Michigan Pushes Early Online Gambling Kickoff To Boost State Revenue

Michigan lawmakers have introduced a bill that would kickstart online gambling ahead of schedule in the hopes the additional revenue would help buoy the state’s economy in the wake of Covid-19.

The Great Lakes State approved online gaming and sports betting in late 2019. In March 2020, the state saw the launch of its first retail sportsbooks. But Michigan’s entire gambling industry was thrown off track during the height of the pandemic when all land-based casinos were closed for nearly three months. Detroit Free Press wrote that the city lost as much as $600,000 in tax revenue each day the MGM Grand, MotorCity and Greektown casinos were closed.

Michigan is still in the throes of regulation, and previously the state expected to launch regulated online gambling in 2021 (or late 2020 at the earliest). 

Now, State Senator Adam Hollier is sponsoring a bill that would grant provisional online gambling licenses to Michigan’s tribal and commercial casino properties. Hollier’s bill (Senate Bill 969) is co-sponsored by seven Democratic state senators and two Republican lawmakers. 

Temporary Measures

The bill aims to ease some of the revenue loss ignited by stay-at-home orders and casino closures. The Michigan Gaming Control Board claims that Detroit casinos saw a 52% decrease in year-to-date aggregate revenue relative to the same period last year. Hollier hopes to offset that loss, at least in part, by temporarily allowing internet gambling in the state.

Senate Bill 969 would allow Michigan online gambling until “social distancing guidelines related to the Covid-19 pandemic are no longer in place.” Notably, the bill makes no mention of sports betting. Instead, legislators are focused on boosting online casino revenue while online sportsbook regulation continues behind the scenes.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer anticipates limited reopenings in the next few weeks. Casino reopenings could help offset some revenue loss brought on by months-long closures. 

Support And Opposition

The bill is still fresh, so most stakeholders have yet to meaningfully weigh in with support or opposition directly. We may see motion on the proposed bill within a few weeks, but for now, it remains with Michigan legislators. 

Speaking to MiBiz, Michigan Gaming Control Board spokesperson Mary Kay Bean said that internet gambling would have to wait until the rules are ironed out, likely in 2021. She continued to say that the MCGB hasn’t yet reviewed the bill and can’t offer a stance on it at this time. 

Hollier, meanwhile, hopes that the bill will help make up for potential months of revenue loss. 

The Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians hasn’t declared a stance on the bill, either. The tribe owns Gun Lake Casino in Wayland. 

Michigan’s Online Gambling Landscape

Whether or not the bill passes, Michigan is still well-positioned for an online gambling future. 

Michigan’s legislation surrounding online gambling is unique compared to most other states. Twenty-three of the state’s casinos are owned by tribes, while Detroit hosts three commercial properties. Usually, states pass laws that apply specifically to commercial casinos and undertake separate negotiations with tribes. Michigan chose to embrace all of its gambling properties with its law, which allows all casino properties–tribal and commercial–to operate an online gambling presence. 

The state’s Lawful Sports Betting Act took a similar path, authorizing both tribal and commercial properties to operate sportsbooks. A few retail sportsbooks launched prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, but online regulation is still underway. Because it doesn’t appear in Hollier’s bill, online sports betting is unlikely to launch in Michigan until 2021.

About the Author

Cole Rush

Cole Rush is a Chicago-based freelance writer in the gambling, media, and entertainment space. His work has been showcased in various gaming industry magazines and online columns. Prior to freelance writing, Cole spent seven years in communications at a gambling and lottery supplier.