Legal Sports Gambling Debuts In Michigan, Even If There Are No Sports To Wager On

Apr 13, 2020

The global sports world has essentially gone quiet due to the Coronavirus pandemic. But when sports resume, Michigan’s sports gamblers will have a slew of in-person options for placing a wager.

The sports landscape has radically changed thanks to the cancellation and postponement of most events from high school through the pros due to the COVID-10 pandemic. Lost in the flurry of emails and press releases is the debut of legal sports gambling in the state of Michigan.

Greektown Casino and the MGM Grand in Detroit open their sports books on March 11, and Motor City Casino started taking bets a day later.

Credit Flickr / Creative Commons

The approval for in-person bets was intended to sync with the start of the NCAA basketball tournament, which is one of the most popular events of the year for bettors. In 2018, the American Gambling Association (AGA) estimated that 97 percent of the money bet on the tournament was done illegally.

“With just 11 weeks to prepare, the Michigan Gaming Control Board (MGCB) staff worked hard to make the launch of onsite sports betting at the Detroit casinos possible by March Madness,” said Richard S. Kalm, Executive Director of the MGCB, in a statement. “The casinos and their suppliers helped us by their timely efforts to share information we needed to authorize the gaming. This new gaming opportunity has been highly anticipated, and we hope citizens will enjoy it and see benefits from additional revenue to both the state of Michigan and the city of Detroit.”

But obviously, with March Madness and nearly every other sporting event cancelled, those bets will have to wait. Still, the change for Michigan to have legal sports books represents a big evolution.

Ryan Collins, a MSU junior who is a sports gambling expert, said the sports book world has remarkably changed nationally over the past two years.

“It’s gone from this taboo topic to something that’s become really mainstream,” he said. “Now you’ve got the networks mentioning the betting lines in the XFL games, Scott Van Pelt talking about the ‘Bad Beat’ of the day on SportsCenter, it’s become a very mainstream topic in sports.”

For Mid-Michigan residents, the only legal sports betting option right now is to travel to one of the Detroit casinos to place an in-person bet. According to Mary Kay Bean, a spokeswoman for the MGCB, online betting for all casinos in Michigan will be delayed until 2021.

Tribal casinos such as FireKeepers Casino in Battle Creek and Soaring Eagle Casino in Mt. Pleasant plan on opening their own sports books, but they are expected to be in place before the start of football season next fall. 

Collins, who plans to start a sports gambling podcast next fall at Impact 89FM, the MSU student radio station,  think the Detroit casinos will not have a large effect on those in mid-Michigan who want to bet on sports.

“I don’t think a whole lot is going to change right away,” Collins said. “I don’t see a ton of people driving to Detroit just to make a bet, unless they’re already in the area for a Lions game or something. The only thing I can see happening is during March Madness for example, a group of people making a trip to Detroit to just sit at the sports book all day during the games and betting. But I don’t think a lot of people will drive down there just to make a ‘legal bet.’”

Carter Landis, a Michigan State sophomore, said that he doesn’t foresee people stopping the way they bet on games now even though it is legal in Michigan.

“Right now, people place bets on sites like Bovada and other off-shore places,” Landis said. “I don’t think people are going to stop using the convenience of those sites to drive to Detroit to place a bet in-person. It just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Most of these people aren’t betting big money, so there’s not much of a point to driving to Detroit to place a bet.”

Collins also thinks that the looser gambling laws throughout the country will lead to sports bars starting their own books.

“It wouldn’t shock me to see a place like Buffalo Wild Wings start their own book,” Collins said. “I think that’s the path we’re on. People will be able to go and get a beer and some wings and bet $5 on the Michigan State game. That’s down the road, but that’s something that we’ll probably see.”

The tax revenue is also something to note, as the Michigan tax rate for sports gambling is 8.4 percent for in-person bets made in casinos. For online betting, the rate will fluctuate between 20 and 28 percent depending on the adjusted gross receipts.