Well, that was quite a year for Michigan sports bettors.
On Jan. 22, the floodgates officially opened with DraftKings, Barstool, William Hill (now Caesars), TwinSpires, Golden Nugget, BetRivers, BetMGM, FanDuel, and WynnBET all going live on day one with their sportsbooks, and all except Barstool opening up their casinos. Today, there are 14 online sportsbooks and casinos operating in the state.
Here’s a look at some of the other highlights from the year in gaming in Michigan:
Early February brought beloved former Lion Barry Sanders into the BetMGM fold, where he signed on as an “ambassador” for the company.
Barry Sanders is hooking up with @BetMGM as brand ambassador, following launch in Michigan.
"Sanders will star in BetMGM’s upcoming marketing campaigns and participate in a variety of events with BetMGM customers."
Never a bad time for Barry highlights.https://t.co/g91ClZ8cbc
— Sports Handle (@sports_handle) February 4, 2021
By mid-February, the first numbers from January’s online sportsbook and casino launch trickled in, and they were boffo: The sportsbooks’ handle came in just north of $115 million, and the casinos made over $29.3 million. Additionally, the two leaders in each category – FanDuel in sports betting and BetMGM in casino gaming – held on to their early leads and will finish 2021 as the market leaders in Michigan. BetMGM has no contenders to its casino throne right now, while DraftKings and, to a lesser extent, BetMGM are coming up behind FanDuel in the sports betting space.
In what was the first of precious few blips on the online gaming front, the CEO of the Michigan Legacy Credit Union stopped allowing its members to deposit their money into a gaming account.
In March, BetMGM’s online poker went live. Also in March: Records were set for Michigan’s online sportsbooks, not to be broken until October, with the handle coming in at $359 million.
In April, Richard Kalm, the longtime executive director of the Michigan Gaming Control Board, announced he was stepping down from his position. The then-deputy director, Henry Williams Jr., was named his successor.
But wait, there’s more
As the months rolled by, it was becoming increasingly clear that Michigan’s online casino market was smashing expectations. A pre-legalization legislative report opined that legal online casinos in Michigan would bring in $400 to $600 million adjusted gross revenue in a fully mature market. They were off … by a lot, as Michigan’s first-year numbers – and remember, that’s a year that started on Jan. 22 with eight (now 14) online casinos – will come dangerously close to a billion dollars.
July brought live dealer action to Michigan, as well as the debut of Parx, which became the 14th sportsbook to go live.
August came and with it came Cade Cunningham to the Detroit Pistons as the first pick in the NBA draft.
— Detroit Pistons (@DetroitPistons) July 30, 2021
September brought football, including the disappointing Lions and the surprising Michigan and Michigan State squads, neither of which were expected to make much noise this season. It also brought one of the odder stories in all of 2021, when Dave Portnoy – the face of the Barstool sportsbook – said during a Twitter Spaces event with Roundhill Investments that one of the reasons for BetMGM’s success in Michigan was due to Floyd Mayweather Jr. placing his (presumed) big bets there.
“I hear whispers — I have nothing to back it up — in Michigan that Floyd Mayweather (Jr.) bets with MGM,” Portnoy said. “I’ve literally heard that. He’s a monster guy and can affect handle by himself.”
Also in September: A Michigan bettor cashed out a 16-team, $133K NFL parlay when he bailed on his beloved Lions, who he picked to win that Monday night against the Green Bay Packers. It was a smart move, as the Lions lost 35-17.
One bettor at @BetMGM has a 16-game parlay on the line tonight. $25 to win $726, 959.
— Greg Rosenstein (@grosenstein) September 20, 2021
Online casinos continued their run with a record-breaking September.
October saw one of the all-time great Michigan-Michigan State football games, as the Spartans beat the Wolverines 37-33 behind Kenneth Walker III’s five touchdowns. And while it appeared at the moment Michigan State was ascendant, it was, in the end, Michigan that punched its ticket to the college football playoffs, as Jim Harbaugh finally beat Ohio State.
November saw Soaring Eagle announce a partnership with Kambi to become the 15th – and, at least for now, final – online sportsbook in Michigan with a planned 2022 launch. November also saw records falling in both the online casino and sportsbook market, with the sportsbooks to reset the record a month later .
And December brought something legitimately surprising: not one, but two, Lions victories.
Who knows what 2022 will bring?