Michigan’s Legal Sportsbooks May Face Offshore Challenge To Sway Young Gamblers

Posted on February 25, 2020

One of the hopes for Michigan in legalizing sports betting is to convince bettors currently using illegal channels to change their habits. It looks like that may be a challenge with student gamblers, at least to start.

A recent report by the student newspaper at Michigan State University suggests wagering on sports is popular in that demographic. It also points to the convenience of online betting being of paramount importance.

What the report says about student gamblers

The article points to an economics professor who has studied the issue. He says that over 75% of college students have gambled in some form over the past year. While that’s not limited to wagering on sporting events, it certainly includes that activity.

Talking to students in East Lansing seems to support that evidence. A quote from a Spartan freshman only identified as “Matt” explains why sports betting is so popular among this demographic.

Our generation is obsessed with money, and our generation is also obsessed with sports. I don’t even know that it is uniquely high for our age group, per se. We’re so adept with the internet, and things like that make it so much easier to do it online.

This presents two issues for the state’s framework for legal gambling. First, if “Matt” is a typical college freshman, he is likely underage according to Michigan’s sports betting law, which requires bettors to be at least 21 years old.

Another freshman gambler, identified as “Nick,” presents the other issue. Fortunately for Michigan’s legal sportsbooks, they will eventually have an answer to the problem.

Location, location and location are important

Nick’s comment on the pending launch of legal sportsbooks in the state, which could happen as soon as next month, exposes an initial flaw. There is one big reason why they could do poorly in competing for these dollars initially.

Going to the casino and watching the game would be kind of fun, but betting online is so much easier. I can open up my computer, go on the website and look at lines, and read some articles online. Whereas at the casino, I would have to drive there, I would probably want to get food … but maybe I’d go every once (in a) while because it definitely would be a different experience.

When legal sportsbooks go live in the Wolverine State, they will likely only offer in-person wagering for the first year or so. That’s because rules for online wagering remain in flux, and it will take more time to authorize the online platforms.

Getting “Nick” and other students like him to close their computers and head over to the casinos would require some clever and tempting marketing. The problem in doing that regularly, however, is that doing so eats into what could already be small profits.

That will still apply when online sportsbooks launch, however. Human beings are creatures of habit.

Legal sportsbooks face a challenge in every state

This problem isn’t isolated to Michigan. In every state that allows legal wagering, there is the issue of getting people who have used black market sportsbooks for years to change their ways.

Like for any other business, it’s all about awareness, convenience and pleasant customer experiences. The best operators in the country are adept at marketing themselves and have a good product. Still, until they can match the convenience of online wagering at the illegal websites, there’s little hope of competing for Matt’s and Nick’s wagers.

While there are great benefits to using legal sportsbooks, none of that will matter to student gamblers if they can’t place wagers at any time from anywhere. Until Michigan’s operators offer that, such bettors will stick to their current habits.

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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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