Michigan Tribal Casinos Back To Pre-Pandemic Levels, Detroit Casinos Still Behind

Written By Drew Ellis on April 24, 2023
Michigan tribal casinos vs detroit casinos

Michigan retail casinos would likely fit 2022 under the title of “holding steady.”

Publicly available reports from tribal casino gaming and Detroit casino gaming show a year that was very comparable to 2021.

However, when widening the picture, it becomes clear that tribal casinos have collectively made up the ground from the negative impact the COVID-19 pandemic caused the industry. Detroit’s three casinos can’t make that same statement.

Tribal casinos around Michigan show slightly higher gaming revenue in 2022 than they had in 2019. Detroit’s retail casinos are still nearly 14% lower than that of 2019.

While the Detroit casinos are required to report their full revenue to the public, the same isn’t the case for tribal casinos.

The only public numbers are a 2% tax payment each tribe makes from their Class III machine revenue for the year. However, many factors can impact the payments and the net win totals. Those factors can differ amongst each tribe, according to a statement the Michigan Gaming Control Board provided for Playinmichigan.

Regardless, based on the info released by the tribes, we can see how those payments differ year-to-year for insight into how the tribal casinos are performing.

Michigan tribal casinos rebounding better than Detroit Casinos since 2019

Where tribal casinos and the Detroit casinos have similarities is in their 2021 to 2022 revenue reporting.

The tribal casinos saw a 2.2% decline in year-over-year reporting, while the three Detroit casinos dipped by 0.8% from 2021.

Where things differ greatly is where the tribal casinos sit in comparison to the pre-pandemic days of 2019 compared to the Detroit casinos.

Tribal casinos collectively saw 2022 as a slight improvement over 2019, growing together by a 1.1% difference.

Tribe 2019 payment 2021 payment 2022 payment Change 2021-22 Change 2019-22
Bay Mills $429,302 $340,688 $329,502 -3.3% -23.3%
Grand Traverse Band $1,1538,689 $1,383794 $1,344,666 -2.8% -12.6%
Gun Lake $4,686,816 $4,243,082 $4,272,440 +0.7% -8.8%
Hannahville $1,054,439 $1,122,372 $1,192,758 +6.3% +13.1%
Keweenaw Bay $577,395 $754,687 $725,721 -3.8% +25.7%
Lac Vieux Desert Band $258,885 $291,596 $273,875 -6.1% +5.8%
Little River Band $1,742,356 $1,463,331 $1,498,279 +2.4% -14.0%
Little Traverse Bay Bands $1,104,567 $1,150,137 $1,112,296 -3.3% -4.0%
Nottawaseppi Huron Band $5,855,558 $6,397,613 $6,196,103 -3.2% +5.8%
Pokagon Band $5,731,527 $6,120,250 $5,578,183 -8.9% -2.7%
Saginaw Chippewa $6,120,314 $7,023,782 $6,916,589 -1.5% +13.0%
Sault Ste. Marie $1,385,022 $1,214,061 $1,364,104 +12.4% -1.5%
Totals $30,484,870 $31,505,393 $30,804,516 -2.2% +1.1%

The same cannot be said for the three Detroit casinos. Since 2019, Detroit casinos have declined in revenue by 13.6% for their slots and table games.

Tribe 2019 revenue 2021 revenue 2022 revenue Change 2021-22 Change 2019-22
MGM Grand Detroit $623,515,060 $554,029,734 $599,997,956 +8.3% -3.8%
MotorCity Casino $493,566,673 $438,271,651 $396,520,768 -9.5% -19.7%
Hollywood Casino
at Greektown
$337,192,961 $274,461,146 $260,456,017 -5.1% -22.8%
Totals $1,454,274,694 1,266,762,531 $1,256,974,742 -0.8% -13.6%

Why are tribal casinos outperforming Detroit casinos?

When looking at the data, the immediate question is, “Why are Detroit casinos struggling to get back to pre-pandemic levels, while tribal casinos have surpassed that mark?”

While there may not be a simple answer, there is definitely some data that helps support these current results.

Detroit tourism continuing to feel pandemic impact

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation tracks tourism in the state of Michigan. Among the data it collects is visitor spending each year, for each county throughout the state.

Obviously the pandemic impacted tourism in the state a great deal in 2020. That also led to a big influx of tourism in 2021 by comparison due to people’s eagerness to get out of their homes.

However, of all areas of the state, no area saw smaller tourism growth in 2021 than the Detroit Metro Region.

Macomb County, Oakland County and Wayne County collectively brought in $9.1 billion in visitor spending in 2021 compared to just $7.3 billion in 2020. That 24.8% increase was the lowest in the state for regions.

For Wayne County, home of the three Detroit casinos, visitor spending increased from $4.2 billion in 2020 to $5.5 billion in 2021.

