January could be a huge month for legal sports betting as regulators in both Michigan and Virginia say they’re aiming to have operators go live with digital platforms in the first month of 2021. For Michiganders, that news comes as a bit of a disappointment, but for Virginians, a January launch may exceed expectations, considering sports betting was legalized just eight months ago.
When operators are live online in both states, it will mean that 18 million more Americans will have access to legal mobile sports wagering than do today. Michigan (9.9 million) will be the third most populous state behind Pennsylvania and Illinois with legal digital sports wagering, and Virginia (8.5 million) will be the fifth. New Jersey, which has consistently had the highest handle across the country, is the fourth biggest.
In both states, regulators are in the process of vetting applications, putting operators through testing, and finishing licensing procedures. Below is a look at what to expect when.
Michigan: Go-live mid-January
"Barstool could be the favorite to be the number one sportsbook in Michigan."
Michigan mobile sports betting will soon go live, and one analyst has tabbed Barstool as the top dog. @jeffedelstein breaks down the market with some insight from @mattdorta: https://t.co/bscG688pRB pic.twitter.com/dw3d9KPO9o
— MI Bets (@MichiganBets) December 9, 2020
Earlier this month, the Michigan Gaming Control Board issued 15 provisional licenses to operators, including national players BetMGM, BetRivers, DraftKings, FanDuel, PointsBet, and William Hill. Mobile operators must be tethered to brick-and-mortar casinos. BetMGM, FanDuel, and Barstool Sports have commercial partners located in Detroit, and all others are tethered to tribal casinos across the state. Though go-live dates are still moving targets, some operators have begun offering sign-up bonuses in preparation.
One unanswered question is whether the MGCB will launch multiple operators on one day, like both Colorado and Tennessee did earlier this year, or if launches will be rolling, as they were in Illinois. According to an MGCB spokesperson, how and when operators will launch will be determined, in part, by who is ready.
The first brick-and-mortar sportsbooks opened in March, just ahead of the most severe COVID-19 cancellations and shutdowns.
Lawmakers legalized sports betting and iGaming in December 2019 with optimism that both retail and digital platforms would go live in 2020. The MGCB didn’t make any promises, and between crafting rules, COVID-19 shutdowns, and legislative requirements, 2021 will be the year.
Virginia: Go-live before Super Bowl
Lawmakers legalized sports betting April 22 in a state without any existing casinos or casino commission. Eight months later, the Virginia Lottery is on the cusp of launching sports betting operators. In November, lottery chief Kevin Hall told the House Appropriations Committee he’s hoping for go-live dates in late January … possibly early February 2021. The goal either way would be for operators to be able to take bets ahead of the Feb. 7 Super Bowl.
The lottery told Sports Handle this week that there is no update since that Nov. 17 committee meeting. It will not release the names of operators who have applied for licenses. According to multiple industry sources, the lottery has not indicated which operators have been approved to offer sports betting in Virginia.
The lottery says there are approximately 12 licenses available, but that it had 25 operators apply. Some already have market access via casino deals, including Hard Rock (Bristol), BetRivers (Portsmouth), and William Hill/Caesars (Danville), while at least one other, WynnBET, partnered with Richmond Raceway and Martinsville Speedway in hopes of gaining access via a professional sports organization.
According to the law, the Virginia Lottery can award 12 mobile/online licenses PLUS licenses tethered to professional sports organizations with facilities in Virginia. Lawmakers and regulators have said the Washington Football Team and DC United, both with practice facilities in Virginia, fit the definition of a pro sports organization, but the state’s two auto racing tracks at Martinsville and Richmond have not previously been part of the discussion.
Among those without brick-and-mortar partners, BetMGM, DraftKings, FanDuel, and PointsBet have all applied for licenses, and Handle 19, Washington, D.C.’s independently owned sportsbook, hopes to expand into Virginia and Maryland. It is a good bet that Barstool, BetAmerica, theScore, and Unibet are among others also in the mix.