Michigan gamblers get the OK to place sports bets in person in time for March Madness

DETROIT (MLive.com) — In-person sports betting in Michigan will officially open at 1 p.m. Wednesday, March 11.

The Michigan Gaming Control Board – which oversees regulations for MGM Grand, MotorCity and Greektown casinos — gave final approval Tuesday at its public meeting for the three Detroit casinos to begin onsite sports betting operations at 1 p.m. Wednesday.

Betting will go live at MGM Grand and Greektown at 1 p.m. Wednesday, while MotorCity is waiting until 10 a.m. Thursday to begin operations, still in time for March Madness, which begins March 17.

“I think it’s going to be great for Michigan’s casinos,” MGCB executive director Richard Kalm said after the meeting. “I think it’s going to drive market activity. There’s not a lot of margin to make a lot of money at sports betting per se, but it will drive traffic in the casinos. So they’ll be able to market other amenities: hotel rooms, drinks and other gaming that goes on.”

All three Detroit casinos will be using different sports betting software providers, and all will be operating under a temporary license.

Representatives from all three casinos presented plans at Tuesday’s meeting at Cadillac Place in Detroit, detailing how they will manage their sports betting operations.

MotorCity will operate 54 kiosks and six betting windows, while Greektown will have 28 kiosks and four betting counters. MGM Grand will open 16 kiosks and six betting windows. Patrons must place large bets at the betting windows.

Since sports betting was officially legalized in Michigan in December, lawmakers and regulators aimed to get in-person betting up and running ahead of the NCAA Tournament for men’s college basketball.

Issuing temporary licenses was the only avenue to hit that timeline goal, Kalm said, but the suppliers the casinos have partnered with are all regulated by the Sports Wagering Integrity Monitoring Association.

“We’re gonna allow them to operate on a temporary license now because, certainly in 11 weeks, we couldn’t do the complete investigation and deep dive that we normally do,” Kalm said. “However, we’re comfortable, we’ve vetted them, all of them are licensed in other jurisdictions, some overseas, but most of them domestic.

“We were comfortable looking at their background and letting them begin to operate, because we think it’s important to start this process now, especially when we’ve got a lot of betting activity that’s going to occur in very short order.”

In December, Michigan Legislature and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer agreed to overhaul the state’s gambling laws, setting up new tax structures for online gaming and sports betting, legalizing fantasy sports betting, updating charitable gaming rules and modifying regulations for Detroit-area casinos.

Under the new laws, an 8.4 percent tax on sports bets would be collected after winnings are paid out. Taxes on internet gambling would range between 20 and 28 percent, depending on how much money a casino generates from online gambling.

While the law is expected to generate nearly $20 million to the state, with most of that going toward the School Aid Fund, Kalm said tax revenue will be minimal until online betting gets MGCB approval.

Kalm said the rulemaking process for online betting is about 30 percent complete.

While Michigan’s tribal casinos are independently regulated and were already permitted to open retail sports betting operations, they will be subject to state regulations when it comes to online offerings.

Some tribes have already secured partnerships with sports betting providers. Earlier this month, the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians announced William Hill would be opening sports books in their two Northern Michigan casinos ahead of the 2020 football season.

“It’s going to be a little bit more of a challenge because we want them to be part of the rulemaking process,” Kalm said. “That rulemaking process, it takes an extended period of time to get through that. Then we have to do an impact statement, and then we have public hearings to make sure people can weigh in on those rules.

“It’s gonna be a whole new type of gaming. We consider sports betting very much like any other casino game, and we have internal controls. The casinos are very mature over 20 years they’ve been operating (sports betting), but on the online side, it’s very new process. We really want to take our time and make sure we get it right.”

Meanwhile, Kalm said retail sports betting in Michigan is a good first step.

“We can only look at other states, New Jersey and Pennsylvania,” Kalm said when asked about a projected increase in traffic at Michigan casinos. “It has raised the amount of people that go to the casino, and Detroit’s a big sports town. There’s always a lot of sporting activities going on with four major-league teams in town. I do believe there’s going to be a benefit to the casino and driving traffic into each as well.”

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