History Of Legal Gambling In Michigan

Michigan online casinos, sportsbooks, and poker went live Jan. 2021.

It was no real surprise, the Great Lakes State has a long history of legal gambling. Today, this includes three commercial casinos in Detroit and 23 tribal casinos across the state.

The other types of legal gambling in Michigan include:

  • Pari-mutuel betting on horse racing
  • Licensed charity gaming
  • Michigan Lottery

Michigan gambling timeline

Below are some of the most significant dates in Michigan’s legal gambling timeline:

Some significant dates in Michigan’s legal gambling timeline:

  • 1933: The Racing Act of 1933 authorizes and regulates pari-mutuel horse racing. The Office of Racing Commissioner was created.
  • 1972: Voters approve a constitutional amendment that becomes law, authorizing a state lottery. The Michigan legislature passed Public Act 382 allowing nonprofit organizations to raise funds through licensed bingo games, millionaire parties, raffles, and the sale of charity game tickets.
  • Feb. 1973: Hermus Millsaps, from Taylor, Michigan wins the Michigan Lottery’s first $1 million prize.
  • 1984: Keweenaw Bay tribal member, Fred Dakota, challenges the state’s right to regulate Indian gaming. Dakota opens a single blackjack table casino, The Pines, in his garage. The Bay Mills Indian Band opens Kings Club Casino, the first tribal-sanctioned casino in the state on tribal land in Brimley, Michigan.  Kings Club Casino is the first tribally owned casino in the U.S.
  • 1993: The Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe became the first tribe to sign a gaming compact with the state. The tribe agrees to pay 2% of the winnings from its Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan to the state.
  • Aug. 31, 1996: The first Big Game, renamed the Mega Millions, ticket is sold in Michigan. The Big Game (Mega Millions) is the first multi-state lottery game in conjunction with Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Virginia in Michigan.
  • November 1996: Michigan voters approve Proposal E, which authorizes the construction of three licensed casinos in Detroit.
  • 1997: The Michigan Gaming Control & Revenue Act is passed and signed into law. The act authorizes the operation of three licensed casinos in Detroit.
  • 1999: The MGM Grand Detroit and MotorCity Casino Hotel opened.
  • 2000: Greektown Casino Hotel opened
  • 2014: Michigan’s iLottery officially launches. Players can buy tickets for instant keno and scratch-off game equivalents like Cashword and Pot O’ Gold from a computer, mobile phone, or tablet device.
  • 2016: The Michigan Lottery adds draw games to online sales. Players can purchase tickets online for the lottery’s most popular draw games: Powerball, Mega Millions, Lotto 47, and Fantasy 5.
  • 2019: Michigan lawmakers pass a package of bills legalizing online gambling, sports betting, fantasy sports, and online poker.  Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed the bills into law, inviting existing tribal and commercial casinos to apply for sports betting and online gambling licenses.
  • March 2020: The first retail sportsbooks launched in Detroit at Greektown Casino-Hotel, MGM Grand Detroit, and MotorCity Casino.
  • June – Sep. 2020: Tribal casino FireKeepers Casino in Battle Creek opens the state’s first tribal casino sportsbook, Dacey’s Sportsbook. Four Winds Casino opened sportsbooks in its three tribal casinos in New Buffalo, Dowagiac, and Hartford. Little River Casino in Manistee opened a sportsbook, the first in northern Michigan. Island Resort & Casino launched the BetAmerica Sportsbook, the first in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
  • 2021: Michigan launched online and mobile sportsbooks, online casinos, and online poker sites.

How does Michigan define gambling?

The Michigan Gaming Control and Revenue Act defines a ‘gambling game’ as “any game played with cards, dice, equipment or a machine, including any mechanical, electromechanical or electronic device which shall include computers and cashless wagering systems, for money, credit, or any representative of value, including, but not limited to, faro, monte, roulette, keno, bingo, fan tan, twenty-one, blackjack, seven and a half, klondike, craps, poker, chuck a luck, Chinese chuck a luck (dai shu), wheel of fortune, chemin de fer, baccarat, pai gow, beat the banker, panguingue, slot machine, any banking or percentage game, or any other game or device approved by the board, but does not include games played with cards in private homes or residences in which no person makes money for operating the game, except as a player.”

It also defines a ‘gambling operation’ as the conduct of authorized gambling games in a casino.

