Michigan sports betting debuted on March 11, and notable figures marked the occasion with ceremonial wagers. Rep. Brandt Iden made the inaugural wager at the MGM Grand Detroit Casino when he bet $100 on Michigan State to win the Big Ten men’s basketball tournament, while former Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders placed the first sports wager at MotorCity Casino.
Since then, sports betting in Michigan — similar to everything else in the country — abruptly ended as the coronavirus pandemic forced Detroit’s three casinos to shut down. Soon, the sports themselves were put on pause. March Madness was canceled, the NBA and NHL suspended their seasons and eventually, the only sports-related events happening were on the Esports platforms.
But as sports have returned lawmakers and the Michigan Gaming Control Board worked through the regulations and licensing necessary to launch the next vital phase of Michigan sports betting: online sports betting.
The anticipation for mobile sports betting in Michigan has continued to grow for the state’s bettors looking for a legal and safe platform to bet online.
“I was really excited back in January and March, thinking this is the year,” Michigan resident Luke Ghiardi said. “Then the pandemic hits and everything was put off, so it was a really long, drawn-out process, but the anticipation is definitely there.”
As sports betting continues to become more mainstream and legal in other states, it will likely continue to draw in lifelong fans like Ghiardi. For him, wagering on a game can magnify his viewing experience. His betting interest continued to grow as the research he did as a fan on players, trends and stats, started to intersect with his desire to take part in sports wagering. In 2016, he looked for online options and discovered offshore books. He was hooked.
“I’ve been a sports fanatic my entire life,” he said. “I watch games as much as I can and dive into everything from stats and box score watching if I couldn’t watch the game. As I got older, that turned into being a fan of gambling. It enhanced the experience for me. I didn’t think I could get an enhanced experience from what I already was having, and it has really done that for me. I’ve been really heavy into it the last couple years, and I really enjoy it.”
Other Michiganders may be drawn to sports betting after taking part in fantasy sports. That’s the path Shaun Fagan took. Fagan was one of the few people to reach the pinnacle of daily fantasy, winning $10,000 in a FanDuel tournament. He woke up on Oct. 19, 2014, and joined a $5 tournament and threw together a quick lineup.
“Next thing I know, all the guys in my lineup had career games,” Fagan said.
The key on Fagan’s team was a little-known wide receiver going off for two TDs. The wideout was so far off the radar that he didn’t even have a headshot next to his name and was owned by just 1% of lineups: Odell Beckham Jr.
Fagan’s sports and betting interests have remained with him, and when Michigan debuted sports betting on March 11, he visited Greektown Casino and MGM Grand in Detroit. He was was among the first to bet legally in Michigan.
Now, he looks forward to the accessibility mobile betting provides.
“I’m excited it’s going to mobile,” Fagan said. “I can do it within state lines and now I can do it from the comfort of my own home and share the excitement of the past that I had with FanDuel, but do it in an easier and more accessible way.”
Michigan resident Devin Adams’ introduction to legal sports gambling came during a trip to Vegas in the summer of 2019. Betting on games for fun among friends and family had been a regular occurrence for him growing up. He can remember his first win — the 2006 Super Bowl when he took $100 from his dad by backing the Indianapolis Colts. But with the NFL in its offseason during his visit to Vegas, Adams was relegated to betting on horse races. Two bets hit.
But football is his favorite sport, and naturally, when he returned to Michigan he was looking for a way to bet on the NFL. A friend suggested an offshore book. To Adams, it seemed legit enough, so he signed up and made an account. Adams put together an eight-game NFL moneyline parlay for Week 16, risking $5 to win $1,124. When the Green Bay Packers defeated the Minnesota Vikings 23-10, Adams’ bet cashed out. His first online parlay was a winner.
But getting paid proved to be more arduous than picking eight teams to win on a single weekend.
