Retail Sports Betting in the Covid Era — Unprecedented Challenges for Michigan Casinos

This content is sponsored by MichiganSharp.com.

By Geoff Fisk

Michigan fully committed to gambling expansion in December 2019, legalizing sports betting, online casinos and online poker. The state will, at some point, offer one of the most thorough selections of legal ways to gamble of any U.S. state.

The passage of the Lawful Sports Betting Act authorized both retail and online sports betting in Michigan. Online sportsbooks could debut by the end of 2020 according to MichiganSharp.com.

Retail sports betting went live in the state in March 2020, but the launch of Michigan’s in-person sportsbooks came at an unfortunate time for an industry looking to grow in a new market.

The three commercial casinos located in Detroit (MGM Grand Detroit, MotorCity Casino Hotel, and Greektown Casino-Hotel) all presented grand openings of retail sportsbooks in mid-March, but all three casinos were forced to cease operations just days later due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As such, the potential of retail sports betting in Michigan never had a chance to unfold. March represents one of the biggest months on the US sports betting calendar under normal circumstances, with the annual NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament (aka March Madness), the NBA, and the NHL in full swing.

March 2020, however, forced the cancellation of March Madness and the postponement of the NHL and NBA seasons.

The Second Grand Opening
for Michigan Commercial Sportsbooks

After nearly five months shuttered, Michigan’s commercial casinos got the green light to reopen Aug. 5. Guidelines issued by the Michigan Gaming Control Board restricted Detroit casinos to run at 15% capacity, prohibited smoking, and made mask wearing mandatory for workers and players.

Sportsbooks at all three casinos reopened along with their respective properties. By that time, the NBA and NHL playoffs, along with the MLB regular season were happening simultaneously, offering sports bettors more opportunities than what they would usually enjoy from the normal August sports schedule.

The 15% capacity mandate is still in effect as of November. Retail sports betting at Detroit’s casinos have seen month-to-month revenue increases in each of the first three months back in action:

Michigan Retail Sportsbooks August-October 2020

August 2020

September 2020

October 2020

Aug.-Oct. 2020 Totals

MGM Grand Detroit

$932,601

$2,096,337

$3,700,000

$6,728,938

MotorCity Casino Hotel

$493,275

$1,557,561

$2,200,000

$4,250,836

Greektown Casino-Hotel

$551,176

$722,509

$1,700,000

$2,973,685

Monthly Totals

$1,977,052

$4,376,407

$7,600,000

$13,953,459

Outlook for Sports Betting
and Mobile Wagering Potential

The Covid-19 pandemic presents unprecedented challenges for retail sports betting, particularly in a new market. Retail sportsbooks show encouraging signs of viability, posting $7.6 million in revenue in October according to the MGCB.

Michigan’s retail sportsbooks took in $4.376 million in revenue for September. By comparison, New Jersey’s retail sportsbooks earned $5.372 million, while Pennsylvania’s in-person sports betting venues took in $5.122 million.

Compared to two of the biggest sports betting markets in the US, Michigan’s retail sportsbooks performed well. Both New Jersey and Pennsylvania host robust online sports betting options, but mobile sports betting has yet to launch in Michigan.

In both New Jersey and Pennsylvania, online betting represents more than 80 percent of wagers from the betting public. If that measure holds in Michigan, the state’s online sportsbooks could earn $25-$35 million in monthly revenue when the sports calendar returns to normalcy.

Both commercial and tribal casinos are authorized to offer online sports betting and online casinos in Michigan. Tribal casinos aren’t bound to the state laws that govern the commercial casinos, and several tribal properties across the state reopened weeks before Detroit’s casinos had that opportunity.

Several tribal casinos launched retail sportsbooks over the summer. FireKeepers Casino (Battle Creek), Little River Casino Resort (Manistee), and Four Winds Casinos (New Buffalo, Hartford, Dowagiac) were among the seven tribal casinos that opened on-property sportsbooks in 2020.

When commercial and tribal casinos are able to launch online sports betting, Michigan will host upwards of a dozen different mobile sports betting apps when the industry reaches maturity. If the resilient performance of Michigan’s commercial retail sportsbooks is any indication, Michigan stands to take a place as one of the biggest sports wagering markets in the United States.

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