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It’s been a long thirteen months for Michigan gamblers. It was December 2019 when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed the state’s gambling expansion bills into law.
Although retail sportsbooks launched last March, those hoping to bet or to play poker or casino games online have had to wait patiently as the Michigan Gaming Control Board (MGCB) went through the regulatory and licensing process necessary for launch.
Now, that waiting period is finally over, or will be in just a few more days. On Tuesday, the MGCB dropped the news we’ve all been waiting for: A launch date for Michigan online gambling, and a list of operators who’ll be ready to go from day one.
The date is this Friday, January 22. Assuming all goes well, the MGCB will throw the metaphorical switch at noon and allow users to start making deposits and placing bets at that time. In the meantime, many operators are already offering their products in play money form. Anyone looking to get started as quickly as possible on Friday might be able to save themselves some time – and get some practice – by signing up early.
The list of operators consists of nine major brands, most of which will already be familiar to players. Eight of these will be offering both online casino and sports betting. The last, Barstool, is purely a sportsbook, though its owner Penn National will ultimately have a Michigan online casino as well, using its Hollywood brand.
Unfortunately, Michigan online poker won’t arrive immediately, but it may only be a matter of days. MGCB Executive Director Richard Kalm said last week that he expected operators to take an additional four or five days to test their poker products, but stressed that this was not a matter under his control.
As expected, the first wave of launches will comprise most of the major brands with prior online experience. You’ll also find online casino games at FireKeepers, Four Winds and Soaring Eagle, all of which are launching under their own brands, but will take a bit longer to arrive.
Nine brands is nonetheless a pretty big synchronized launch, the biggest in US history in fact. Pennsylvania managed only two, with a third following a few days later. West Virginia still has only two in total, which launched several months apart. To date, the most coordinated launch was also the first, with New Jersey managing to get seven online casinos up and running from day one, back in 2013.
Aside from the standalone Barstool Sportsbook, here are the eight brands that will be launching on Friday, along with their land-based partner casino:
Aside from the self-branded tribal operators, the most conspicuous absence from the list is PokerStars/Fox Bet, which may be waiting to launch poker alongside its other verticals. Ultimately, there may be as many as 15 competitors in the state.
Michigan has been rushing to get iGaming off the ground since this summer. The launch became a priority after the COVID-19 pandemic forced Michigan casinos to shut down in the spring. Initially, the MGCB said that it hoped it could accelerate the process enough for a fall launch. Unfortunately, regulatory red tape being what it is, the timeline got pushed back repeatedly, and ultimately a 2020 launch proved not to be in the cards.
While the wait has been frustrating for Michigonians, it may not be such a bad thing. Timing for the retail sports betting launch couldn’t have been any worse. The first few sportsbooks out of the gate had only been taking bets for a few days when the casinos closed, halting business before it properly began. When they opened again, it took some time before there were many sports to bet on, as the leagues had all suspended their seasons.
The situation for online gambling sites looks to be more positive. The Detroit retail casinos are now open again, as are most Michigan tribal casinos, after a brief second shutdown in November. However, with capacity restrictions, a mask mandate, and so on, many gamblers would just as soon stay home and play on their phones.
In both Pennsylvania and New Jersey, online casino revenues remain nearly double what they were before the pandemic. Michigan operators can expect to enjoy similarly elevated interest on top of launch-day hype.
It’s equally good timing for the sportsbooks. Super Bowl is the single biggest weekend for US sportsbooks, and March Madness the single biggest month, and both are coming up shortly.Dre