Golden Nugget Strikes MI Online Casino Deal With Ojibwa Casino

Posted on July 16, 2020

What began as a disjointed and unclear picture is now a little sharper. One potentially major player in the future Michigan online casino marketplace has secured the necessary access to the market.

On Thursday, Golden Nugget Online Gaming announced its new partnership with the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community. While many questions remain, there is now no doubt that Golden Nugget is serious about MI.

Details of the Ojibwa Casino deal with Golden Nugget

The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) operates two Ojibwa Casinos in MI’s Upper Peninsula. Golden Nugget operates online casino and sports betting products in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The two brands are joining forces on both fronts.

“Golden Nugget Online Gaming is thrilled to partner with the Ojibwa Casino to provide casino players in Michigan with a premium online casino and sportsbook experience. Players in Michigan will be able to appreciate our award-winning product offering and exceptional customer service from a nationally recognized and trusted brand,” said Golden Nugget’s senior vice president and general manager of online gaming, Thomas Winter, in a press release.

“We are excited to partner with Golden Nugget to bring online casino and sports betting to the state of Michigan. Working with a strong brand will be a perfect complement to our brand new casino in Marquette as well as our casino in Baraga,” said KBIC President Chris Swartz.

While Michigan’s commercial casinos remain closed and online sportsbooks have yet to launch, a retail sportsbook at either Ojibwa property would be a welcome addition. It’s uncertain how soon either facility will offer such an amenity, however.

It’s more likely than not that both parties see sports betting as a bit player in the partnership as well. Online casino is the real gold mine.

Online poker, slots and table games could be a gold rush

Tilman Fertitta, whom sports fans will recognize as the owner of the NBA’s Houston Rockets, also owns Golden Nugget. He has been bullish on the value of online gambling.

Fertitta says that an online gambler is worth seven times as much as an online sports bettor. He attributes that to a higher hold percentage and longer sessions, along with the fact that online casino is more appealing to a wider demographic.

Fertitta uses brick-and-mortar casinos with a retail sportsbook as an example to demonstrate his point. If sports betting were anywhere near as profitable as casino games, more of the space would be dedicated to the sportsbook.

Although it’s difficult to place a number on the value of the online gambling market in MI, one reason it is appealing is the lack of potential competitors compared to retail casinos and online sportsbooks. Golden Nugget may have an opportunity to not only be the first to market in this niche but perhaps the only player for a period of time.

Fertitta is willing to spend to achieve those goals. He expects to spend $4 million to enter the market. He is willing to supplement that with another $13 million in expenditures to gain market share. Additionally, the prospect of losing money in the short term doesn’t faze him.

The pertinent question for most Michiganders now becomes, when will Golden Nugget online casino games be available? This announcement doesn’t provide any answers.

Still no official timeline for iGaming launch

Although an optimistic expectation tags October for launches, early next year is probably more realistic. That’s what Fertitta has in mind right now.

The press release provides no update on the situation. So far, the Michigan Gaming Control Board has not issued any licenses for online casinos.

With market access secure, Golden Nugget can now look to securing that licensure. The MGCB seems to want to cooperate to the greatest extent possible to expedite the process, so there should be little difficulty there.

If everything goes well, Michiganders may enjoy the same online gambling products that people in NJ and PA currently do later this year. If the games are popular, Michigan will be the location of a new gold rush.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Kansas City, Mo. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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