© 2024 Michigan State University Board of Trustees
Public Media from Michigan State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Sports Beat content is reported by Sports Journalism students in the Michigan State School of Journalism.

Sports gaming booms in Michigan, but it’s time for the backstory on the state’s gambling history

Sports gambling apps like 'DraftKings' have become incresi
DeShawn Johnson
Sports gambling apps like 'DraftKings' have become increasingly popular in the state of Michigan.

The availability of online and in-person sports gambling is growing, adding another chapter in Michigan’s long history with wagering.

EAST LANSING, Mich. - Sports have always been a popular activity in Michigan, from playing, watching, or now betting on the sport online. Michigan residents have always been involved in gambling and gamesmanship, but when you add in sports and the legalization of it all, it completely changes the game.

Michigan residents have been betting on sports, both legally and illegally, for nearly a century, but it wasn’t always as easy making a quick five-leg parlay and depositing the money straight from your bank account.

To be able to fully understand how Michigan sports gambling has become a multi-million dollar-a-month market the history must be tracked back to the 1930s when it all started.

Playing the ponies

According to the Michigan Association of Problem Gambling (MAPG), the first legal opportunity for Michigan residents to gamble started when the Racing Act of 1933 was passed, authorizing and regulating horse racing.

“Horse racing long before anything else was pretty much Michigan’s first legal gambling game,” said Dave Briggs, managing editor of PlayMichigan.com.

“Long before anything else,” is key here because for the next 85 years, horse racing was the only legal form of sports gambling in Michigan.

Before the year 2000, there had already been various forms of gambling popping up over the state including the lottery, and tribal casinos.

DeShawn Johnson

It is also important to note that in 1997, Michigan passed the Gaming Control and Revenue Act in 1997 allowing three different casinos to open in Detroit, the MGM Grand Detroit, and Motorcity in 1999, and the Greektown Casino Hotel in 2000.

Horse racing had been the only legal form of sports gambling in Michigan for nearly a century and that was mainly thanks to the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) signed in 1992 by President George H.W. Bush.

PASPA outlawed sports gambling in states that had not already legalized it, with Nevada essentially as the only state to have legalized sports betting. However, in 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the nationwide ban on state authorization of sports gambling.

Just four months after the Supreme Court ruling, Michigan lawmakers were already working towards legalizing sports betting and online casinos. However, in December 2018 then Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed the legislation due to concerns about gambling becoming “much easier.”

While the legislation was originally vetoed, the legislative process kept going, and the new package was approved by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

“Once the new governor came in, we had to start that process again with new members of the House and new members of the Senate as well as the new governor,” said Brandt Iden, a former Michigan House Representative and current Vice President of Government Affairs for Fanatics Sportsbook. “The second time around the governor signed it and the legislation passed in 2018 and in 2019 sports betting and icasino were legal in the state,” Iden added.

While gambling still had a negative connotation surrounding it in the later 2010s, factors like tax revenue and trying to get players to gamble legally helped play a part in legalizing it in various states including Michigan.

“The people of Michigan are betting on it anyway, so you are better to regulate it, you are better to protect consumers, you are better to take some of that money and keep it in Michigan because otherwise you get none of it,” Briggs said.

This is where the era of sports betting began and by March 2020, three different in-person sportsbooks had been opened, one in each of the three different land-based Detroit casinos MGM Grand, MotorCity, and Greektown.

2021-Current: the Explosion year

When 2021 arrived, things changed in Michigan sports gambling when online and mobile sportsbooks, online casinos, and online poker sites were launched. At the time humans were forced to stay inside thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. So when an opportunity for at least a bit of normalcy came around in gambling people jumped right on it.

“It really did spur up a huge growth in the online business… once people realized how easy and slick it is and how good these highly regulated apps things changed,” Briggs said.

It took a bit of time to get used to not being able to enjoy the nightlife at the casinos, but before long betting from home became the norm for Michigan bettors, and understandably so because it had just become so much easier.

“I believe the success of internet sports gambling and internet casinos is really a product of how people obtain their information now. As a society we’ve become so used to using our mobile devices, that is where we’ll go for entertainment as well, including gambling.”, Brandt Iden said.

By the end of 2021, the Michigan Gambling Control Board reported that internet casino, poker, and sports betting had combined for $1.4 billion in total revenue with sports betting bringing in about $292.2 million in revenue.

Since the starting point the Michigan online sports betting market has cooled a little bit, and there are not as many new promotions to draw in new bettors, but that doesn’t necessarily mean online sportsbooks are having any less success because, in 2023, Michigan sportsbooks recorded over $613.4 million in bets.

Looking into the future it can only be believed that the gambling markets will at least slightly cool down. However, as far as Casinos and Sportsbooks are concerned, since the changing of the rules in 2021 Michigan has been one of the most successful gambling states.

“Michigan has been a great success for BetMGM, since launching in early 2021,” John Ewing, PR manager for BetMGM, said. “BetMGM looks forward to continued growth within the state,” Ewing also added.

Michigan online sports betting is still within its prime as it sets new handle records monthly. As the Super Bowl is around the corner, casino experts are expecting another big spike.

Journalism at this station is made possible by donors who value local reporting. Donate today to keep stories like this one coming. It is thanks to your generosity that we can keep this content free and accessible for everyone. Thanks!