Inside A Michigan Casino On The First Day Of Reopening

Posted on May 22, 2020

More than two months since the last legal bet was placed in a Lower Peninsula casino, over 100 people lined up outside of Odawa Casino Mackinaw for its 10 a.m. opening on Friday.

The facility was the third Michigan casino to reopen this month after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down all 26 statewide in March.

“We opened to a standing-room-only crowd to some degree,” Odawa Casinos General Manager Ron Olson told PlayMichigan on Friday. “We had to shut the doors and restrict people, and we’re monitoring that constantly.”

Odawa Casinos announced Wednesday that the Mackinaw City location would open Friday, and the flagship Petoskey location would open May 29.

Friday’s scene in Mackinaw City showed what casinos across the country are experiencing: A pent-up demand for gaming and a new world of social distance gambling.

Casinos starting to open across Michigan, nation

By the time Odawa Casino Mackinaw opened on Friday, two other Michigan casinos were already open in the Upper Peninsula.

Island Resort and Casino in Harris opened on May 16, and Northern Waters Casino Resort in Watersmeet had opened an hour before Odawa.

The Northern Waters and Odawa openings coincided with a new directive from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, which opened bars and restaurants to a maximum of 50% capacity in much of Northern Michigan on Friday.

Though the tribal casinos are not subject to Whitmer’s orders, local tribal leaders and state officials have been working together as of late to coordinate openings.

More casino openings coming throughout Michigan

More openings are coming in Michigan, as five Kewadin Casinos locations are scheduled to reopen on June 1 in the U.P.

On Thursday, Little River Casino Resort in Manistee announced it also would open on June 1.

The three commercial casinos in Detroit are subject to Whitmer’s Stay Home order, which will expire on June 12. Whitmer announced another extension of her order on Friday afternoon.

Nationally, 162 casinos were open on Friday afternoon and 827 were closed, according to the COVID-19 Casino Tracker on the American Gaming Association website.

Half of Odawa Mackinaw slot machines opened

Because of social distancing measures, only half of the approximate 250 slot machines in Odawa Casino Mackinaw were in operation on Friday.

So, only 110 people were allowed inside at a time. Olson said during the first three hours the casino was opened, no more than 10 people at a time were lined up outside.

“Looking at the crowd and judging by phone calls, we’re seeing a lot of people from the area and to the south of Mackinaw City,” Olson said. “We haven’t really seen anybody from Petoskey coming up.”

Both Odawa facilities will temporarily have no smoking inside. The Mackinaw City location set up a courtyard for smokers.

Other safety guidelines in place for Odawa Casinos

The Odawa Casinos property in Petoskey, about 35 miles southwest, will open at 10 a.m. May 29.

“So far, everybody has been very courteous and respectful,” Olson said after the first morning in Mackinaw.

All customers and employees are required to wear face masks. Masks are also available at security or the Players Club counter at either location.

In addition, workers are checking temperatures of guests, with 100 degrees and above not admitted.

There is no shuttle service or valet at either location and only one entrance is available.

Table games present new issues in Petoskey

Olson said table games will open at the flagship location next week, a first for reopened Michigan casinos.

Olson said about three players will be allowed at each table at a time. There will be no plexiglass, but stepped up cleaning procedures should help, Olson said.

“A big part of it is getting the cleaning schedules down: When to clean the cards, when we’re clean the chips, when we’ll wipe down the tables and the chairs,” Olson said. “Trying to get a schedule in place that everybody will follow.”

The poker room will stay closed in Petoskey temporarily, as will the craps table.

The Odawa Hotel in Petoskey will open on June 11, with reservations being taken beginning at 10 a.m. on June 1.

Victories remodeled for entertainment, sports bets

During the shutdown, the Odawa location in Petoskey retrofitted the Victories Sports & Entertainment venue for live entertainment and sports betting.

Entertainment is planned later for Friday and Saturday nights in the center of the circular space, and there is a space available for the retail sports betting cashiers.

Olson said the retail sports betting operation will be branded as either Victories or Odawa.

“Our hope was that we’d be sports betting by now,” Olson said Friday. “That’s been put on hold and probably will stay on hold until August.”

Odawa, USBookmaking partner for sports betting

Michigan sports betting opened on March 11, while the sports world was shutting down because of the coronavirus.

The Odawa operators, the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, have partnered with USBookmaking for the retail sports betting operation.

The Las Vegas family business operates sportsbooks at three tribal casinos New Mexico, with other sportsbooks planned for Colorado and Iowa.

Olson said the casino submitted a letter to the National Indian Gaming Commission for approval to open sports betting this year.

Odawa partnered with a behemoth for online gambling

Contrary to its partnership with a small, family-owned business for retail sports betting, Odawa is partnered with a behemoth for its online gambling operations.

The Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians announced an agreement with The Stars Group in January for its online operations.

The Stars Group was an already large company that operated PokerStars, one of the most recognizable names in online poker. Then, The Stars Group merged with Flutter this month, creating a gambling conglomerate.

With fellow Flutter property FanDuel already partnered with MotorCity Casino in Detroit, it would stand to reason the Odawa partnership will allow Fox Bet to operate in Michigan.

Odawa will receive a revenue share from the online offerings by The Stars Group after Michigan goes live with online betting, with state launch estimates ranging from late this summer to early 2021.

Matt Schoch Avatar
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Matt Schoch

A Michigan native, Matt has worked at newspapers in Michigan, Missouri and the Virgin Islands. A versatile sports reporter, Matt has covered sailing on the Great Lakes, cricket in the Caribbean, high school and pro playoffs, and the Olympics in Rio. He's also the host of the Locked On Pistons Podcast and producer of a documentary on Emoni Bates. A former blackjack dealer, Matt has studied the industry from all sides.

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