Unbeaten Michigan, Michigan State Are Sportsbooks’ Biggest NCAA Headaches

Written By Matt Schoch on October 7, 2021Last Updated on October 8, 2021
NCAA Football Betting October 2021

The launch and rise of Michigan sports betting was one of the biggest stories in the industry in the first half of 2021.

As a result, Michigan sports betting now accounts for an outsized amount of national handle, given that many states don’t have legal betting yet.

That means, by and large, sportsbooks are generally rooting against the Detroit and Michigan teams, for now. As fans around here know, that’s usually a good place to be these days.

So what happens when some of these teams eventually emerge from the gutter?

The Michigan and Michigan State football teams, both 5-0 and slotted at No. 9 and 11, respectively in The Associated Press Top 25 poll, could be putting a strain on the system with even more success.

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BetMGM has lots to lose on Michigan Wolverines

BetMGM Sportsbook might generally have the most “skin in the game” (as Jamie Foxx would say) when rooting against state-of-Michigan teams.

Much of the rise of BetMGM was during the time when Michigan was the focus of the industry.

During 2020, BetMGM was raising money for a big industry push, and Michigan was the next big launch on the calendar. It’s worked, and BetMGM is firmly in the big three here with DraftKings Sportsbook and FanDuel MI.

Specifically, though, the book is leveraged strongly by the homer betting habits here, as is the case in all states.

Whenever BetMGM gives updates on bet counts for events, you can usually count on a Detroit or Michigan angle giving fits to the books.

Examples of that include long-shot bets on the Detroit Tigers to win the World Series or pitcher Casey Mize to win Rookie of the Year. Or even former Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford to deliver an MVP in his first season with the Los Angeles Rams.

That’s all well and good when those things don’t happen. But what if one did?

Michigan, Michigan State living up to large liability

The Spartans and Wolverines, respectively, are the biggest national championship liabilities for BetMGM this season. Data specialist John Ewing shared with Playinmichigan that BetMGM has a seven-figure liability on either outcome.

The betting has picked up as the wins have continued to mount. Before the season, 3.3% of NCAA football betting national championship handle handle was on Michigan. This week, it was 3.8% (seventh of any team nationally).

For Michigan State, just 0.3% of handle was on a national title for the green and gold. Largely from Michiganian betting, that figure is up to 1.1% now (15th for any team).

Part of this increase is because the odds continue to stay high for the local teams despite their success.

Alabama and Georgia are so far the clear class of the college football world and continue to drive up the odds for everyone else.

But we all know the college football world has a way of changing week to week.

The local lean also comes through week to week: Michigan’s 38-17 win over Wisconsin was the eighth-most wagered-on college football game this season, according to BetMGM.

Meanwhile, Michigan State had a couple wins nearly reach the top 10. Its own 38-17 thrashing of Miami (Fla.) was the 11th-most wagered-on game, while the 23-20 overtime win against Nebraska came in at No. 12.

All the local winning (doesn’t that sound nice?) has driven odds prices down: At Caesars Sportsbook, Michigan was 25-1 to win the Big Ten and 100-1 to win the national championship in the preseason (now 6-1 and 40-1). Michigan State was 100-1 to win the Big Ten and 300-1 to win the natty (now 20-1 and 100-1).

Michigan State more popular of a bet at WynnBET

WynnBET Sportsbook has noticed more action so far this season on the Spartans, despite Michigan’s traditional status as a public team.

“Surprisingly, we saw more early season interest in Michigan State than Michigan,” said WynnBET’s Matt Lindeman, senior lead trader. “After a few disappointing seasons in Ann Arbor, the perception on that program had shifted. Michigan’s win total came in much lower than prior seasons at 7.5. For maybe the first time in the Jim Harbaugh era, the Wolverines are surpassing preseason expectations.”

Lindeman said sharp bettors were all over MSU’s win against Northwestern, and a large group backed MSU at Miami. Since Michigan’s has been a heavy favorite in three of its five games, bettors have been reluctant to lay that many points.

Still, Lindeman said WynnBET could be on the hook yet as the season continues.

“Michigan’s biggest games are still yet to come,” he said. “If the Wolverines are able to avoid the upset bug over the next three weeks, we should see an increase in handle for their games in November.”

Indeed, Michigan plays at MSU on Oct. 30 and faces a November gauntlet of Indiana, at No. 4 Penn State, at Maryland and No. 7 Ohio State.

PointsBet’s local liabilities not quite as significant

There is also plenty of NCAA football betting volume on Michigan and Michigan State over at PointsBet Sportsbook.

According to PointsBet, Michigan State is the bookmaker’s biggest liability to win the Big Ten title, while Michigan is third.

Iowa, ranked third and where PointsBet is also active, is second.

Meanwhile, Michigan’s thrashing of Wisconsin was in the top 20 for overall handle out of any game this season. Michigan State’s in at Miami was in the top 30.

Those aren’t quite BetMGM-level liabilities, but PointsBet is also doing much less volume in Michigan than BetMGM. The Australian bookmaker had taken $72.4 million in online sports bets in Michigan through August, compared with $434.4 million for BetMGM.

A PointsBet spokesperson said the Big Ten in general is a liability for the book, which is also live in fellow Big Ten states Illinois, Indiana, and New Jersey, in addition to Iowa.

“While the Big Ten is stacked with talent this year with teams like Penn State, Iowa and Ohio State,” according to trading content analyst Mike Korn, “Michigan and Michigan State could definitely make some noise down the stretch.”

Michigan’s national footprint adding to sportsbooks’ woes

It’s not just the Michigan influence.

Even the national leader for sports betting, FanDuel, has a big liability on a Michigan national championship.

But the largest liability speaks to the long shot with perhaps even more loyal allegiances: The Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

If you’re one that roots for sportsbooks, well, that one appears safe for you after the Fighting Irish’s loss last week at home to Cincinnati. But so far, those Michigan bets are holding up nicely, giving FanDuel its second biggest liability, despite the 10th-most national championship handle (3%).

As more and more states come online with sports betting on NCAA football and other events, the Michigander influence on the overall market will subside.

But for this window of time here, Mel Tucker and Jim Harbaugh’s squads could really continue to throw a wrench into things for sportsbooks.

You can be sure that Michigan sportsbooks, particularly BetMGM, will be a little more pleased after Oct. 30 when at least one of these teams will have a loss to their name following the showdown in East Lansing.

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Written by

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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