On Sept. 23, Turtle Creek Casino and Hotel became the latest casino in Michigan to offer sports betting with the debut of Onyx Sportsbook. It also opened a satellite location at Leelanau Sands Casino.
Grand Traverse Resorts, the parent company of the casinos, partnered with William Hill, making Michigan the 13th state where the sports betting company has a presence.
The Onyx Sportsbook is located inside on the third floor of the Turtle Creek Casino and Hotel and is equipped to deliver sports fans a unique game-day experience. It includes over 20 HDTVs, complimentary games, a full-service bar and an outdoor patio. Bettors can place their wagers at any of the two ticket windows and two kiosks adjacent to the table games and slot machines on the casino floor.
Great Lakes Stakes caught up with Jonathan Idec, the manager at Onyx Sportsbook, to see how the launch has gone and what impact sports betting has had on Michigan.
After 15 years of working in the sports betting industry in Las Vegas, Idec moved to Michigan to lead the launch of Onyx.
Great Lakes States (GLS): What’s it been like for you to come over and launch the sportsbook? What kind of takeaways do you have so far?
Jonathan Idec: I’m just excited to bring the product of sports betting to a new area. We see how popular it is throughout the nation, and I think it will be another great revenue stream for our company, and it’s great for our guests to have it.
We’ve focused on how we’re going to advertise the product, what we’re going to offer and how can we make the best experience for our guests. We have pool tables, Golden Tee, all free of charge. We have a bar and food service in our sportsbooks and 28 TVs. We’re also upgrading a lounge area that will be an extension of our sportsbook and working on a sports concession stand like you see at stadiums, so I think it’s all about the experience.
If you see where the industry is going, it’s going to that. Sportsbooks are turning into sports bars for an experience. I think all companies are trying to mimic this experience. Vegas-style sportsbooks, you sit there and have chairs and TVs, but this is more about bringing your friends, having an experience. It’s real important to find that area where your guests will enjoy their experience and have a good time.
GLS: What are some of the challenges of operating during a pandemic?
JI: Masks and maintaining social distancing is just like normal. We have a capacity of 40-45 people, so it’s just like any other business. Just like restaurants, you go every other table and you’re skipping seats.
We’re just making sure our guests are safe. We need to make sure everybody is safe and feels safe. Our tables are six feet apart, we have hand sanitizer everywhere and we have a cleaning checklist we maintain every 30 minutes to an hour where everything is being wiped down. We’re just ensuring the safety of our guests.
GLS: What has been the reception of the sportsbook so far?
JI: Up in northern Michigan, they are passionate about the (Detroit) Lions, so I would say the crowd is heavier during Lions games. We’re busier during the Lions. Once the Big Ten started, that also helped. People are passionate about Big Ten football and it coming back really helped; we’ve been busier on Saturday since they came back.
We also hit capacity on some Saturday nights with our bar, pool tables and groups coming out. I would say Saturdays are busy and Sundays are busy with football.
We’re still trying to find ways to bring people in and get that experience and find different ways to keep it fresh and keep it fun.
GLS: You mentioned the Lions and their fans, have you noticed a lot of bets coming in for them?
JI: We get a lot of Lions bets. They still back them and root for the Lions. They obviously also still like their Michigan and Michigan State.
GLS: What’s a typical day like for you as a sportsbook manager?
JI: Opening up a new sportsbook, it’s been connecting through a lot of departments with my company, also with William Hill. I’m always on call, and I work with the marketing team, payroll, food and beverage. So my day is connecting with all the departments: compliance, payroll, auditing and purchasing. Making sure we have everything ordered that we need ordered. And then think of ways we can improve the product. You can never be content. Always looking for ways to improve the sportsbook with other ideas or promotions.
Then we have Leelanau Sands, which has two kiosks, so I’ll reach out to them to make sure everything is OK.
GLS: What do you think the future of sports betting is in Michigan?
JI: I think it’s a huge impact nationally. Everyone sees the potential that it has. It’s a huge impact to all the casinos but also to states. In our specific case, for our tribe, it creates more revenue and gives back to the community.
It’s been a long time waiting. People have always wondered why they can’t bet on sports. They thought they can go to casinos and bet on all this stuff but just couldn’t bet on sports. So now sports betting has become commercialized, and we see ESPN and CBS covering it and all these major media networks now aren’t afraid to cover sports betting anymore. It’s only going to get bigger once it’s legalized all over the country.