Firekeepers + Scientific Games for Michigan online gambling

FireKeepers Casino, Scientific Games Racing Toward Michigan Online Gambling

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The Michigan partnerships are coming fast and furious this month.

It was only on Dec. 20 that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed into law the state’s sports betting and online gambling bill. Already, we’ve had three such announcements.

The first and arguably most significant of these was The Stars Group’s reveal that it would team up with the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians.

The latest comes from the tribal casino FireKeepers. It disclosed this week that it has chosen Scientific Games to power its self-branded FireKeepers online casino and sportsbook.

Scientific Games gains access to Michigan

Whereas the previous two announcements involved business-to-consumer brands, Scientific Games is a business-to-business company.

Players who don’t follow the industry closely may not be familiar with the name. It’s likely, however, that they’d be familiar with some of Scientific’s clients. In the US, that includes the likes of Golden Nugget, Caesars Casino and the Pennsylvania Lottery.

Despite being a US company based in Nevada, however, most of its business is international. It’s a publicly traded corporation (NASDAQ: SGMS) with nearly 10,000 employees and annual revenues in excess of $3 billion.

As well as sports betting and internet gaming services, SGMS produces all sorts of software and hardware for land-based casinos. That includes everything from back-end applications for managing the day-to-day business of a casino to some of the slot machines you’ll see on most casino floors.

Unfortunately, one thing that Scientific Games does not do is online poker. Having chosen them as a partner, then, it doesn’t look like FireKeepers will be among the choices for Michigan online poker players.

FireKeepers leveraging its large tribal casino

FireKeepers Casino Hotel is located in Battle Creek, which is in south-central Michigan. It’s about a two-hour drive west of Detroit and three-and-a-half hours north of Indianapolis.

Michigan’s tribal casinos are numerous, at over two dozen, and they vary widely in size. FireKeepers is among the largest. In fact, with 107,000 square feet of gaming space and a 243-room resort style hotel attached, it rivals Detroit’s three commercial casinos in size.

That may be why it chose a B2B outfit to provide its sports betting and online casino services. It likely means it plans on using its own brand for its online operations. Its online casino and sportsbook may therefore face a tough marketing climb at first, but whatever gains it makes there will help cross-sell players on its physical property.

One interesting fact is that FireKeepers actually has the biggest live poker room in the state, boasting 22 tables. That makes it a bit surprising that it wouldn’t choose a partner with an online poker product. In a limited single-state market, however, no one is going to have an easy time competing against PokerStars, WSOP, and partypoker.

If multi-state online poker happens somewhere down the road — and if it leads to a second online poker boom — there’s a remote chance Scientific Games could elect to develop an online poker product. In the meantime, however, FireKeepers is probably making the correct (if conservative) decision to stick to the casino and sports verticals.

Who’s left in Michigan?

Though there are many small tribal casinos in Michigan, there are really only three major brands — four if you count Odawa Casino Resort, which is about half the size of the others. It is, in any case, already in partnership with The Stars Group.

That leaves Soaring Eagle, in Mt. Pleasant, and Four Winds, which has three properties, the largest of which is in New Buffalo. It seems very likely at this point that we’ll hear a partnership announcement from those in the near future.

Then there are the three commercial casinos in Detroit.

  • It’s a given that the MGM Grand will use its own brand in conjunction with services provided by ROAR Digital, its joint venture with GVC.
  • Greektown Casino is operated by Penn National and will therefore presumably either use its own brand under a partnership with Kambi.
  • MotorCity is independently owned and, like Four Winds, can go with whomever it chooses.

That’s two big casino brands left unspoken for.

There are considerably more than two online brands that will likely seek entry to the state, however: DraftKings, FanDuel, Unibet, and Caesars/WSOP/888 to name just a few. Meanwhile, Michigan law only allows one online skin per land-based license. Whoever doesn’t end up with MotorCity or Four Winds will need to seek out a smaller tribal casino.

With partnerships being announced as fast as they have, the whole thing is starting to feel like a game of musical chairs.

Correction: This article originally stated incorrectly that Soaring Eagle was partnered with PointsBet. PointsBet’s partner is Northern Waters.

- Alex is a journalist from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada. Now site runner for Online Poker Report, he has been writing about poker and the online gambling industry in various capacities since 2014.
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