Online Gambling Numbers On The Rise: Does Michigan Have A Problem?

Written By Matt Schoch on September 24, 2021

(Editor’s note: You can reach the Michigan Problem Gambling Hotline at 1-800-270-7117.)

After a record August for Michigan online casino revenue and the return of football this month, who knows what kinds of numbers we’re in for this September?

Nine figures of internet gaming revenue? A record $400 million of football bets online in a single month? How about $500 million?

That’s all on the table here in Michigan, as we write this, in late September.

Those are good numbers for the balance sheets of casino companies and the tax coffers for state, local and tribal governments.

But as we’ve covered here at PlayMichigan, there is an obvious downside with more access to gambling. That means lots of Michiganders losing millions of expendable money, and others who may be crossing a line into problem gambling territory.

Here’s a snapshot of where we’re at, as Responsible Gaming Education Week wraps.

Nearly 50 residents applied for Responsible Gambling Database

Along with the launch of online gambling in January, the Michigan Gaming Control Board developed the Responsible Gambling Database, as dictated by the new laws.

A spokesperson for the MGCB said the agency has received 47 applications for the Responsible Gambling Database. (Note: Applications are available here.)

In addition, individual operators have self-exclusion programs on top of the state’s effort, though the MGCB did not have data on those.

The new database is in addition to the Disassociated Persons List for exclusion from the Detroit casinos, which had existed since 2001.

Through Sept. 1, 4,913 applications for the DPL have been processed in more than 20 years. In 2020, 67 applications were processed in a year the Detroit casinos were mostly closed. So far in 2021, 83 applications had been processed.

661 residents no longer banned for life from Detroit casinos

In addition, legislators added a new law in October of last year allowing residents on the DPL to apply to come off the list after five years.

Since that time, 661 residents have been taken off the DPL, including 546 this year.

Responsible gambling advocates endorse the law. They say that the removal process makes going on the list less of a deterrent at the outset than a lifetime ban.

Informational literature coming from Michigan Gaming Control Board

Awareness is one of the key issues with problem gambling.

Michiganders can recognize problematic signs with their own habits — or, perhaps even more importantly, find signs of destructive behavior in others.

To that end, new MGCB executive director Henry Williams told PlayMichigan over the summer that the agency will develop informational literature that will be distributed to Michiganders about responsible gambling signs and resources.

The MGCB spokesperson said Friday that the literature is going through final review before publication.

Michigan college athletics programs on the sidelines for now

An uncharted frontier in the marketing of sports betting in Michigan is through college athletics programs.

A school such as Michigan or Michigan State could add an athletics revenue stream by partnering with a sports gambling company, such as how Colorado first did with PointsBet last year.

However, even more exposure for gambling companies and the negative connotation could be a bridge too far for some universities to swallow.

Last week, Louisiana State University teamed up with Caesars for sponsorships, naming rights and other branding placements.

A money grab like that would be disappointing for some, and perhaps a step in the wrong direction.

But with more universities inevitably partnering with more gambling companies, perhaps a Michigan school could build in a research and assistance component to the sector, funded by the company, to help the fight against the industry’s pitfalls.

Michael Burke has called for Bayou-style inpatient facility

Louisiana is also the site for a lauded program Michigan could copy to fight problem gambling.

Michael Burke, executive director of the Michigan Association on Problem Gambling, has advocated for an inpatient gambling disorder treatment facility. Burke points to the Center of Recovery (CORE) in Shreveport, Louisiana, for what could be a model for other states to follow.

Of course, funding is the issue there. Burke has said he used to advocate for public funding through the tax revenue gained, but has since shifted his focus on hopes for an operator to fund such a program as part of a PR move.

Then again, admitting there is a problem is a form of self-sabotage for a company, too. It would be quite a step, and a commendable one at that, for a company to take.

Michigan gambling could use a game-changer

The Michigan gambling market has brought a lot of new money into the industry, and companies are certainly living up to their end of the bargain by paying their tax obligations.

But other than tax money and a new form of entertainment for residents, what has the industry delivered on a local level?

Other states are getting more: PointsBet created jobs by setting up US headquarters in Colorado. and FanDuel is bringing a technology hub (and 900 jobs) to Georgia, for instance. None of the companies has sought Michigan as a hub for, anything, really. Casinos had added sportsbook writers to physical locations, and the Evolution live dealer studios added jobs to Southfield. But nothing has arrived on a large scale.

Perhaps responsible gambling could be an avenue to deliver something big here, whether a research-based search for solutions or an inpatient treatment clinic for rehabilitation.

Michigan also has a big governor’s race coming in 2022, and we’ll see if candidates bring the online gambling boom — either its benefits and pitfalls — to the forefront of the campaign.

Heck, maybe a PlayMichigan reader has a good idea for things that could come here to bring positive ends for Michiganders. Contact us if you have any ideas.

Because, along with some unquestionable good, we also know a lot of bad has come with the territory.

(You can reach the Michigan Problem Gambling Hotline at 1-800-270-7117.)

Photo by Tero Vesalainen/Dreamstime
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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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