10 Days In January: What We Learned From Online Betting In Michigan

Posted on February 18, 2021

Just like any sports season, where the biggest game is always the next one, the Michigan online sports betting market is already on to February.

The first full month will provide a bit of normalcy after a chaotic opening featuring enough sign-up bonuses, TV ads, and pizza reviews to skew the small data set.

Though more than $115 million was wagered online in the first 10 days, February is when it really gets real. Because while Wednesday’s January revenue report was a useful starting point, there are limitations to 10 days of data.

But before we close the book on January and that launch we’ve been waiting for since… well, forever, let’s take a look at what we learned from 10 days of legal online betting.

1. There are four MI sports betting titans (and everyone else)

We expected DraftKings and FanDuel to lead the way and for Barstool and BetMGM to jump into the upper tier with them.

We also expected a sizable drop-off after the top four. But perhaps not this big.

Online SportsbookTotal HandleMarket Share
FanDuel$32.6 million28.3%
DraftKings$28.2 million24.5%
Barstool$27.5 million23.9%
BetMGM$22.8 million19.8%
PointsBet$1.5 million1.3%
BetRivers$1.1 million0.9%
William Hill$692,3190.6%
TwinSpires$327,6610.3%
WynnBet$248,8790.2%
Fox Bet*$160,0520.1%
Golden Nugget$106,9040.1%

*Fox Bet started taking bets in Michigan on Jan. 29. 

The top four operators took in $111.1 million in wagers, making up for 96.4% of the total online sports betting handle.

That left just over $4 million to divide between the other seven operators. Since then, one more online sportsbook joined the market when Four Winds Casino launched on Monday. Three others are expected this year.

Will everyone else be fighting for scraps or will the also-rans enter the real race at some point?

2. Barstool Sportsbook is a true disruptor

As expected, Barstool is among the leaders in the Michigan online sports betting market. Also as expected, founder Dave Portnoy is also trying to make a nice third-place start in handle seem even better than that.

Portnoy is out there fighting for his brand every day and took to Twitter on Wednesday to work the refs after the numbers came out.

Portnoy boasts that Barstool’s low bonus spend is an indicator they have more staying power. He adds that BetMGM, DraftKings, and FanDuel spent big on ads in Michigan. We know this to be true.

Meanwhile, Portnoy spent his own human capital doing pizza reviews all throughout Michigan during launch week. The brand also earned press with The Barstool Fund donation match by Penn National Gaming from opening weekend.

It’s a noble cause that has benefitted many Michigan small businesses. But if you’re going to tout the $3.1 million donated, you have to ding Barstool a bit in forecasting because that earned publicity has a shelf life, too. By matching deposits with donations, PNG and Barstool did spend money for those headlines.

So to posture as if Barstool sat back and waited for customers to come to them is disingenuous.

And how long do Stoolies grin and bear the fact that their leader is on Twitter bragging about not giving them free bets, unlike their competitors?

3. Name recognition truly matters in Michigan

Three of the four market leaders are partnered with Detroit casinos, which carry name recognition throughout the state. DraftKings being near the top, despite not being tied to a big-name casino brand, is also not a surprise.

After all, DraftKings ads and commercials are almost as ubiquitous as Jamie Foxx.

But it was interesting to see the hustle and marketing spend by PointsBet rewarded in the first 10 days, but also the gulf between PointsBet and the top four.

With $1.5 million in sports betting handle, the Australian company had a 1.3% market share, the only other operator above 1%. But that market will need to grow nearly 20 times over to reach the top tier.

PointsBet has made the most Michigan news in the past year, striking trailblazing deals with the Detroit Tigers, Richard Hamilton of the Pistons, and Little Caesars Arena for sports bar naming rights.

Heck, we saw a PointsBet advertisement while walking on the campus of Wayne State University this week in Midtown Detroit.

Michigan marks the company’s first Native American partnership and the first PointsBet online casino should launch here soon, too.

In other words, PointsBet is pulling out all the stops to get their name out there. But will those tricks ultimately matter, especially compared to the tried and true formula of big ad spends?

Perhaps PointsBet’s recent NHL deal is more of a major move that could make a dent, especially in a hockey-crazy state. Of course, it certainly doesn’t help that most fans are required to stay home from games right now thanks to COVID-19.

As Michigan sports bettors look around at the landscape and try out new brands, PointsBet could be near the top of the list for a second wave. Or it could just be positioned as the leader of the rest of the distant pack.

On to February!

Photo by Dreamstime stock
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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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