Bryan Lofton lives in west Michigan, but he’s been betting online for over a year now.
The Holland resident, 43, has driven about 90 minutes each way about 2-4 times a month to place bets at a gas station just across the Indiana state line.
With a thriving lottery and casinos in all areas throughout the state, there’s long been a gambling culture here. And since March, sports bets have been the talk of the state.
That makes the wait for online gambling in Michigan, which has languished at times since Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed expanded gambling laws over a year ago, all that more tough for some.
Hence Lofton’s weekly drives to Indiana where online sports betting is up and running.
“I have been insanely frustrated with Michigan legislation,” Lofton wrote in an email to PlayMichigan.
“There is no logical reasoning this should have taken more than 12 months.”
Reasons for online gambling stalls: Reasonable or ridiculous?
There are reasons for the holdups of Michigan online gambling that are both reasonable and ridiculous, depending on where you sit.
First, the pandemic forced Michigan Gaming Control Board staff members to work from home, making things more difficult.
At one point, the FBI was not processing fingerprints needed for the MGCB to complete background checks.
Late in the legislative process, another delay was caused when the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules was slow to pass along the sports betting and internet gaming rules. The bipartisan committee received the rules on Oct. 8 but did not move them along until Dec. 1 despite no changes being made.
Which brings us to the overall 2020 environment in Lansing, producing anti-Whitmer rallies and eventually a plot to kidnap the governor while the Republican-controlled legislature fought the governor on pandemic restrictions.
Most hurdles are now cleared, as the MGCB expects online gambling to launch in mid-January.
Reasonable? Ridiculous? Or just a symptom of the year that lasted for years?
Lansing issues loom as a source of frustration
In the aforementioned environment in the state capitol, cooperation wasn’t the name of the game this year. Like many things, and however your politics align, you can point to the opposition as the scapegoat for government ills.
Nick from Ferndale, who would not share his last name, said he pegged Whitmer as the biggest scapegoat.
Nick, who is not originally from Michigan, said not designating online gambling with an emergency order slowed the process.
“Because of Gretchen’s refusal to allow for emergency action to be taken, she is at the top of my blame list,” Nick said.
“Online gambling/sports betting could have been up and running by now had this been allowed and residents could have been betting on football games from their home.”
In the spring, Republican state lawmakers pushed for Whitmer and the MGCB to institute emergency rules to hasten the process. However, in May, the governor’s office told stakeholders the issue did not “satisfy the requirements for emergency rulemaking.”
Meanwhile, the only option (when casinos are open) has been retail betting. Nick said he’s been frustrated by how long it takes to place bets during busy times at Detroit casinos.
One NFL Sunday, in particular, Nick arrived at 11:45 a.m. but didn’t place his bets until 1:15 p.m. Online sports betting, of course, has no waiting.
COVID-19 created difficult situation for online gambling
On Twitter, our @Play_Michigan account has often been the source of bad news about delays for many. Commenters are quick to voice their frustrations in the process.
But the frustrated voices aren’t the only ones out there. After all, 2020 was a messy year: canceled sports seasons, postponed events, closed restaurants and casinos, curfews, social unrest. The list goes on.
Kalamazoo’s Benjamin Hyde, 37, said he’s been frustrated but isn’t sure who to blame, or if there should really be a target.
“I honestly don’t know,” he said. “I understand current events (COVID) have probably pushed this down the list of importance.”
And in truth, while it hurts us to say this, a lot of 2020’s ups and downs were out of Michigan’s control. No one anticipated COVID-19 canceling March Madness let alone closing casinos for months.
Online or not, just bet responsibly
Joe Beaudette, 51, of Flint, plans to bet only online and mostly on the NBA. He’s used other betting avenues in the past but plans to use sites such as FanDuel Sportsbook going forward.
In fact, he’s already signed up for an account.
When asked what he would say to fellow Michiganders, he answered simply: “Bet responsibly.”
Hyde also echoed those sentiments.
“Just to always do it responsibly,” he said. “If you’re in a spot you don’t have extra money to play around with, don’t do it. It’s fun. But stay within your means.”
Oh, and be patient. Or continue to be patient. It’s been a long year, a long wait, but online betting is just a few weeks away.