Finally, the Michigan Gaming Control and Revenue Act defines ‘gaming’ as “to deal, operate, carry on, conduct, maintain or expose or offer for play any gambling game or gambling operation.”

Currently, this is how Michigan law defines gambling as it pertains to online gambling as well.

Michigan Penal Code Chapter 750, sections 301 through 315a, and the Michigan Gaming Control and Revenue Act (Michigan Compiled Laws Chapter 432) provide the details of the legalization of gambling in Michigan. 

However, the state’s definition of gambling changed with the passing of the Michigan Gaming Control and Revenue Act in 1996. This state law authorized the launch of three commercial casinos in Detroit and changed the legality of casino gaming.

Michigan Lottery history

The Michigan Lottery became a reality when voters approved a constitutional amendment. The amendment authorized the launch of a state lottery in May 1972. Public Act 239 was signed into law later that year on Aug. 1 and the Michigan Lottery was born.

A great deal of political maneuvering and compromises took place to get to the point of getting a lottery amendment on the ballot. 

The Michigan Lottery officially launched with the start of the 50-cent Green Ticket game in November 1972. Instant ticket sales started in 1975. Two years later in 1977, the Michigan Lottery introduced a computerized gaming system and the Daily 3 game.

In 1981, the legislature passed a law requiring lottery revenues to go into the state’s School Aid Fund. 

The next big move for the lottery took place in 1996. That year the Michigan Lottery got into the multi-state lottery game, with ticket sales for the Big Game, now called the Mega Millions.

As access to and use of the internet became more common, Michigan lawmakers in 2012 began talking about online lottery sales. A year later, then-Gov. Rick Snyder proposed funding the launch of online lottery sales. Michigan legislators rejected the idea. 

However, the Michigan Lottery went ahead anyway, using funds from its existing budget. Lottery officials selected lottery vendor Pollard Banknote and software provider NeoGames to design the state’s online sales system.

Michigan Lottery online

On Aug. 11, 2014, the Michigan Lottery soft-launched online lottery (iLottery) sales without advertising. Only players visiting the Michigan Lottery website knew that online sales were available. Ads for the Michigan iLottery began running the next month in September. 

Michigan’s iLottery officially launched in Nov. 2014. 

The iLottery allows players to buy tickets for instant keno and scratch-off-game equivalents from a computer, mobile phone, or tablet device. By January 2015, close to 87,000 players had registered for online lottery accounts. Online sales had generated $3.7 million for the state. The very next month, in February, the Michigan iLottery had its first $1 million winner from a $20 online scratch-off game. 

A month after that, in March, the Michigan Lottery Players Club expanded to include online games with players earning two points for every $1 spent online. Club members can redeem points for entries into drawings for prizes or merchandise, including lottery free-play coupons.

In May 2015, the Michigan Lottery announced more than 133,000 online accounts had been created, and 300,000 instant tickets were selling daily online.

In January 2016, the Michigan Lottery added draw games that allow players to purchase tickets online for popular draw games, including Powerball, Mega Millions, Lotto 47, and Fantasy 5.

By 2022 Michigan Lottery ticket sales came close to $5 billion, about $500 per resident.

Michigan sports betting history

Legal sports betting in Michigan and other states was illegal for nearly 30 years as a result of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) of 1992. With just a few exceptions PASPA barred sports betting in the United States. But, on May 14, 2018, the Supreme Court struck down PASPA, and Michigan along with the other states had the legal right to offer legal sports betting.

At this time a committee in the Michigan Legislature passed the Lawful Internet Gaming Act. However, then Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed the bill. 

The following year, 2019, the debate over legalizing sports betting continued in Michigan. The ongoing discussion resulted in the legalization of sports betting in Michigan in December 2019, when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed the Michigan Lawful Sports Betting Act. The act also stipulated regulations for betting on fantasy sports and related games in the state.

The three Detroit commercial casinos and 23 tribal casinos across the state, were invited to apply for Michigan sports betting licenses. The invite came with a $50,000 application fee, a $100,000 license cost, and a $50,000 annual renewal fee. Once accepted each operator is also responsible for paying an 8.4% tax on sports betting revenue. Plus, any of the three Detroit casinos that choose to offer sports betting have to pay an additional 1.25% tax to the city.

The licenses entitle holders to offer sports betting at casinos and online. Casinos can hire a third party to run sports betting operations, such as US sports betting leaders DraftKings Sportsbook, William Hill, and FanDuel Sportsbook. However, they are limited to using only one internet sports betting platform.

