In a bit of news that will be unwelcome for sports bettors looking to access legal sportsbooks for March Madness and the rest of the 2020 sports calendar, the Michigan Gaming Control Board on Wednesday announced that mobile sportsbooks likely won’t be up and running until 2021, according to the Associated Press.
Michigan legalized sports betting in late 2019 with some involved hoping to see online sportsbooks go live in the first or second quarter, but as has been shown in other states across the country, it’s generally a quicker process to launch physical sportsbooks at existing casinos than via new mobile platforms.
“I would say, I think we’ve all seen mobile take longer than it does to prop up brick and mortar, and that goes to seeing that it is geofenced properly,” consultant Brendan Bussmann of Global Market Advisors told Sports Handle. “Use Iowa as an example. With mobile as slowly as it’s rolled out, it’s proven to be the difference maker in revenue. But it should surprise no one that it will take mobile a little long to roll out.”
Iowa green-lighted the first physical sportsbooks to launch on Aug. 15, 2019, and though five mobile platforms also launched around at that time, 14 others are still in the process of getting online. As each mobile platform has gone live, there has been an uptick in monthly handle. But on a shorter timeline in neighboring Indiana, which launched brick-and-mortar sports betting on Sept. 1, 2019, it was another month or two before the first mobile sites — via DraftKings and BetRivers — went live. Eight others are still preparing for live mobile.
MI sports betting legalized just a month ago
Michigan is early in the regulatory process — Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed sports betting into law just over a month ago. And while Michigan has a mature retail gaming framework, the MGCB is now tasked with developing new rules and infrastructure for online sports betting for both commercial and tribal casinos, while simultaneously doing the same for online casino gaming, which was also legalized at the end of 2019.
“At this point, we’re just at the very beginning of the process of promulgating rules (for online), and that will take about a year,” MGCB spokesperson Mary Kay Bean told Sports Handle. “For the betting that would take place on site at the casinos, we’re hoping we can authorize that by spring and that is going to depend on casinos submitting to us applications, and then we obviously have to do the licensing. We’re going to try to expedite that as much as possible.”
Given then dual legalization bills, the situation is most akin to that in Pennsylvania, which also saw a lengthy runway for the rollout of licensed platforms in 2018-2019.
And the MGCB indicated it will not be creating “emergency” rules for sports betting, a measure that would install rules so licensees could go live in short order while permanent regulations come to fruition.
Bean said that “suppliers,” meaning casinos or potential sportsbook operators for retail sports betting, are being asked to use existing applications to apply for sports betting licenses. It’s also likely that operators who are active in other states that have similar “standards” to Michigan, will have an easier time in the application process. Bean pointed to New Jersey and Indiana as states Michigan has been looking at for best practices.
While the process will stretch out for mobile sports betting, Michigan is in a unique position to launch retail sports betting quickly. The state can authorize sports betting as a casino game under the Michigan Gaming Control and Revenue Act, meaning it doesn’t have to promulgate new rules or deal with other administrative issues before launch. In addition, the MGCB doesn’t have any regulatory control over the state’s tribes with regard to retail sports betting, so it’s really dealing with only the three Detroit commercial casinos in this first phase.
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Bean also cited the “official league data” mandate and working with tribal casinos as issues unique to Michigan. The new law is the first in a state with a heavy tribal presence, and only the third behind Tennessee and Illinois, to include the data mandate.