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Whitmer signs bills to legalize sports betting in Michigan

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing Michigan's first legal wagers on sports could be three months away after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed Friday bills that allow for both sports betting and online gaming.

With the governor's signature, Michigan became the second-biggest state in the Midwest to legalize sports betting — behind Illinois — and the 20th state to do so in the nation, according to the American Gaming Association.

Supporters of the new laws have said they hope casinos in Michigan will be able to begin accepting wagers by college basketball's annual tournament in March.

Asked about the potential timeline, Whitmer spokeswoman Tiffany Brown said "Gov. Whitmer is optimistic that implementation will be efficient."

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has signed a package of bills that legalizes sports betting and online gaming through Michigan's casinos.

Under the new laws, the state will be able to grant sports betting operating licenses to businesses that already have casino licenses or Native American tribes who offer gaming through their casinos. Before betting begins, however, state regulators still have to create requirements for offering sports betting in Michigan.

Sports betting is expected to start with only wagers placed at physical locations within the state's casinos, said Marvin Beatty, vice president of community and public relations at Greektown casino, one of three casinos in Detroit.

Later, after state regulators set policies for online betting, casinos will be able to accept wagers from customers over the internet, he said.

Beatty called Friday a "huge day" for the state, Detroit and casino customers who aren't able to make it to the casinos' physical locations.

"It’s all new revenue," he said.

The Michigan Department of Treasury estimates the new laws will bring in $19 million in new revenue to the state, according to the governor's office on Friday.

The extra dollars will boost the state's School Aid Fund, which supports education, by an estimated $4.8 million and the First Responder Presumed Coverage Fund by a projected $4 million, according to a governor's office release. The presumed coverage fund provides benefits to qualified first responders who have developed certain cancers.

"My top priority in signing this legislation was protecting and investing in the School Aid Fund because our students deserve leaders who put their education first," Whitmer said.

The bills, she added, "will put more dollars in Michigan classrooms and increase funding for firefighters battling cancer. This is a real bipartisan win for our state."

A national movement in favor of sports betting has played out across the country in the 19 months since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a law that banned betting on sporting events in many states.

"They basically opened up the floodgates," said Frank Fantini, CEO of Fantini Research and publisher of the Dover, Delaware-based Fantini’s Gaming Report.

Rep. Brandt Iden, R-Oshtemo Township, championed the bills in the Legislature. He said the new laws showed Michigan was entering "the modern era of gaming."

State Rep. Brandt Iden

"We’ll have a safe, regulated environment for the thousands of Michigan residents who for years have been forced to travel to other states or play on risky offshore sites," Iden said in a statement.

Critics, including Sen. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, have argued the bills are an expansion of gaming that furthers the harm done by gambling.

"The business of gambling does everything it can to take the largest possible legal amount of money from every user it can," McBroom said during a speech on the Senate floor earlier this month.

Whitmer also signed another bill that sets up regulations for fantasy sports contests.

Eventually, the sports betting and online gaming laws will allow for in-game, online proposition bets that cover subjects outside of the final score of a game, such as which team will score first or how a specific drive will end.

The new laws are going to bring traffic to the state's casinos, predicted Jacob Miklojcik, president of Michigan Consultants, a Lansing-based firm that works on economic development matters including casinos. 

"It's going to be popular," said Miklojcik, who is a former board member of the Greektown Casino.

The governor's decision to sign the gaming bills into law provides Michigan's casinos "the opportunity to offer their customers new and exciting gaming experiences while providing revenue to support public safety, school funding and other state and local initiatives," said Bruce Dall, president of MotorCity Casino Hotel.

In October, MGM Grand Detroit opened its Moneyline Sports Lounge, which for now is serving as a sports bar, complete with 60 televisions, a capacity of 280 and three sections of VIP seating.

The new Moneyline Sports Lounge at MGM Grand Detroit.

The lounge will feature eight betting windows and self-service kiosks. It's located off the front entrance to the casino near the hotel lobby, and casino officials hope it will become an attraction when the legalized sports betting begins.

Michael Neubecker, president and chief operating officer of the MGM Grand Detroit, applauded Whitmer and state lawmakers.

"This is an exciting opportunity for Michiganders, meeting their demand for sports wagering and generating more state revenue and funding for public schools," Neubecker said in a Friday statement.