No one knows if Michigan could see its first online/mobile sportsbook launch in 2020.
If a market existed for predicting whether the launch would come this year or next year, there would be plenty of swings based on comments from state officials and regulatory developments.
Proponents of online gambling in the Wolverine State want the new forms of online betting to kick off this year. Earlier this year prior to the pandemic, the Michigan Gaming Control Board said online gambling platforms wouldn’t be cleared to launch until early to mid 2021.
The state has the option of using so-called emergency rules to speed up the process, but the administration of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer reportedly doesn’t currently see the situation fitting the requirements of the state’s Administrative Procedures Act of 1969.
Does that mean it’s impossible to see an online/mobile book launch before Dec. 31, 2020? Apparently not.
Legislative sponsor weighs in
Michigan state Rep. Brandt Iden, sponsor of the online gambling legislation that was signed by Whitmer in December 2019, indicated on Monday at the ICE North America Digital conference that it is still possible the new form of wagering could launch this fall.
“When [gaming tax revenue] goes away for months on end we are left with significant budget shortfalls,” Iden explained. “Because of that we are moving quickly. The [industry] rules are out. It’s been a couple of weeks now. It’s part of the 60-day stakeholder process, where we’re waiting for feedback on those, hopefully with an implementation period sooner than the one year that was originally discussed and written into the legislation.”
Finalizing the regulations isn’t the tricky part, according to Iden. It’s the licensing process.
“It does lead me, though, to a couple of issues,” he said. “One is we still have a timing issue as it relates to licensing. I think as you look at licensing it always takes the longest even if we get these rules promulgated by the end of July, first part of August. You’re still going to see licensing take longer. We are trying to expedite that with operators and industry folks who are licensed in, say, New Jersey or Pennsylvania. We’re trying to get them provisionally licensed here, but that process always takes awhile.”
There’s a catch, however, with provisional licensing to speed up the launch.
“Secondly,” Iden continued, “and I think that this is one I’ll be interested to see how it plays out: If you recall, the legislation specifically says, and we negotiated this quite extensively, that once one tribal casino was licensed and one commercial casino was licensed, we could go online. Well, in addition to the year.
“So what you’re seeing now is that tribal casinos and others have partnered with operators who have planned on one year, and are in fact taking that time to build out their platforms. Well, if we get everything up and going in an expedited timeline, let’s just say this fall, you run into a situation where you’re actually going to be at a competitive disadvantage if you’re one of those operators who is taking the time to build out that platform.”
In other words, some stakeholders in Michigan might not want to see an expedited launch.
“In fact,” Iden said, “they might not put the investment into Michigan that we originally anticipated. So, you have market issues and then you have consumers who might not be able to get the best options available, or all the options that they were otherwise going to get with this expedited timeline. I think in the end [online gambling] is important, it is a revenue source.”
Reading the tea leaves
Sports bettors are jonesing for regulated online/mobile shops to open their virtual doors in the Wolverine State. Retail sports betting kicked off in March in Detroit, but it promptly ceased as the COVID-19 pandemic barreled down on the country.
It’s early May, and it’s too early to tell whether a launch could happen in the fall or early winter. More should be known in the following weeks and months.
For now, Michiganders will access offshore sportsbooks or travel to neighboring Indiana to bet on the Hoosier State’s regulated online/mobile sportsbooks.
The Detroit casinos will probably reopen sometime this summer in a limited capacity, so there will be retail wagering once again in Michigan.
This week, Major League Baseball made strides toward having an abbreviated season, so Detroit residents could potentially bet legally on the Tigers this summer.