Four months into online gambling, Michigan seeing big payoff

NOW: Four months into online gambling, Michigan seeing big payoff

NEW BUFFALO, Mich. -- On January 22nd, 2021, Michigan had a huge debut for online gaming and sports betting, with both going live.

Both were signed into law in 2019 – then came the pandemic – but those behind its rollout say that actually sped up this new industry becoming a reality.

“People were starved for entertainment,” said Michael Bickel, Director of Sportsbook & Internet Gaming at Four Winds Casino.

The rollout has also sparked the interest of an entirely new group of people. 

“It’s bringing in people who didn’t have an interest before but now know they can do it from their couch,” said Bickel.

The group behind getting this all going was Michigan’s Gaming Control Board.

They only audit tribal casinos, but are overseeing all online gaming, and said the pandemic allowed them to zero in on getting it off the ground. 

“Once we were satisfied that we could regulate it and it could be done safely, it was just a matter of letting them know when they can go live,” said Richard Kalm, Executive Director of the Michigan Gaming Control Board.

The economic impact, Kalm says, has exceeded expectations.

“Platforms allowing people to not only bet on sports but play online slots, online blackjack and games of chance online, that’s where the real revenue is for the state,” said Kalm.

In April, the Michigan Gaming Control Board said that internet gaming operators reported $94 million in gross receipts, while internet sports betting operators had $20 million in gross receipts.

Taxes – which are based on adjusted gross receipts – were $88 million for online gaming and $10 million for online sports betting, delivering $18 million in payments to the state just in April. 

While that money supports the state’s economy, it’s also impacting some of the city’s that need it most.

One of the commercial casinos the Gaming Control Board regulates is MGM Grand in Detroit.

They sit right in the heart of the Motor City and have been a steady revenue stream.

Online gambling, they say, will only increase that. 

“Every year, the casinos account for about 17% of the city of Detroit’s budget, with online gaming, a portion of our proceeds go to Detroit local government and in the first four months alone we’ve contributed over $18.5 million to the state,” said Louie Theros, Vice-President, legal counsel for MGM Grand Detroit.

Here at home, the Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi continues to contribute to schools, healthcare facilities and further development in Michiana through Four Winds’ retail and online revenue.

Both the tribes and commercial casinos also recognize a responsibility they have in this new industry.  

“We want this to be part of someone’s entertainment budget, no different than dinner or a show, but we want people to game responsibly,” said Theros.

“On the app, you can set limits for your play, only deposit or bet a certain amount each day or week or month, you can set a time limit even for how many minutes you play, we also have cool off periods,” said Bickel

While continuing to invest in the atmosphere that’s unique to being on the floor.

“There’s going to be cross marketing that occurs where if you’re online gambling, you’ll get a promotion that’ll drive you back into the retail casino,” said Kalm. ”That’s what New Jersey’s models have shown, it’s actually driven traffic to the casinos, and I think Michigan will be able to replicate that.”

In addition to the casinos, The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has done campaigns these past few years to address problems with gambling.

Some of the resources they offer are a helpline, gamblers anonymous and even the option to have yourself permanently barred from the Detroit casinos.

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