It was three months later that the first legal retail sportsbooks went live in Michigan on March 11, 2020. That was designed to be in time for the 2020 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament which was scheduled to tip off on March 17. However, the tournament was canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite the cancelation, Over $100 million was bet in the first ten days of legal sports betting.

Michigan launched online sports betting the next year in January 2021. By the end of the year Michigan sports betters had set a record for monthly bets of more than $514 million

In 2023 Michigan sports bettors have 20 retail sportsbooks and 14 betting apps to choose from including:

  • Caesars 
  • Golden Nugget 
  • BetMGM 
  • BetRivers
  • DraftKings
  • FanDuel
  • PokerStars

Since sports betting became legal in Michigan, well over $11 billion has been bet resulting in over $51 million in tax revenue for Michigan.

Daily fantasy sports in Michigan

Daily fantasy sports (DFS) contests have been operating in Michigan since 2006 when DraftKings and FanDuel first rose to prominence.

The passage of the Michigan Lawful Sports Betting Act in 2019 legalized and regulated DFS contests in the state. Operators must apply for a license with the state. However, companies outside the Michigan casino business are now licensed, including DFS market leaders DraftKings and FanDuel. Others have joined.

Michigan fantasy sports licenses come with a $10,000 initial fee and a $5,000 annual renewal cost. Michigan levies an 8.4% tax on fantasy sports revenue.

Private fantasy leagues with 15 or fewer players and playing for less than $10,000 total can operate without a license.

Michigan horse racing history 

Legal betting on horse races began in Michigan in 1933 with the passing of the Racing Act of 1933. This authorized and regulated pari-mutuel horse racing, and created the Office of Racing Commissioner.

However, horse racing and betting have been in Michigan for longer than that. The state’s last remaining horse racing facility, Northville Downs, celebrated its 100th anniversary of live racing in 2017.

After the initial start of horse racing under the Act, the number of racing venues expanded. In the 1940s three new horse racing tracks opened in Michigan. The 1950s brought an additional track, the Detroit Race Course, and a change in the law. The original 1933 Racing Act was replaced with the Racing Law of 1959. This law restricted horse racing in Detroit to just three tracks:

  • Northville
  • Hazel Park
  • Livonia

This restriction would remain in place until 1995. 

In 1972 the passage of Public Act 239 created a legal lottery (see Michigan Lottery history above). This ended the monopoly that pari-mutuel horse racing on legal betting in the state.

In 1980 and 1995 new racing laws were put into effect. Horse racing became legal year-round as did full-card simulcasting for Michigan race tacks. Over the decades the number and types of horse races expanded and new horse racing tracks opened and closed. 

From 2006 through 2016, gambling revenue at Michigan tracks fell from $22.1 million to $4.2 million. The number of tracks went from 10 to two in that same time. 

Then in 2018, Hazel Park Raceway closed after seven decades of hosting live horse racing in southeastern Michigan. It was the fourth Michigan track to close since 2007 and the eighth since 1998.

A lack of public interest in horse racing and the legalization of other types of legal gambling hollowed out the Michigan horse racing scene.

Today, Northville Downs is the last remaining horse racing track in Michigan, for now. Northville Downs site was sold in 2018 to Hunter Pasteur Homes with plans for private homes, commercial space, and parks. Northville Downs race track is continuing operations at least through 2023. The track is expected to relocate in 2024. 

The track currently hosts two harness racing meets each year, from early March to late June and from early September to late November. Racing is on Friday and Saturday nights. Simulcast races and wagering for both thoroughbred and harness racing are available seven days a week, year-round at Northville Downs, from noon until midnight.

Michigan residents can bet on horse races online through advance deposit wagering, which launched in June 2020 through TVG. TwinSpires joined later in September of that year.

Other states have helped prop up local horse racing industries by allowing tracks to install slots and casino games. However, Michigan has not, much to the dismay of industry veterans who have long lobbied for the addition of casino gaming at Michigan tracks.

Currently, nationwide betting on live and simulcast races is in the billions of dollars. There aren’t any off-track betting (OTB) locations in Michigan or racebooks at casinos.

Michigan online casino history

In December 2019, Gov. Whitmer signed a package of gambling expansion bills. The Michigan House and Senate had passed the bills, which legalized everything from MI online casinos to sports betting and online poker.

