Reeves said during the earnings call the digital future for Bally’s will come with its online casino gaming division. These games, such as slots and table games, are more lucrative than sportsbooks but are only available in a handful of states compared to the more than 30 jurisdictions that offer some form of legal sports betting.
The company is also focused on its brick-and-mortar casino near the Chicago loop. It will be the first full-scale “Las Vegas-style” casino in the downtown of a US city of Chicago’s size.