Michigan Takes Its First Legal Sports Bet … But Don’t Get Too Excited

While the first bets will be taken in time for March Madness, the rollout of regulated betting across the state continues to move at a snail’s pace

Get ready, Michigan! You will be able to make sports bets legally as of March 11th at 1 pm local time…if you are willing to travel to the sportsbook to do so. Although there is a lot of fanfare over the launch of legal sports betting (and it is a good thing, let’s be clear), the early betting will only take place at two Detroit casinos for the time being.

Slow and Steady

Approval has been given to both MGM Grand Detroit and Greektown casinos to take wagers, and both will do so today in Detroit. There is a third casino, MotorCity, which could also be taking sports bets today, but that was unclear at this stage. What is interesting about the Greektown launch is it will be the first Barstool Sports – branded casino in the United States, all part of the massive deal struck between Barstool and Greektown’s parent company Penn National. It is uncertain how complete the facility is at this stage from a branding perspective, but when it opens, we’ll know more.

These are the three commercially licensed casinos in Michigan, while there are 23 Tribal Gaming properties that are also slated to receive sports betting licenses as part of the original bill that was passed in late 2019. There is no indication on when those licenses will be issued, nor when those sportsbooks could launch. At present, a handful of properties have partnered with sportsbook brands, and announcements on further partnerships are imminent.

Lowering Expectation

Also missing from the announcement was the launch of the two Detroit sportsbooks was an online component to sports betting, and this is where the concern begins for industry watchers. Not only is online sports betting not launching at the same time as retail, but it appears to be off the books for all of 2020. 

The Michigan sports betting regulator all but confirmed this fact in a statement. “MGCB staff continues to develop administrative rules for online sports betting, online casino gaming, and fantasy sports,” it said. “The rules should be final by early 2021, and online and mobile sports betting, and gaming can begin next year after proper licenses are issued to the Michigan tribes and the Detroit commercial casinos and the firms that assist with these activities.”

This is a huge blow to bettors in the state, but also to everyone involved in the operation of sportsbooks. Online betting makes up a massive portion of the handle and revenue being generated in other states like New Jersey, Indiana, and Pennsylvania, with numbers approaching 90% of the total betting volume. By not launching mobile and online betting until 2021 after introducing retail sports betting into the state, this could drive players to look for alternatives such as the offshore market to satisfy their gambling needs without all the travel to a sportsbook.

Live betting is another product that cannot survive in a retail environment, so bettors in the state will find themselves betting in a very old-school way for at least the next few months.

Staying Positive

Even though the Governor has warned the regulator not to ask for any emergency measures to speed up the online licensing, when the early numbers come in from the retail side, there may be a further discussion on the topic. For now, we can rejoice in the fact that someone in Detroit will make the first legal sports bet in Michigan, hopefully, followed by hundreds more eager bettors in the coming days and weeks.