Michigan Sets Sights on March Madness 2020 for Sports Betting Launch

Posted on December 23, 2019 - Last Updated on January 8, 2020

March Madness 2020 is coming. So is legal sports betting in Michigan. If all goes according to plan, the two events will happen simultaneously.

According to one Wolverine State legislator behind the push to expand legal gambling in his state, the middle of March is the target for launching legal sportsbooks. Even if it happens, it will be a measured approach, however.

Why March Madness is the target date for Michigan

The launch of Michigan legal sports betting would be best if it coincided with a major sporting event. Since the College Football Playoff, NFL playoffs and Super Bowl LIV are too soon to work for launch, March Madness will take center stage.

That should give the Michigan Gaming Control Board sufficient time to review license applications and make sure everything is in compliance. That is likely to only apply to brick-and-mortar sportsbooks, however.

It’s easier to examine retail sportsbooks for compliance. That’s because all the components are physically in front of regulators for inspection.

This year might be as good of a year as any to use March Madness for launching sports betting. Both Michigan’s and Michigan State’s men’s teams are currently ranked in the AP Top 25.

Detroit’s three commercial casinos and the state’s tribal casinos may be ready to start accepting wagers in time for both teams’ tournament runs. The situation for online betting in Michigan is less clear.

Potential timeline for the launch of online betting

Although Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. hasn’t committed to a timeline for online betting, it may not be long after the retail launch.

“I think we’ll be able to get brick and mortar up before online,” Hertel said of sports wagering. “Only brick and mortar could be up for March Madness. All they’ll be doing is adding another game to their license. For online, outside operators will need to be licensed and regulations met before they can start.”

One of Michigan’s neighbors followed a similar path. Indiana gave its retail books the green light to start accepting wagers in September. Mobile sportsbooks launched in the Hoosier State the following month.

While there’s no guarantee that Michigan will follow that path exactly, it’s not out of the realm of possibility. An extra month could be all the time the MGCB needs to check all the boxes for online books.

If that happens, mobile betting in Michigan could start sometime in April. That would allow online sportsbooks to use the start of MLB season as a promotional event.

The other component of gambling expansion in the Wolverine State is further down the priority list. That’s because unlike sports betting, it isn’t tied to the calendar.

iGaming likely to be the last to market in Michigan

After both mobile and retail sports betting are rolling, the MGCB will likely turn its attention to online casino games and online poker. It’s unclear right now how many operators might be involved at first launch.

When iGaming and sports betting are fully live in Michigan, the gambling options will rival those of any other state. The first component to that should go live in mid-March, if all goes as hoped.

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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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