Michigan Sports Betting Gets Relaunch With Casino Reopenings

Posted on August 6, 2020

Detroit is the latest city giving its casinos the go-ahead to reopen following lengthy closures due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, much like casinos across the US, they will do so with strict safety measures in place. The bright side? Michigan sports betting gets another chance to shine.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has been patient when it comes to reopening the state’s economy. But last week the Democratic governor finally issued an executive order permitting the states three commercial casinos to reopen on August 5.

While the reopening of casinos may be viewed as a positive sign, questions still remain.

The relaunch of Michigan sports betting

Once doors are open, retail sports betting will get another opportunity to prove its worth. Detroit casinos began taking wagers on March 11 — unfortunately just before they were ordered to close down. In order to recoup lost revenue due to the pandemic, Michigan lawmakers are currently in the process of writing rules and regulations to govern online sports betting. Should everything go according to plan, mobile waging could be available later this fall.

One of the new faces entering the sports betting market will be Churchill Downs, operator of the Kentucky Derby. The company will offer retail sports betting at the Island Resort & Casino in Harris, located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Once given regulator approval by the Michigan Gaming Control Board (MGCB), Churchill Downs will be able to launch its BetAmerica mobile sportsbook app.

Some tribal properties, like Four Wind Casinos near Indiana, have also launched retail sports betting. But since tribal casinos do not fall under the jurisdiction of Whitmer or the MGCB, they remain at a competitive advantage compared to commercial properties. According to the Detroit Free Press, some tribal casinos say they are operating at 80% capacity, whereas under Whitmer’s new rule, Detroit casinos must operate under far less.

Limited capacity takes center stage

One of the most noticeable — and some might say, odd — rules in Whitmer’s executive order is: casinos will only be allowed to operate at 15% capacity.

To put this in perspective, MGM Grand Detroit President and Chief Officer David Tsai said at such a small capacity only 1,800 people will be allowed on the casino floor.

Whitmer’s 15% rule is one of the strictest COVID-19 rules in the US. Other states like Nevada, Illinois, and Louisiana are operating between 25-50 percent capacity. Hollywood Casino in nearby Toledo, OH, is operating at 50% capacity in addition to other lax restrictions.

According to The Toledo Blade, customers at Hollywood Casino are not required to wear masks on the casino floor. But Hollywood Casino Toledo VP Justin Carter said a majority of customers are wearing face coverings.

Back in Detroit, all casino visitors must pass temperature checks to get inside and will be required to wear masks at all times.

Some, but not all of the rules also include:

  • No smoking or vaping on the casino floor
  • Customer must be seated at a table or bar to drink
  • No valet service
  • No self-serve buffets
  • Limited restaurant options

If poker is your game of choice, unfortunately, you will be out of luck. With the new rules in place, for the time being, poker will not be permitted.

An economic jump-start for Michigan

The closing of Greektown Casino-Hotel, MGM Grand, and MotorCity Casino has been an economic killer for Detroit. Their closures have reportedly cost the city upwards of $600,000 per day and make up about 15-20% of the city’s budget.

According to research from the American Gaming Association (AGA), the state’s 27 commercial and tribal casinos account for a total annual economic impact of $6.3 billion. Additionally, taxes and tribal revenue sharing generated from casino gaming accounts for roughly $1.3 billion.

It will take time for casinos in Detroit to get back to where they were six months ago. But reopening is a step in the right direction.

Nicholaus Garcia Avatar
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Nicholaus Garcia

Nick has had stints in Chicago, writing about local politics, and in Washington, D.C., covering the expanding gambling industry. Now back in Chicago, he continues to write about the emerging sports betting market with a focus on the Midwest. Originally from West Texas, he graduated from Texas Tech University and completed his master's degree in journalism at Columbia College Chicago.

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