A second domino has fallen in the Wolverine State. Another one of Michigan’s tribal casinos has announced a partnership for iGaming and sports betting. This time it’s the Firekeepers Casino in Battle Creek.
Scientific Games, which is based in Las Vegas, will provide both products for the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi. The sports betting partnership covers both online and retail operations.
What this means for the Firekeepers Casino in Michigan
Firekeepers is among the first to close such a deal. That could set the casino up to be among the first to offer the three new types of legal gaming in Michigan.
Although there is a lot of work left to be done on that front, this gives the Nottawaseppi Huron Band a head start on its competition that is still negotiating such deals.
The Michigan Gaming Control Board still has to release license applications for casinos that wish to branch out into these new verticals. Firekeepers should be ready to apply when those become available, however.
While the board considers those applications, Scientific Games can get to work. Those efforts will likely immediately focus on getting the retail sportsbook at the casino operable.
Though unofficial and subject to change, Michigan is targeting March Madness 2020 as the launch event for brick-and-mortar sportsbooks. iGaming and online sports betting could come months later.
To make that event, it’s likely that the parties won’t wait until they hear from the board. The next two months will be busy for both companies.
The road ahead for Scientific Games’ foray into Michigan
Firekeepers is likely to identify and start renovations on physical space for the retail sportsbook soon. That project will involve Scientific Games representatives extensively.
While engineers do computations and crews put up drywall, Scientific Games will work on ensuring that Firekeepers has a product that is not only compliant with all the regulations in Michigan but suited for the casino’s customer base, as well. Two months should be ample time.
Once the renovations are complete and the software is ready, the MGCB will inspect the premises. If everything is satisfactory, Firekeepers will get a date on which it can start accepting wagers in person.
Though online betting is a bigger cash cow, there is some value to being among the first to offer legal sports betting of any kind in a market. So far, tribal casinos are out in front of their commercial cousins in Michigan.
Why sportsbook operators might go tribal first
Tribal casinos are on sovereign lands and therefore not subject to state laws outside of those that are part of local compacts. While those compacts may differ from tribe to tribe, for the most part, the governing statutes in terms of gambling on tribal lands are federal laws.
As previously mentioned, handle for online sportsbooks dwarfs retail action. That’s what could make tribal casinos so attractive.
While the legality of online forms of gambling for tribes with federal gaming compacts has been murky, there is a bill in Congress that would answer that question in the affirmative. If that bill becomes law, tribal casinos could be free to offer online sports betting on their own terms.
That could mean a higher return on investment for companies like Scientific Games. While that situation plays out, it’s a worthwhile risk as even if that potential isn’t realized, the deal is a win for both companies.