The legislation was the result of years of lobbying by online gaming proponents and legislators concerned about the illegal and unregulated market, as well as the desire to raise additional tax revenue. 

The first Michigan internet gambling bill was proposed by Sen. Mike Kowall, a Republican, in 2016. The bill allowed commercial and tribal casinos to offer online betting. However, it came with a steep 10% tax and a steeper $5 million licensing fee. The $5 million was an advance on future taxes, but operators still needed to come up with the funds in a lump sum. The bill failed

Kowall tried again in 2017. This second attempt made some movement forward passing the Senate Regulatory Reform Committee as did the first bill. Eventually, it came to nothing

Rep. Brandt Iden, also a Republican, introduced a third legislation attempt later in the same year.  

Iden’s bill proposed a lower 8% tax rate and placed tribal online casinos under the regulation of the Michigan Gaming Control Board (MGCB). When the PASPA ruling materialized in May 2018 (see Michigan sports betting history), Iden’s online gambling bill also included language that allowed for the MGCB to regulate online sports betting.

Technically Michigan commercial casinos already had the right to offer retail sports betting. However, it would have to be at the same tax rate for slots and table games which was close to 20%. This was too high for the casinos. Iden’s bill allowed for online gaming with less than a 10% tax.

The bill passed the House and Senate. It did not pass Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s veto.  He vetoed the bill citing concerns of how it would impact the iLottery and the state’s School Aid Fund.

Iden was undaunted and continued to push the bill into 2019. This time sports betting and online casinos were separated and each was given their own bills. There was also a new governor in office, Gretchen Whitmer.

After quite a bit of political wrangling, both the sports betting and online casinos bills cleared the House and Senate. Whitmer signed the bill on Dec. 13, 2019, making online casinos legal by state law in Michigan. 

It was not until 5 months later, in May 2020 that the MGCB began accepting online casino license applications. Despite the long wait, this was done in an attempt to fast-track the online betting industry and capture desperately needed revenue in the COVID-19 pandemic economy.

However, the pandemic continued, with brick-and-mortar casino locations re-opened slowly to the public. During this time the Michigan legislature passed numerous pieces of legislation regarding online betting and clarified details in hearings.

Months later, in the fall, little movement had been made and another shutdown swept the state. In a glimmer of hope, the MGCB awarded its provisional online betting license to 15 providers, hoping for a mid-January 2021 launch.

Online casino licenses are good for five years and require a $50,000 application fee, a $100,000 initial license cost, and a $50,000 annual renewal fee. Additionally, Michigan’s online gambling revenue is subject to a tiered tax structure. It starts at 20% for adjusted gross receipts of less than $4 million and peaks at 28% for more than $12 million. Moreover, Detroit commercial casinos will also pay an additional 1.25% city tax on online gambling revenue.

On Jan. 22, 2021, the day the MGCB set for the 15 providers to go live, online casino betting opened in Michigan.

Today, Michigan players can play online on mobile devices and their home computers with a number of respected Michigan casinos and Michigan sports betting providers. Those providers are:

  • BetMGM
  • MotorCity
  • Bay Mills
  • BetRivers
  • Golden Nugget
  • WynnBet
  • Ceasars
  • Barstool
  • PokerStars
  • Four Winds
  • Play Gun Lake
  • Eagle
  • FireKeepers
  • SI
  • PointsBet

Along with online sports betting, monthly online casino revenue in 2023 averages above $150 million. Almost $4 billion has been bet since the inception of online casinos and online poker, resulting in over $1 billion in tax revenue for the state and citizens of Michigan. 

Michigan online poker history

The story of online poker in Michigan closely follows that of online casinos. The package of bills signed into law by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Dec. 20, 2019, included the legalization of online poker. As with online casinos, existing tribal and commercial casinos could apply for sports betting licenses.

Michigan State Senator Mike Kowall introduced the first online poker legislation in 2017 bundled with online casinos, but the bill did not make it into law. Kowall reintroduced his bill and Rep. Brandt Iden (see Michigan online casino history) also introduced an online poker bill in 2018. However, then-Governor Rick Snyder vetoed the bills.

The next year Iden continued to push his bill and in Dec. 2019 it passed the Michigan Senate and House. On December 20, 2019, Gov. Whitmer signed the bill into law.

Due to more political wrangling, compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, MI online poker finally launched in Jan. 2021 in Michigan.

