First Year Of Michigan Online Horse Racing Betting Attracts $35.8 Million In Wagers

Written By Matt Schoch on April 28, 2021 - Last Updated on December 8, 2023
Michigan Horse Racing Bets 2021

People in Michigan wagered $35.8 million on online horse racing bets in 2020, the first partial year in which advance deposit wagering was regulated here.

The expansion of horse racing betting raised $839,123 in state tax money over the year, nearly outpacing taxes from simulcast betting at Northville Downs, the state’s lone surviving racetrack.

As Saturday’s Kentucky Derby nears, industry officials hope both forms of betting encounter a more normalized 2021 after a wild year, which was detailed in the annual horse racing report from the Michigan Gaming Control Board.

It’s important to note for horse racing fans that for Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, you will not be able to make pari-mutuel bets through the online sports betting operators. Instead, you need to use one of the ADW options (check out more in the first link above).

The $35.8 million wagered online was already more than the $28.3 million wagered at Northville Downs in simulcast and live wagering.

TwinSpires boasts market share lead over TVG

Of the $35.8 million in Michigan for online horse racing bets, 62.1% was made through TwinSpires, a subsidiary of Churchill Downs and one of two operators live in Michigan last year.

The other, FanDuel’s TVG, took $13.6 million (36.9%) of wagers.

TVG launched in June last year, just after the Belmont Stakes opened a modified Triple Crown season thrown off-kilter by the coronavirus pandemic.

TwinSpires was licensed in September, just in time for the Kentucky Derby.

This year, Xpress Bet has joined the fray. The Ontario company was approved as the third operator in March.

Pre-license tax payment brings total closer to $1 million

TwinSpires was already operating in Michigan before its license was approved and reported paying $480,598 in taxes on pre-license ADW wagers.

That payment brought the total amount of ADW state taxes to $839,123 of new revenue.

ADW additions were part of expanded gambling laws

Expanded horse racing betting options were part of the package of gambling bills signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in December 2019.

Although internet gaming and sports betting were the headliners at the time, the horse racing industry received a boost, too.

The laws set up the framework for Michiganders to make regulated horse racing bets from home through advance deposit wagering.

The ADW operators would need to make a deal with Northville Downs to be in compliance, and the state would capture 1% of the horse racing betting handle.

That figure is in addition to the 3.5% of simulcasting handle brought in at the track.

Simulcasting, live racing at pandemic’s mercy all year

Simulcast betting, where Northville Downs visitors bet on races around the world, can only take place while the track is open.

In 2020, that meant several months  passed without bets.

Northville Downs was closed nearly five months after the initial March 18 pandemic shutdown. The shutdown came days before the live racing season was scheduled to begin.

After opening Aug. 14, the track closed again Nov. 18 for nearly the rest of the year. Northville Downs opened again on Dec. 21.

Furthermore, simulcast wagering was down 55.0% in 2020 to $27.3 million after $60.5 million was bet in 2019.

From simulcasting, the state earned $954,540 in tax revenue.

The new ADW tax revenue nearly made up for the drop in simulcasting tax revenue — $839,123 in new money, compared with a $1.2 million decrease in simulcast taxes.

Only 27 racing days were held (52 were planned)

Coming into 2020, 52 racing days were planned by the Michigan Gaming Control Board.

The first was set for March 20, but the season kicked off in August instead.

The track salvaged 17 of 18 approved days, then got 18 more added, completing 10 of them before the second closure.

In all, there were 27 days of racing in 2020, netting $1.0 million in bets. That total was down 53.2% from 2019, when $2.1 million was wagered on live racing over 51 race dates.

In 2020, $37,116 was wagered per race day, compared with $41,988 in 2019. The track had restrictions for customers upon reopening, including a mask requirement and 15% capacity rates.

The 2021 live racing schedule opened April 2. There are 55 dates planned this year.

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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 former 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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