An Inside Look At Day 1 Of Legal Sports Betting In Michigan

Written By Matt Schoch on March 12, 2020
Michigan sports betting MGM Grand

As a lifelong metro Detroit resident, Justin Ptak knows the Detroit sports teams are a losing bet these days.

That’s why for Wednesday’s first official sports bet at Greektown Casino just after 1 p.m., the Wyandotte, Mich. resident went against his home team, parlaying the Philadelphia 76ers (-11) and the over (212.0) against the Pistons later that night.

“I like the atmosphere and the excitement around it,” Ptak said Wednesday. “I’ve been waiting for a while. I think it’ll be huge for Michigan and even more so with the mobile betting.”

Michigan casinos are wagering there are more fans like Ptak who will come downtown now that the state is the 16th with legal sports betting.

MGM Grand and Greektown held ceremonies for the official opening Wednesday of legal sports wagering, while the third Detroit operation, MotorCity Casino, announced it would open a sportsbook on Thursday morning.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed gambling expansion bills in December and the Michigan Gaming Control Board gave final approval Tuesday for the three Detroit casinos to take live onsite bets starting Wednesday. Internet casinos and mobile sports betting are still further down the road, likely in 2021. The state’s 22 tribal casinos are not under MGCB rule and are working toward opening their own sportsbooks this year.

And while the Lions, Pistons, Red Wings and Tigers are all in the doldrums these days, the three Detroit casinos rolled out some local sports legends for the openings.

Greektown Casino

Good thing it wasn’t a real bet because former Michigan State basketball star Mateen Cleaves, Lions legend Lem Barney and Pistons public address announcer John Mason really went against the odds.

The trio were part of a ceremonial bet on the Lions to win the Super Bowl next season – at +6600 – a woebegone wager that no doubt will be replayed throughout the state in the future.

“I think it’s exciting for Detroit with all the teams down here and the resurgence that has gone on,” said John Drake, Greektown Casino’s general manager. “It’s just one more thing to be excited about.”

Greektown opened its temporary 5,000-square foot sportsbook with employees wearing “Greektown Casino + Barstool Sports” T-shirts though the facility had no noticeable Barstool branding.

Greektown owners Penn National Gaming bought a stake in Barstool in January with plans to market their sportsbooks with the men’s lifestyle brand. Drake said the permanent sportsbook, which will open by football season, will be Barstool-branded and sit in the heart of the Greektown casino floor. Drake said the temporary space will then turn into a VIP and overflow area.

One feature rolled out Wednesday was the mobile Bet Builder, where fans can scan a QR code or visit to build a bet offsite and then scan a QR code at a kiosk or betting window to play it.

MGM Grand Detroit

MGM rolled out the red carpet for a collection of former Michigan athletes Wednesday that included former NFL star Jerome Bettis, Lomas Brown of the Lions, boxer Tommy Hearns, Dino Ciccarelli of the Red Wings, Dave Rozema of the Tigers and James Edwards of the Pistons.

Detroit mayor Mike Duggan canceled at the last minute for the event, the official rebranding of Moneyline Sports Lounge to BetMGM Sportsbook.

“We’re in the middle of a Detroit renaissance,” said University of Michigan graduate Matt Prevost, chief marketing officer for Roar Digital, which manages BetMGM’s systems. “And the fact that you’ve got four teams within four blocks, also not too far away from this property, it’s going to be a great environment for engagement in sports betting.

“This is a sports-mad state.”

After the opening, traffic was steady at BetMGM’s seven ticket windows and 15 self-serve kiosks outside of the lounge.

Aaron Coburn of Eastpointe had an attendant run down each of the types of bets with him at the kiosk on Wednesday, taking a look at basketball and football wagers but not yet placing one.

“I’m glad they’ve got this because I would like to bet on the games,” said Coburn, a frequent casino patron. “It’s another added feature to get me here and get me to play.”

MotorCity Casino

MotorCity Casino made official what Legal Sports Report first reported last week, naming FanDuel as its sportsbook partner.

The casino announced a 10 a.m. Thursday launch featuring Lions Hall of Famer Barry Sanders as the ceremonial first bettor.

The FanDuel facility will have six betting windows, 67 televisions and 54 self-serve kiosks powered by IGT PlaySports.
A news release announcing the partnership emphasized that because FanDuel was running the sportsbook operations, bettors can wager on the Tigers and Red Wings, which are owned by the Ilitch family – also the owners of MotorCity Casino.

At the casino on Wednesday, final touches were being done on the two-story facility, which is replacing the former Chromatics Lounge and Spectators bars.

MotorCity also announced that former Red Wings Darren McCarty and Joey Kocur would be the sportsbook’s guests of honor later Thursday during the Red Wings 7 p.m. game at Washington.

Throughout the city, there was a hint of optimism for sports fans like Ptak, who can find some silver lining in Detroit sports misfortunes. Like Ptak, Coburn said he could get behind betting against the local teams.

“Detroit don’t win,” Coburn said. “If they keep that trend up, I’ll be a rich man.”

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Matt Schoch

A Michigan native, Matt has worked at newspapers in Michigan, Missouri and the Virgin Islands. A versatile sports reporter, Matt has covered sailing on the Great Lakes, cricket in the Caribbean, high school and pro playoffs, and the Olympics in Rio. He’s also the former host of the Locked On Pistons Podcast and producer of a documentary on Emoni Bates. A former blackjack dealer, Matt has studied the industry from all sides.

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