It was quite an eventful year for Michigan gambling news in 2023.
From new operators, to record revenues and even a strike, the past 12 months have really had it all in this state.
As we close in on the final days of 2023, PlayMichigan wanted to count down the 10 biggest stories of the year.
We begin with stories 10-6 today.
Here’s a look at the top Michigan gambling headlines from the last year.
10. Kewadin pays $25 million for failed casino projects
A story that was over 10 years in the making, the final touches finally came on a failed effort to build casinos in Lansing and New Boston this year.
Kewadin Casinos Gaming Authority was ordered to pay $88.9 million to two separate investor groups in January over failed plans for two casinos that were to be built in Michigan.
The story began in 2011 when Kewadin Casinos was looking to expand with off-reservation casinos in New Boston, near Detroit Metropolitan Airport, and Lansing.
Kewadin had acquired land to build the casinos, but couldn’t receive permission from the U.S. Department of Interior for the casinos.
After years of legal battles, Kewadin was finally ordered to pay their original investors, JLLJ Development LLC and Lansing Future Development II LLC.
Though the original ruling called for $88.9 million in payments, Kewadin was able to settle with the investors in April for a $25 million payment.
9. MGCB continues crackdown on illegal machines
The Michigan Gaming Control Board has put an emphasis on shutting down illegal gambling in the state over recent years.
That continued in 2023 with a handful of raids throughout the state.
Since January of 2015, a total of 1,195 illegal machines and nearly $500,000 have been seized in raids by the MGCB and state investigators.
Since November of 2022, nearly 50 locations have received cease and desist letters for illegal gambling operations.
In 2023, the Flint area saw multiple raids. That included one location that had been raided nearly one year to the day it had been raided in 2022.
In August, MGCB Executive Director Henry Williams met with Flint officials to discuss strategies to deter illegal gaming operations.
September saw the MGCB even go as far as actually smashing illegal gambling machines it had confiscated in the last year at a Detroit-area recycling center.
You can be assured the MGCB will continue these crackdown efforts in 2024.
8. Four Winds employee charged with embezzlement
In August, a Four Winds Casino Harford employee was charged with embezzling $700,000 from the casino.
Danika Nicole Young, 38, worked at the casino since 2007 and had access to millions in cash for years.
According to documents, in July Young allegedly counted out $700,000 as supervisor of the cash cage at Four Winds Harford and placed the money into a bag.
Young then left the facility and took the money to Gary, Ind. There she gave the money to an unidentified person, claiming she received a phone call to do so.
Apparently similar incidents have occurred in other states, leading some to believe that Young was the victim of a fraud scheme.
Young’s attorney specified that she didn’t know the person who instructed her to remove the money from the casino. She had no prior criminal history leading up to this incident.
The gaming industry had been warned of a potential phone scam aimed at casino cage employees just prior to the incident at Four Winds.
No updates on Young’s case have occurred since August.
7. Fruitport Township casino saga continues
The efforts by Little River Casino to open an off-reservation casino in Fruitport Township lingered on throughout 2023.
The casino was approved by the Department of Interior in 2020. However, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer rejected the proposal in the summer of 2022.
Her decision was made based on awaiting a decision from the DOI on the Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians for federal recognition. Should Grand River Bands receive recognition, it could be entitled to build a tribal casino in neighboring lands.
In February, the DOI rejected Grand River Bands request. It cited the tribe failing to satisfy one of the seven mandatory criteria for acknowledgement.
The tribe had 180 days to respond to the finding, but were given a 180-day extension that will expire Feb. 26, 2024.
In October, new legislation was introduced in Michigan’s congress to grand the Grand River Bands federal recognition without granting federal lands.
Little River Band of Ottawa Indians was encouraged to resubmit its plans for the Fruitport Township casino to the DOI. However, the tribe has elected not to do so until it can get some assurances from Whitmer that she won’t reject the plans.
Little River first began these plans for a new casino in 2015. Grand River Bands has been seeking federal recognition since 1994.
6. Interstate poker launches in Michigan
If it seems like it’s been more than a year since interstate poker started in Michigan it’s because it nearly has.
After a long wait, PokerStars Casino Michigan became the first Michigan Online Poker operator to crack the code for interstate poker in the state, launching combined player pools with New Jersey on Jan. 1, 2023.
The Michigan Gaming Control Board signed an agreement to join the Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement in May of 2022. That opened the door for Michigan to play in combined poker pools with New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware. However, for that to happen it required further regulation that meet Michigan standards.
PokerStars met those regulations and has thus far been the only one to do so.
Because of that, PokerStars Michigan traffic has been up 32% over the year.
Throughout 2023, PokerStars has seen its overall Michigan online casino revenue – which includes online poker – increase by 15.2%. Through 11 months, PokerStars is at $31.9 million in revenue. That’s compared to $27.7 million through the first 11 months of 2022.
As we head into 2024, BetMGM Michigan has recently announced plans to integrate shared liquidity onto its platform in the near future.
Top 5 stories of 2023 coming soon
Check out the second part of PlayMichigan’s 10 biggest 2023 stories.