Digital Play

Statewide casinos open their doors to online sports betting.

Placing a wager on Michigan’s appetite for online sports betting — which raced out of the gate in mid-January — Detroit’s three casinos and the industry as a whole are looking to recover from losses approaching 50 percent of revenue in 2020, following record results the previous year.

Online gaming, where sports fans across the state can place wagers to support their home teams or choose from an array of games across multiple leagues, looks to be a winner. For the casinos, being able to cash in at a time when physical facilities are closed or restricted by capacity bodes well for when the full market returns. Look for new offerings in the coming months to keep the good times rolling.

One good measure of the prospects arrived on the first Sunday of betting. With a single move, George Sinishtaj, a partner at Oak Park-based Ooze Wholesale, dropped $420,420 on the Buffalo Bills to cover a three-point spread against the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game. The Bills failed to cover the spread, but Greektown Casino agreed to match the bet dollar-for-dollar to stake its Barstool Fund — designed to boost local businesses hurt by virus-related shutdowns.

Overall, Greektown handled nearly $3 million in sports bets through its partner, Barstool Sports, on the very first day. According to Christina Bachmann, regional marketing manager for Penn National Gaming (which owns Greektown Casino), the money wagered was more than Penn’s entire opening weekend for a recent venture in Pennsylvania.

On the other side of town, MotorCity Casino partnered with FanDuel to handle its on-site sports betting. Mike Raffensberger, chief marketing officer at FanDuel, is bullish on Michigan’s chances to succeed. “Online is going to be a game-changer for the casino industry,” he says.

Sports bettors can wager online or on-site at sports lounges. David Thai, president of the Midwest Group for MGM Casino (based in Detroit), says the casino hopes to attract a subset of sports bettors who want a lounge experience. Already he’s seen it work in Mississippi, where he was part of a similar launch in 2018 that attracted a younger demographic. “It was more male compared to a slots player or a table player, so people who didn’t normally come to the casinos were coming onto the property, particularly to bet on sports.”

MGM’s betting platform, BetMGM, is a partnership between MGM and Etain PLC — a European-based platform that aligns with all MGM properties in North America.

“The launch was good,” Thai says. “I think we received overwhelming demand, and we had strong numbers of people registering for accounts.”

MGM has also signed sponsorship deals with the Lions and Red Wings, while the Ilitch-owned MotorCity has similar deals with the Ilitch-owned Tigers and Red Wings. 

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