Despite Great Start To Retail Sports Betting In Detroit, Operators Should Still Reserve Their Enthusiasm

Posted By Derek Helling on April 9, 2020

The three Detroit commercial casinos collected over $100,000 in sports betting handle in the first six days of legal wagering so far. While that suggests a healthy appetite, it’s too early to draw any conclusions.

Several factors, at least one of which will never be replicated, affected that number. It’s important to take them into context when judging the value of this sample.

The raw details on the Michigan sports betting handle in March

From March 11-16, brick-and-mortar sportsbooks were open for business in Detroit. MotorCity Casino’s sportsbook didn’t start accepting wagers until March 12, however.

In those six days, Michiganders bet over $105,000 on the various available markets. The breakdown by facility is as follows:

  • MGM Grand — $84,695.40
  • Greektown — $15,904.04
  • MotorCity — $4,949

The local and state tax amounted to $8,866.07 or about 8.4% of handle. The city of Detroit received over $4,800 of that total.

MGM Grand was the clear winner during this period, bringing in more than four times the amount of action at Greektown and MotorCity combined. Yet there’s no reason why MGM should rest on its laurels.

It’s difficult to draw any solid conclusions from these numbers. Bettors and the sportsbook operators will never see this exact situation again in Detroit, for one thing.

Why sportsbook operators shouldn’t treat these numbers as solid data

Several factors may have deflated or inflated these numbers to a certain extent. It’s difficult to ascertain exactly how much of an effect those factors may have had.

For starters, there will never again be a first six-day period of legal sports betting in Michigan. Many gamblers may have placed bets on these dates simply for the novelty of it and may not plan to wager regularly.

Also, sportsbooks had the benefit of launching in concert with what was the lead up to one of the biggest sports bettings events of the year. It’s undeniable that anticipation of March Madness helped balloon these numbers.

At the same time, there were likely deflating factors. A primary one is that wagering was limited to just three facilities statewide. That meant only those willing to travel to one of them could contribute to the handle total.

If online sportsbooks had launched at the same time, these numbers could have been much larger. Because those online books might be up and running for every subsequent March, this year’s edition could be an anomaly.

Of course, there’s the coronavirus pandemic effect. Some bettors might have intended to place wagers later in the month, not expecting the state to close down the sportsbooks after just six days.

That ties back into the fact that online sportsbooks aren’t yet up and running. If that was the case, then the handle could have continued to increase despite the shutdown of the casinos and cancellations/postponements of sporting events.

For the retail sportsbooks in Detroit, this was a good first six days. These numbers are of little use for any other purpose, however, and it could have been a much better start if not for some mitigating factors.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Chicago, IL. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law. Recently, he has written about the expanded gambling industry in Michigan, including online sports betting, online casinos, and the cornerstone land-based casino market.

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