Michigan Tribal Casinos Prepping For Sport Betting Launches

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Last week, the Michigan Gaming Control Board announced that mobile sports betting won’t go live in the state until 2021, and that its plan is to help operators launch retail sports betting sometime this spring. But on the retail side, the MGCB only regulates commercial casinos and sportsbooks, so Michiganders in some parts of the state could be on a different timeline for live tribal sports betting.

The MGCB will have some regulatory control over online/mobile tribal sports betting, which isn’t set to launch until 2021.

According to media reports, the Firekeepers Hotel and Casino in Battle Creek is among those getting ready for sports betting. The casino already has a sportsbook, complete with teller windows in place, though it isn’t saying when sports betting will go live. The sportsbook, which will also be outfitted with self-service kiosks and a myriad of big-screen TVs, will be located in the area that is now Dacey’s Taphouse. The space will be renamed Dacey’s Sportsbook and Taphouse.

Timeline to launch still fluid

“We have been working and planning for the legalization of sports betting for over a year and a half,” Firekeepers Vice President of Marketing Jim Wise told WWMT last week. “We are all very excited for this to become a reality but before that happens we have a lot of work to do.”

 

When Firekeepers, which is owned and run by the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi, does open its sportsbook, it will be run by SG Digital.

Wise told WWMT that casino guests and those on social media have been asking daily about when sports betting will be available, but “we don’t know when it is, yet.” Wise also said the book definitely won’t open by this weekend’s Super Bowl, and probably not ahead of March Madness.

About four hours north in Petoskey, the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, has partnered with The Stars Group for online sports betting. The tribe and The Stars Group already had a retail casino partnership in place.  The Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians to the northwest, who own and run the Gun Lake Casino, are also preparing for sports betting.

“We’re excited about offering these new amenities to our guests, but we need to see how regulations are updated before we proceed,” Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi spokesman James Nye told MiBiz.

Among the key challenges to live sports betting in Michigan is how the tribes and the state and federal governments will sort out the unique laws governing tribal gaming. While Michigan’s tribes signed off on the new sports betting law, there are still intricacies to be navigated before the first bet can be taken. Michigan’s tribes were the first to support a sports betting law that allows for both tribal and commercial sports betting.

Will mobile level playing field?

Michigan will be an interesting test case for tribes, which have generally been reticent to agree to legal sports betting alongside commercial casinos and are openly against legalizing mobile sports betting in many states. In Washington State, there is currently a commercial bill that includes tribal gaming and a tribal gaming-only bill in the state legislature. The state’s tribes support the tribal-only bill, which does not include mobile. And in California, while state lawmakers have been pushing for legal commercial and tribal sports betting, a group of 18 tribes has been approved for a tribal-only sports betting ballot referendum, which does not include mobile sports betting.

In Michigan, mobile could level the playing the field. Even the smallest tribe will have the opportunity to partner with a big, brand-name online sportsbook partner, meaning that a small tribal casino tucked into the northern part of the state could capture a huge portion of mobile revenue from the entire state.

“This presents an opportunity for the entire casino industry to offer a new product that seems to have a high level of demand, as reflected in other states,” Scott Hughes, a tribal gaming specialist and government policy attorney with Dykema Gossett PLLC told MiBiz. “And the state has a good revenue-generating opportunity here.”

Jill R. Dorson

Jill has covered everything from steeplechase to the NFL and then some during a more than 30-year career in sports journalism. The highlight of her career was covering Oakland Raiders during the Charles Woodson/Jon Gruden era, including the infamous “Snow Bowl” and the Raiders’ 2003 trip to Super Bowl XXXVII. Her specialty these days is covering sports betting legislation across the country.

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