Why Michigan’s Online Sports Betting Launch Is Such A Big Deal
After nine months of waiting and six months of incorrectly predicting its launch date, online sports betting launched in Michigan. It would’ve been exciting during normal times. But after the pandemic ravaged retail sportsbooks, online sports betting became more critical to Michigan’s sports betting industry.
Online sports betting – and sports betting in general – is the result of Representative Brandt Iden’s work. He was Michigan’s sports betting champion and hammered away at the issue for almost five years. In fact, he placed Michigan’s first retail sports wager. (He lost. Ohio State won the Big Ten tournament instead of Michigan State.) But online sports betting in Michigan is the realization of work that’s largely his. Here’s how we got to Michigan’s launch.
Five Years Of Compromise
Rep. Iden made sports betting his main issue. He began with online gambling bills, but they morphed into sports betting bills after PASPA’s 2018 repeal. The biggest challenge was creating a sports betting industry that included Michigan’s tribal and commercial casinos. Balancing those interests took many months of bill readings and committee meetings. It even got vetoed by former Governor Rick Scott in 2018. But Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed Rep. Iden’s bills into law in December 2019. After that, the Gaming Control Board wrote industry rules and got retail sports betting live by mid-March.
Rep. Iden’s goal was to create a regulated industry out of a black market. It let the state profit from a safe sports betting industry and created jobs. Those goals went out the window when the pandemic lockdowns followed. Online sports betting offered the hope of profiting from a business-friendly sports betting industry. But months of predictions kept getting the much-hoped-for launch date wrong.
But January 22, 2021 arrived, and ten online sportsbooks went live. So how did it go?
Michigan’s First Weekend Of Online Gambling
Michigan’s first weekend of online gambling went off mostly well. BetMGM was glitchy because of the high traffic from excited Michigan bettors. That issue was fixed during launch day, but bettors may have had issues with their bonuses.
But the biggest highlights came from Barstool Sportsbook CEO, David Portnoy. Portnoy placed a $100,000 wager on the Pistons beating the Rockets. A partner of Ooze cannabis, Gjergj (George) Sinishtaj, placed a $420,420 wager through Barstool Sportsbook. He bet on the Bills beating the Chiefs and lost, too. (Although it was far from the close loss that Portnoy’s wager was.) Both wagers were partly for marketing hype, but there was a nobler motivation behind them, too.
When the lockdowns began, Portnoy started The Barstool Fund. It’s a charity that supported small businesses struggling during the lockdowns. Penn National Gaming also promised to match first-day deposits in Michigan with donations to The Barstool Fund. So, these losing wagers were charitable donations.
Average bettors enjoyed the first weekend of online gambling, too. One poll found that 81% of surveyed bettors rated their online gaming experiences as “mostly positive.” (American Betting Experts only surveyed 100 Michiganders. It’s a low sample size, but a good effort.) But overall, Michigan’s online launch seems to have been a success.
What This Means For Michigan Sports Betting’s Future
From March 2020 to December 2020, Michigan sportsbooks only processed $131 million in wagers. That’s a fraction of what other sports betting markets can make in a month. However, that low betting handle was because of the pandemic and the lack of online betting options. Michigan sportsbooks are going to see far more revenue than they did in 2020. 70-90% of sports betting is online in most other sports betting states.
Additionally, the pandemic is ending. As vaccines roll out, more people can go back to work and get some spending money back in their pockets. It’ll leave more money for entertainment like sports betting and online gambling.
But sports betting wasn’t the only issue the Gaming Control Board had to parse. Michigan also legalized online casinos on January 22. In fact, many sportsbook operators include online casino options for their sports bettors. Online gambling is a diverse landscape in Michigan that promises new revenue for the state. It’s started out as a popular market and has a bright future ahead of it.
Especially when the number of bettors explodes from the convenience of having a sportsbook and casino in their pockets.