Analysis: Michigan Online Sports Betting, One Week On

A momentous Friday for the state

January 22 was a historic day for Michigan. It marked the highly anticipated launch of the Great Lake State’s online sports betting and online casino markets. A moment that Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer set in stone when she signed legislation just over a year ago.

Before last Friday’s launch, the Michigan Gaming Control board handed out ten sports betting licenses to operators eager to capitalize on the end of the NFL season. Among them, the usual suspects – such as BetMGM, FanDuel and DraftKings. The latter took to Twitter to celebrate its own Michigan launch:

A host of welcome offers and bonuses followed as operators prepared to do battle for Michigan’s bettors. As the tenth most populous state, Michigan boasts a large pool of potential customers, and competition is undoubtedly high between its chosen sportsbooks.

With the first week of Michigan sports betting over, it’s time to reflect on the market’s actual performance.

High traffic prompts teething problems

Boasting a jam-packed sports schedule, last weekend provided the perfect conditions for the launch of Michigan’s sportsbooks. As a result, user activity was sky-high as residents locked in their first legal bets online.

Michigan and Virginia saw a combined 7.5 million online gambling transactions over the weekend

According to data from GeoComply, Michigan and Virginia saw a combined 7.5 million online gambling transactions over the weekend. This corresponded to 25% of the total US online gambling market. Also experiencing its first week of sports betting, Virginia only offered two online sportsbooks on launch weekend, so it’s likely the majority of this activity came from Michigan.

That said, it wasn’t all plain sailing. When BetMGM, the joint venture between MGM Resorts and Entain, launched in Michigan on Friday, high user traffic resulted in technical glitches for the sportsbook. Customers were unable to access free bets from welcome offers – an error that was corrected later that same day.

Bettors count their losses

The weekend saw some high-profile losing bets in Michigan. This was thanks in part to a first-time deposit offer from Barstool Sports. Through its partnership with Penn National, the operator pledged to match any first bet with a donation to the Barstool Fund, created to assist small businesses during the pandemic.

As a result, George Sinishtaj, owner of Ooze, a cannabis accessory supplier, lost an eye-watering $420,420 on a single bet through the sportsbook. Explaining the large wager, Sinishtaj said the welcome offer created a “winwin situation.” Meanwhile, Dave Portnoy, founder of Barstool Sports, blew $100,000 betting on the Detroit Pistons. He posted the bet on his Twitter page:

Despite some big losses, Michigan’s sportsbook apps seemed to rank highly with the state’s bettors. In a survey by American Betting Experts, 81% of Michigan sportsbook users rated their app experiences as “mostly positive” over the weekend. Users ranked Barstool Sports as the best app, while BetMGM’s malfunction positioned it last.

Rush Street gives its rundown

The Michigan Gaming Control Board has said revenue and wagering figures for the market’s first week are currently unavailable. However, Rush Street Interactive (RSI) has provided a detailed analysis of its first experiences in the Michigan market.

The gambling operator’s flagship brand, BetRivers, launched on the market’s first day, and RSI was impressed with its performance. Commenting after Michigan’s first full weekend, Richard Schwartz, RSI president, described a “huge appetite for online casino and sports betting” among Michigan’s residents.

The NFC Championship game was the most wagered-on event

The operator provided a breakdown of betting activity on its BetRivers app. As we could well expect in Michigan, the Detroit Pistons were the most wagered-on NBA team over the first weekend, followed by the Phoenix Suns. However, it was American football that saw the most betting activity. The NFC Championship game was the most wagered-on event, while NFL Conference Championship games contributed 39% of total weekend handle.

Keeping the party going

After getting off to a strong start over the weekend, operators utilized promotions to maintain activity throughout the week.

On Thursday, FanDuel publicized its Spread the Love promotion. Only available to Michigan residents, the offer centered around an NBA game between the Detroit Pistons and the Los Angeles Lakers. For every 313 bets on the Pistons to cover against the Lakers, FanDuel pledged to move the line one point in favor of the Pistons. By the end of the night, FanDuel bettors ended up boosting the Pistons spread by 150 points, corresponding to 46,950 bets on the NBA team through FanDuel’s sportsbook.

The operator today tweeted a thanks to customers following its first full week of Michigan betting success:

Commenting shortly after FanDuel’s first weekend in Michigan, the company’s chief marketing officer Mike Raffensperger was bullish about the market’s strong performance. Speaking to MLive, he said: “I think our projections have proven right. Michigan has launched with incredible fanfare.”

Just the beginning for Michigan

Richard S. Kalm, executive director of the Michigan Gaming Control Board, has since provided some insight into the future of the new market. He said that although only ten online sportsbook operators have been approved so far, others are likely to follow once they meet regulatory requirements.

As for expected revenue, Kalm gave little away. However, he explained that Michigan’s regulation “borrowed heavily” from that found in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Indiana. If the sports betting performance of these three states is anything to go by, then Michigan sportsbooks should brace for future success.

The states of New Jersey, Indiana, and Pennsylvania reached significant sports betting milestones in their 2020 year-end handle reports. Garden State sports wagering handle reached a US monthly high for the fifth consecutive month in December, totaling nearly $1bn. Meanwhile, Indiana’s all-time handle surpassed $1bn for the first time in the same month, as Pennsylvania set a new state monthly handle record.

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