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Detroit’s Retail Sportsbooks Lagging In Action

The casinos’ sportsbooks may need the Lions to help them shake off steep year-over-year declines




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Detroit's sluggish sportsbooks

Imagine needing the Detroit Lions to trigger a resurgence.

That, however, is the reality facing Detroit’s three retail sportsbooks, whose individual and collective malaise in 2023 has resulted in a dramatic year-over-year decline in sports wagering handle and revenue through the first two-thirds of the year.

It should be noted that overall sports betting handle in the Wolverine State is down 11.8% for the year through August at nearly $2.6 billion, but that pales in comparison to the falloff in wagers made in person at the books. The collective handle from Motown’s trio of casino sportsbooks in the first eight months of 2023 was about $230,000 shy of $100 million, compared to $187.4 million in January-August 2022. It took the same books just four months to reach $100 million combined handle in early 2022.

Retail handle is down 46.8% year-to-date versus 2022, with MGM Grand, MotorCity, and Greektown all sporting double-digit declines in handle and revenue compared to last year. The Michigan Gaming Control Board has yet to release September figures, but the Lions getting off to a 4-1 start and the Michigan Wolverines being currently ranked No. 2 in the AP Top 25 could provide the shoots of promise that lead to more action.

That’s because help isn’t coming from the city’s other pro teams unless bettors are going to fade the locals. The Tigers just put a wrap on their seventh consecutive sub-.500 season; the over/under for Pistons for the upcoming season is universally under 30 victories; and the Red Wings are in the tougher of the Eastern Conference’s two divisions as they seek to end a seven-year playoff drought of their own.

Greektown: Better results but far less action

Of the three Detroit-based sportsbooks, Greektown’s is the only one sporting a higher hold in the first eight months of 2023 than 2022. The PENN Entertainment book has a win rate of nearly 7.5% this year, 2.6 percentage points above last year.

Handle, however, is down to $42.2 million from $104.7 million. One possible cause of some of the decline is the lack of action from Barstool Sports founder and one-time PENN Entertainment partner Dave Portnoy.

The social media stalwart helped make Greektown a focal point for PENN during Barstool’s partnership, which included him making five- and sometimes six-figure wagers on games while in Michigan to help drive business to the book. PENN is in the process of rebranding its book to ESPN BET, but until it unveils how it will leverage the omnipresent sports media brand, it is unknown if it will make an impact that will drive more people to make bets.

MotorCity: A smaller downturn in handle

MotorCity’s decline in year-to-date handle of 15.8% to $28 million from $33.3 million is the smallest of Detroit’s three books. The FanDuel-powered venue has been arguably the most consistent of the three books when it comes to generating handle.

If one removes the $3.8 million drop in January handle in 2023 versus 2022, MotorCity’s year-to-date handle decline shrinks to a more respectable 5.7%. MotorCity is still almost $1 million in the red, though, in revenue for 2023.

It is still reeling from a rough spring and summer that saw it post monthly losses in April, June, and July, highlighted by a $1.7 million loss in April as it paid out winning parlay tickets totaling more than $2.6 million. The -3.5% hold on gross revenue in 2023 is a negative swing of more than 12 percentage points compared to the first eight months of 2022.

MGM Grand: The betting public having its way

Much like MotorCity, MGM Grand’s lack of success in retail wagering is inverse to the strong monthly performances BetMGM has enjoyed online for much of 2023 in Michigan.

MGM Grand’s 2023 year-to-date handle is down 40.2% to $29.5 million, a decline of almost $20 million from last year. It’s gross revenue has plunged 59.1% to just over $1.2 million, as its 4.1% hold on the year is nearly two percentage points lower compared to 2022.

Unlike MotorCity, there isn’t any one month where the decline stands out, as handle has been lighter in general. At least $5 million worth of tickets were written in six of the first eight months of 2022, but January was the only month this year to hit that benchmark at $5.7 million,

Is there more action to come?

Regardless of the success of any Detroit or Michigan teams, September’s figures are expected to show month-over-month handle increases as football is the tide that raises all sportsbooks. The question is whether Detroit’s three venues will have halted the year-over-year downturns against September 2022.

All three sportsbooks had month-over-month increases of 50% or more from August to September in 2022, with their collective handle increasing from $11 million to nearly $18.6 million. But all three had year-over-year handle declines of at least 26.2% in September last year.

The $10 million-plus of accepted wagers this August was the fourth-lowest retail handle post-COVID, and a similar bump to last year would see handle land between $15 million and $16 million. Using the more optimistic estimate of $16 million, that would still represent a 13.9% decline versus September 2022.

The three books, though, may have had more tailwinds this year than last. The Lions not only enjoyed some preseason buzz heading into September, they actually maintained it with a 2-1 start.

Additionally, Michigan is clearly in the hunt for the College Football Playoff and lived up to its No. 2 ranking with five lopsided wins. The MGCB does not break out figures by sport category, but everything is in place for Detroit’s sportsbooks to begin closing out 2023 strong.

Photo: Nic Antaya/Getty Images