What’s more notable is that the totals are a far cry from where they were pre-pandemic. Visitor spending in Wayne County was much larger prior to 2020:

  • 2016: $7.1 billion
  • 2017: $7.4 billion
  • 2018: $7.7 billion
  • 2019: $7.8 billion

From 2019 to 2021, Wayne County saw nearly a 30% decrease in visitor spending.

Numbers for 2022 won’t be available until this summer, but Detroit is likely to continue to fall well below the marks it hit before 2020 when it comes to visitor spending. Less people coming into the city also correlates to fewer people visiting the three Detroit casinos.

Tourism up in tribal casino locations

Tribal casino locations aren’t seeing the same tourism issues as Detroit.

In fact, most have already seen an increase in visitor spending when compared to 2019 numbers.

Of the 20 counties that include one or more of Michigan’s 23 tribal casinos, 15 saw greater visitor spending in 2021 than prior to the pandemic. While most of that can be attributed to many of those counties being home to some of Michigan’s bigger outdoor tourist attractions, the larger pool of people willing to spend money certainly benefits an area’s casinos.

Here’s a look at the 10 counties that have seen the greatest increase:

County Location
(Casino in county)
2019 Visitor Spending 2021 Visitor Spending Percentage Increase
Van Buren County
(Four Winds Hartford)
$131.5 million $165.1 million 25.6%
Schoolcraft County
(Kewadin Manistique)
$47.2 million $56.2 million 19.1%
Alger County
(Kewadin Christmas)
$46.0 million $52.2 million 13.5%
Emmet County
(Odawa Petoskey)
$413.8 million $493.8 million 13.3%
Mackinac County
(Odawa Mackinac City
& Kewadin Hessel
& Kewadin St. Ignace)
$241.4 million $265.5 million 10.0%
Calhoun County
$320.3 million $349.7 million 9.2%
Marquette County
(Ojibwa Marquette)
$209.8 million $228 million 8.8%
Gogebic County
(Northern Waters)
$71.5 million $75.4 million 5.5%
Leelanau County
(Leelanau Sands)
$128.7 million $134.6 million 4.6%
Isabella County
(Soaring Eagle)
$252.9 million $263.7 million 4.3%

Tribal casinos more appealing to larger groups?

While Detroit can have many attractions to consider outside of the casinos, smaller counties that are home to tribal casinos don’t have as many competing entertainment options.

The tribal casinos are also a little more accommodating for groups, as discovered when chatting with the administrators of the casino-goers Facebook Group “What Happens At The Casino Stays At The Casino.”

“Well, we’ve been to MotorCity (Casino) once where they hosted us, and I think they gave us about $15 prepay and I think that was it,” said group creator Tim Stevens. “They were really pushing us to come in on a bus. I had to explain to them that that doesn’t work for us, because we come from all over the place. We weren’t getting a bus, though they really pushed for it. So, they gave us our $15 bucks and that was about it.”

Attempts to reach MotorCity Casino for a response were not responded to as of this writing.

The Facebook group has developed a close relationship with some of the tribal casinos such as Gun Lake Casino, FireKeepers Casino, Little River Casino and Soaring Eagle Casino.

“I think for everybody (in the group), I think they want to go where they feel the most comfortable and where the casino makes them feel like they’re royalty there,” said group administrator Maria Gonzales. “It’s never really about the travel for these people. They will travel to events. They just want to feel welcomed and special. The casinos that go out of their way to do that, I think that leaves more of a lasting impression.”

What are Detroit casinos doing to bridge the gap?

There’s no question that all retail casinos have faced challenges due to the pandemic.

Every aspect of the industry was impacted, from gaming to food services to hospitality.

Gaming revenue numbers for the Detroit casinos also can reflect the difficulties of those other areas.

MGM Grand Detroit is the one Detroit casino with promising revenue results from 2022. It saw an 8.3% increase in year-over-year revenue compared to 2021 and is down just under 4% from 2019.

One area where MGM Grand made a notable change in 2022 was the addition of two indoor smoking sections. The rooms were operational in the closing days of December, but 2023 Q1 revenue ($154.7 million) is up 2.6% from Q1 of 2022 ($150.8 million).

Hollywood Casino at Greektown also opened indoor smoking to its second floor of gaming in hopes to aid in their declining revenue.

MotorCity Casino has beefed up its entertainment schedule in the past 18 months while also offering the lone casino buffet option of the three in Detroit.

Hollywood Casino at Greektown is actually seeing the most Q1 gaming revenue growth for 2023. It is up 11.5% from last year at this time. MotorCity Casino is down less than 1%.

As these casinos continue to look more like the casinos that consumers remember in 2019, it could be what helps them finally clear that post-pandemic hurdle.

Photo by Carlos Osorio / Associated Press
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Written by

Drew Ellis

Drew Ellis is the Lead Writer of Playinmichigan, the No. 1 source for online gambling news in Michigan. A lifelong resident of the state, Ellis has been working in various forms of media since 1998, including more than a decade in the sports betting industry prior to transitioning into US casino markets in 2020.

View all posts by Drew Ellis