Updated: Michigan Online Sports Betting & Casino Gaming Could Launch Before End of 2020

Updated: Michigan Online Sports Betting & Casino Gaming Could Launch Before End of 2020 article feature image
  • A Michigan legislative committee waived the customary waiting period to approve rules. The rules now go back to the Michigan Gaming Control Board, which will have to complete a few final steps, including filing paperwork and granting final approval for the individual online sportsbook operators.
  • This process typically takes a few weeks, and officials are hoping for a launch before Christmas or New Years, though it's not guaranteed. The good news is officials have worked on Michigan sports betting for a year and operators and regulators have laid the groundwork for a quick launch as soon as possible.
  • All major operators, including FanDuel, DraftKings, PointsBet, Penn National/Barstool, Caesars/William Hill and BetMGM already either have retail sportsbooks or announced plans to launch online sportsbooks.

*Updated with committee vote 9:15 a.m. December 1

Michigan online sports betting and iGaming could launch before the end of the year after a panel of lawmakers waived the waiting period to approve final rules for both at a meeting Tuesday.

As recently as last week, a launch timeline was very much uncertain, and the possibility loomed that online sports betting may not begin until January or even February 2021. This could have jeopardized a launch in time for next year’s Super Bowl, traditionally the single-most heavily bet upon sporting event in America.

Though the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, a bipartisan group of lawmakers from both the House and Senate, could have rejected the expedited waiting period, their appearance on Tuesday’s committee meeting agenda was a positive sign that legislators would give the regulations their final approval and send them to the Michigan Gaming Control Board.

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To do so, JCAR needed to grant a waiver Tuesday that allows the rules to go into effect without a 15-session-day waiting period

“If JCAR waives the 15-day rule review requirement on Tuesday, the MGCB remains hopeful that online gaming and sports betting can start this year,” wrote Mary Kay Bean, Michigan Gaming Control Board Communications Specialist, in an email to the Action Network on Monday.

Once waived, MGCB officials will still have the final authority to begin approving individual online sportsbook and casino operators,  a process that could take several weeks. A granted waiver at Tuesday’s JCAR meeting in Lansing doesn’t guarantee Michigan online gaming launches in 2020, but rejection would have essentially assured it won’t begin before the end of the year.

“We are highly unlikely to reach the 15 days without the waiver during the Legislature’s current session so the rules would have to be resubmitted to JCAR in January if it is not received,” Bean said in an email.

Michigan Online Gaming Nears Launch

JCAR’s meeting concludes the legislative portion of Michigan’s lengthy review process. Though Gov. Gretchen Whitmer technically legalized online sports betting, iGaming, online poker and daily fantasy regulations as part of a sweeping legislative package in December 2019, all the aforementioned gaming options were subject to the state’s rulemaking and review process.

Unlike other Midwestern states such as Indiana and Iowa which expedited their rulemaking procedures and began online sports betting a few months after the respective sports wagering laws were passed, Michigan took a more methodical approach. This necessitated a lengthy period of rule approval, public comment and legislative endorsement, which ended with JCAR’s vote Tuesday.

Unless it grants a waiver, JCAR has 15 “session days” (days with both House and Senate meetings) to consider the rules before they can go into effect. The rules were submitted to JCAR in early October, and due to the legislature’s intermittent meeting calendar, 15 session days aren’t scheduled to be completed until Mid-December. COVID-19, weather or other cancellations could also curtail scheduled legislative session days, pushing the timeline even further.

Notably, since Michigan begins a new legislative session in January with a new set of lawmakers following this November’s elections, officials would have had to re-submit the rules, and the “new” JCAR would have to restart the 15-session-day countdown if the waiver wasn’t granted this year.

Once JCAR waives the waiting period, Bean said the MGCB must still complete a few additional steps before online sportsbooks and casino operators could launch. That begins with filling the rules with the Michigan department of state’s office.

After the department of state files the completed rules, all sportsbook applicants must earn final licensing approval, as do all their partners, including suppliers and vendors. All operator platforms are required to submit approval letters from independent test labs that assure each meets the state’s technical requirements. Additionally, at least one tribal and one commercial casino must earn their operator licenses before online wagering can begin.

These final approvals are fairly standard in other gaming states and have become familiar with larger operators. Bean said the MGCB has already begun pre-launch checklists with prospective operators in hopes they can get up and running as soon as they are able to do so.

The aforementioned steps could begin as early as this week. From there, it will likely be a few more weeks before the first sportsbook launches.

“The MGCB expects to get a clearer picture of when launch will occur as more of the required materials are submitted during December,” Bean said in an email.

Michigan Expected to Be a Major Market

Tuesday’s meeting will go a long way toward ending the lengthy review process in one of the nation’s most anticipated gaming expansions.

Last December’s gaming legislation package made Michigan the first state with both commercial and retail casinos to have approved online lottery, sportsbooks, poker and casinos. The 10th-most populated state, Michigan could quickly become a leader in the nascent online gaming market.

Michigan was already a top sports betting prospect.

The state launched retail sports betting, which wasn’t subject to the same regulatory review procedures as online gaming, in March 2020, but brick-and-mortar sportsbooks in the state’s three commercial casinos have already had to shut down twice due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The state’s roughly two-dozen Native American casinos, which aren’t subject to the state restrictions as the commercial facilities, are also facing closures and reduced attendance as COVID-19 cases have spiked in recent months.

The online market will help alleviate this problem. Certain tribal casinos as well as the three commercial casinos in Detroit are allowed to partner with an online operator, allowing many top sportsbooks to enter the company.

Leading sports betting brands such as DraftKings, FanDuel, Caesars/William Hill, PointsBet, Penn National’s Barstool Sports and BetMGM are all expected to go online shortly. Both DraftKings and FanDuel announced partnership deals with the NBA’s Detroit Pistons on Monday ahead of the pending online sports betting launch, part of a flurry of agreements between the state’s popular sports teams and leading gaming companies.

Michigan’s population, combined with high-profile professional and college sports teams and fan bases, has the Wolverine State positioned to be one of the nation’s highest-grossing sports betting markets — and gaming markets overall.

With retail casinos closed, and online wagering expected to make up the vast majority of handle, that potential could start to be realized as early as this year.

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