Adams was sent a check. At first, the bank accepted it, not knowing the check came from a foreign entity that would be flagged for being on a bad checks list. Adams was given the money and used it on bills and other necessities. However, four days later, his bank called and was forcing him to return the money he had spent.
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After a month, he wrote to the offshore book on two separate occasions to get the money back from the bad check. Instead of a refund or working with his bank to get a working check that could be used, Adams received a nonchalant response and was given an alternative option to cash out that he was not familiar with.
“They apologized for any inconvenience,” Adams said about the reply he received from the book. “Then they suggested I cash out on Bitcoin. I ended up having to settle on Bitcoin, which I got less money than I was supposed to get.”
Lifelong sports fans like Ghiardi and Adams have previously looked at offshore books as options for their betting desires. But the illegal books come with their issues, such as Adams attempting to get paid out his winnings. Ghiardi has had deposit issues with the offshore books, and has seen his friends have rollover issues with bonuses and also experience the same cash out mishaps Adams went through.
“It’s crazy, but at the end of the day, what are you going to do?” Ghiardi said. “You don’t really have an avenue to take.
“It’s nice to just do it now and not have to worry about some of the different things when you deal with different offshore books. Some of the shady stuff you hear about it. It’s nice to have it regulated right here.”
New research from the American Gaming Association shows bettors are more than willing to move on from illegal bookies and offshore books toward the legal sports betting options offered in their states. According to the study, average spending with illegal bookies fell 25% in legal sports betting states last year, while legal online and mobile betting spending increased 12%.
The leading reasons for bettors transitioning to the legal market were: confidence bets will be paid out (25%), awareness of legal options (20%) and a desire to use a regulated book (19%).
“Getting paid without any hassle is a very nice aspect,” said Adams, who has bet in-person at the BetAmerica Sportsbook at the Island Resort and Casino in Harris, Michigan. “I don’t have to worry about whether or not I’m going to get paid or when I’m going to get paid. That is a very fortunate aspect for the common gambler.”
The AGA study also showed how people prefer the transparency they receive on legal books compared to offshore ones. Overall, 74% said it’s important to bet legally, despite 52% of sports bettors participating in the illegal market in 2019. The study also discovered that the average consumer occasionally fails to differentiate between a legal and offshore book, with 55% of bettors who placed most of their bets through illegal operators believing they did so legally.
For Fagan, the convoluted process of signing up on an offshore book left him confused and frustrated during March Madness in 2018. He never had to deal with the payout problems others have dealt with since signing up was an issue in itself.
“I tried one time, but I had to get through all these hoops with my bank account with the offshore account,” Fagan said. “Just the hoops of going to the site, then linking your account and then the bank gave a notification about offshore accounts that I had to approve. It was frustrating. At that point, I didn’t think it should be that difficult and I shouldn’t have to jump through all these hoops to do this, so I’d just wait for the day for it to be legal in Michigan.
“Now, it’ll open up for a lot of people that may have been scared to go through those hoops that didn’t want to do it illegally.”
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When Michigan launches, online sports gambling may become a preferred option for bettors going forward. With the ongoing pandemic, mobile betting gives people an option to bet from the safety of their homes on their personal devices. And those who are not near a brick-and-mortar casino with a sportsbook will also have sports betting readily available to them.
In other states, online sports betting has continued to grow in the midst of the pandemic. Of the nearly $749 million wagered on sports in New Jersey in September, 90% of it was done online. In Indiana, $178.98 million (86.6%) of the state’s $207.45 million September sports handle was also done online.
As for Michigan’s potential impact with online sports betting and online casino wagering, Iden recently projected Michigan could potentially eclipse $100 million in tax revenue through online gaming as it becomes more prevalent and accepted.
“We’re looking at a major growth in the state, and I just think it’s going to be exciting,” Iden said in an interview with Gambling.com. “Over time, it’s going to be more accepted and more and more people will play, and they’re going to realize how easy it is in a fun, safe environment, and that’s only going to be good for the state. That money will go to our schools and it’ll be good for kids.”