Soaring Eagle Flying Solo For Now As Michigan Online Gambling Launch Nears

Written By Matt Schoch on October 26, 2020

The Michigan online gambling game of musical chairs officially got underway at the stroke of midnight on Jan. 1, 2020.

Deals between online brands and the state’s 15 casino operators came fast, with heavy hitters finding access partners quickly in what should be a lucrative market.

But with launch nearing soon, the state’s largest and most well-known tribal casino still stands alone. At least officially.

The Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe has no announced partnerships nor public plans for sports betting, iGaming, or online poker.

However, Soaring Eagle CEO Mike Bean told PlayMichigan on Monday that plans should become public soon.

Soaring Eagle wants to be part of MI online gambling

Bean has told PlayMichigan the tribe plans on pursuing online gambling. He added Monday that a major operator will come on board soon, and the casino will leverage its popular brand and customer database for the endeavor.

He had said the casino’s sports bar, Ascend, is ready to transform into a retail sportsbook. The same is true for Creekside Lounge at Saganing Eagles Landing, a smaller nearby casino the tribe also operates.

Bean also said COVID-19 caused delays to the plans, which once included a retail sportsbook launch in spring, then in summer.

Soaring Eagle well-known throughout the state

Soaring Eagle is what most Michiganians know about Mount Pleasant, in addition to Central Michigan University.

The Saginaw Chippewa tribe casino has a strong reputation for national entertainment acts and expansive gaming options.

With 210,000 square feet of gaming space, Soaring Eagle is one of the largest casinos in the country.

The tribe has also marketed the brand thoroughly, sponsoring attractions such as Royal Oak’s Arts Beats & Eats festival and buying advertising spots on Detroit Tigers games.

That visibility could make their decision on how to proceed a little more complicated though.

Soaring Eagle could brand its own online casino, sportsbook

Because of the casino’s visibility, the tribe could brand its online sports betting and online casino apps with the Soaring Eagle brand.

That cuts out a partner or operator, but it also requires a huge investment for development.

It’s an option that’s not available to smaller Michigan tribal casinos such as Bay Mills in the Upper Peninsula.

Bay Mills Indian Community chairman Bryan Newland admitted as much this summer, detailing how his tribe instead went “big-game hunting” for DraftKings.

It worked for them.

However, the tribes that manage Four Winds and FireKeepers in Michigan have signed deals with Kambi and Scientific Games, respectively, perhaps to manage the technology for their own branded operations.

Soaring Eagle has not yet announced such a deal, but Bean indicated one should come soon.

Operators and partners are still out there if desired

For operators like DraftKings and FanDuel, there was no question they would gain an access deal into the Michigan market. The only question was who?

With brands like that already spoken for, there could be other operators out there who could also make a deal, but only if the terms are right.

That could also be true for Soaring Eagle.

Brands that have not yet staked a claim in Michigan and do not have a path in yet include:

  • 888
  • Bet365
  • Caesars
  • Circa Sports
  • SportsBetting.com
  • theScore
  • Unibet

Waiting game could pay off for Soaring Eagle

Soaring Eagle could still be weighing their options and seeing what the best course of action is.

They also could see how the market evolves in its infancy.

Could tribes who signed on with an operator come to regret that decision? Did tribes who planned to self-brand sign up for more than they bargained for?

Sitting back and surveying the state could have been the plan all along.

And it might still prove to be a good one.

Photo by Dreamstime stock
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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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