Sports Betting Opens At Three Tribal Casinos In Northern Michigan

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With the return of NFL football and the expected launch of legal online gambling throughout Michigan, casinos in the state have been working double-time to unveil retail sports betting.

This week, three tribal casinos joined the fray — Turtle Creek Casino & Hotel, in Williamsburg, and Leelanau Sands Casino & Lodge, in Peshawbestown, both of which are owned and operated by the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, as well as the Odawa Casino Hotel in Petoskey, which is owned and operated by the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians.

Turtle Creek announced a soft opening late last week and had already begun taking sports bets, but the casino celebrated its grand opening of the Onyx Sportsbook by William Hill, the international sports wagering company the casino has partnered with to offer retail and online sports gambling and iGaming services. Retired NBA power forward Rick Mahorn, who won a championship with the 1988-89 Bad Boy Detroit Pistons, hosted a meet and greet in the casino lobby and cast a ceremonial first bet. Turtle Creek’s sister casino, Leelanau Sands, does not have a full-service sportsbook, but it has installed a pair of touchscreen kiosks where customers can wager on William Hill’s full slate of competitions.

Inside the Onyx Sportsbook, guests will be able to place bets at two ticket windows and two kiosks, surrounded by 20 HD televisions playing sporting events from around the world and a bar offering food and drinks.

“We looked at Michigan as being a market we wanted to be in,” said Daniel Shapiro, vice president of strategy and business development for William Hill U.S., in a local TV news interview. “You’ve got just a great fanbase here. We thought sports betting would be really, really popular in this market.”

The strength of local sports culture was demonstrated during Onyx’s first NFL weekend. “We’ve seen a lot of bets on the Lions, believe it or not,” Shapiro added, sounding a little surprised, given another hapless 0-2 start for Detroit’s professional football team. “So, we’ll try to give them some luck, you never know.”

“Today’s grand opening at Turtle Creek Casino officially marks the 13th state where William Hill now offers sports betting,” Shapiro said in a statement released Wednesday. “This is just the beginning of our partnership with the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, with plans to launch mobile sports betting and iCasino gaming throughout Michigan as soon as permitted. This is an exciting way to start the NFL season, and we know the Onyx Sports Book by William Hill will be the new game-day location for sports fans in Northern Michigan.”

“We are excited to align with William Hill,” Michael Schrader, CEO of Grand Traverse Resort & Casinos, the company that manages Turtle Creek and Leelanau Sands, said in the statement. “They are the best in the business, and that’s always what we strive to give our guests. We have an excellent, trained staff to assist customers with getting their bets down. “We want to provide the best destination for sports betting in the state, and with William Hill as our partner, that’s a bet we’re happy to take. When Michigan regulations are permitted, we will be able to offer the best in online gaming and betting as well.  This is truly a win-win for Northern Michigan.”

Retail sports betting now in 12 Michigan casinos

Thursday afternoon, the Odawa Casino in Petoskey announced the soft opening of its sportsbook, in partnership with FOX Bet, that same day, with a grand opening planned for Oct. 8.

“Sports Book at Odawa Casino is OPEN!!” said a post on the casino’s Facebook page. “Stop by our soft opening soiree today starting at 6 p.m. to meet our sportsbook manager, Hurricane Chris, and learn some tips and tricks on how to bet.”

With retail sports gambling now available at Odawa, Turtle Creek, and Leelanau Sands, that makes 12 casinos in Michigan where guests can make in-person wagers on sporting events. Lawmakers voted to legalize sports betting in Dec. 2019, and the state’s first brick-and-mortar sportsbooks opened in March, only days before COVID-19 forced them — and athletic competitions around the world — to shut down. Since tribal casinos began reopening in May, and the Detroit commercial casinos followed in August.
Now, in addition to the three recent openings, sports bettors can wager at the three Detroit casinos, Firekeepers Casino in Battle Creek, Little River Casino in Manistee, Island Resort & Casino in Harris, and three Four Winds casino locations in Hartford, New Buffalo, and Dowagiac.
The casinos and their sportsbook partners are awaiting the expected rollout of legal, online gambling in Michigan, which state regulators hope to complete by late November. At that point, Michiganders will be able to place bets from anywhere in the state, using mobile platforms like FanDuel, BetRivers, BetMGM, and PointsBet, which have partnered with local casinos.
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Rafe Bartholomew

Rafe has worked as an editor and writer at Harper's Magazine, Grantland, Eater, and The Athletic. He is a co-author of the New York Times Bestselling book Basketball: A Love Story and the author of two other books, Pacific Rims and Two and Two.

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