The legalization and launch of online poker is not the end of the story.  Online poker in Michigan was initially limited without the ability for players to engage in multi-jurisdictional internet poker. A year later, in 2022, the Michigan legislature passed an amendment to allow the MGCB to enter into multi-jurisdictional Internet poker agreements via the Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement (MSIGA). The other MSIGA states are Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware. Whitmer signed the amendment in late Dec. 2022.

Today 3 online poker sites are available in Michigan: 

  • BetMGM Poker
  • WSOP
  • PokerStars

However, only PokerStars has obtained the licensing to offer interstate poker. PokerStars went live with MSIGA on January 1, 2023.

In just two short years, online poker has made significant progress. But with Bet MGM Poker and WSOP still not party to MSIGA, the market has tremendous growth potential.

Michigan retail casino history

The history of retail casinos in Michigan starts in 1972 with the passage of Act 382. The act allowed nonprofit organizations to raise funds for their lawful purposes through the conduct of licensed bingo games, millionaire parties, raffles, and the sale of charity game tickets. It also allows for the licensing of bingo halls and suppliers. Although Act 382 did not authorize retail casinos specifically, it laid the groundwork for such operations. 

In 1984 Keweenaw Bay tribal member, Fred Dakota, opened The Pines Casino (a blackjack table in his garage) on tribal land to test Michigan’s authority to regulate gambling on Tribal land. 

“I was afraid, scared to death [of the law] I didn’t know what the hell was going to happen, but when you have five children to feed, you get innovative.” 

It was a success, “I started making decent deposits at the bank,” Dakota said. “The bank was happy. I was happy. And there was no government interference whatsoever.”

This led the Bay Mills Indian Band to open the Kings Club Casino in Brimley, Michigan. This was the first tribal-sanctioned casino in the state on tribal land. Kings Club Casino was also the first tribally owned casino in the U.S.

The next big move forward for retail casinos in Michigan was a gaming compact between the State and the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe in 1993. The compact allowed the Tribe to operate a retail casino in Mt. Pleasant. Thus, the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe opened the first state-sanctioned casino in Michigan. The casino made its first distribution of winnings to the State in the spring of 1994. Today, according to the Michigan Gaming Control Board there are twenty-three Tribal casinos:

  1. Bay Mills Resort & Casino
  2. Leelanau Sands Casino & Lodge
  3. Turtle Creek Casino & Hotel
  4. Island Resort & Casino
  5. Ojibwa Casino Baraga
  6. Ojibwa Casino Marquette
  7. Northern Waters Casino Resort
  8. Little River Casino Resort
  9. Odawa Casino Mackinaw City
  10. Odawa Casino Petoskey
  11. Gun Lake Casino
  12. FireKeepers Casino Hotel
  13. Four Winds Casino Dowagiac
  14. Four Winds Casino Hartford
  15. Four Winds Casino New Buffalo
  16. Saganing Eagles Landing Casino & Hotel
  17. Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort 
  18. Soaring Eagle Slot Palace 
  19. Kewadin Casino Christmas
  20. Kewadin Casino Hessel 
  21. Kewadin Casino Manistique
  22. Kewadin Casino Sault Ste. Marie
  23. Kewadin Casino St. Ignace

The State of Michigan and the Michigan Gaming Control Board do not have regulatory authority over tribal casinos. Tribal casinos in Michigan are regulated by the National Indian Gaming Commission and the government of the appropriate tribal community.

The final major hurdle for Michigan retail casinos was overcome in Nov. 1996. At this time Michigan voters approved Proposal E, authorizing the construction of three licensed casinos in Detroit. The Proposal was substantially changed before the Governor signed it into law as the Michigan Gaming Control & Revenue Act in 1997. The three casinos that are governed by the Michigan Gaming Control Board are:

  • Hollywood Casino at Greek Town
  • MGM Grand – Detroit
  • Motor City Casino

Two years later the first of the three non-Tribal commercial casinos, The MGM Grand – Detroit, opened on July 29, 1999. On Dec. 14, 1999, the second commercial casino, the Motor City Casino Hotel, opened. The third commercial casino, Hollywood Casino at Greek Town opened November 10, 2000.

The three Detroit casinos reported over $100 million in monthly aggregate revenue in 2023. In the fiscal year 2020, The Gaming Control Board reported Michigan received a total of $30.5 million from tribal gaming.

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