State gaming board opens gate to online bets for horse racing

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

The gate is now open for online betting for horse racing in Michigan, the state's gaming board announced.

Prior to Tuesday's order, issued by Richard Kalm, executive director of the Michigan Gaming Control Board, bets for horse races could only be placed on-site at Northville Downs, the state's only horse track.

That law applied to both live and simulcast races, explained Mary Kay Bean, a spokeswoman for the gaming board. If someone wanted to bet on a race physically taking place at the track, they'd have to bet at the track. And if someone wanted to bet on the Kentucky Derby without leaving Michigan, they'd have to bet at the track.

Northville Downs is closed through May 28, due to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's "stay home" order. The track's phone number leads to a message announcing its temporary closure.

"This applies to the entire building, including simulcasting and live racing," the track's website announces. "There will be no race draws or race entries taken during this time."

Any online betting would still go through a third party, not the track itself. To qualify, a third-party facilitator must form a plan and reach contract terms with the track. The two certified horsemen's associations must agree to the money split. Then the state will consider granting a license.

"We will work as quickly as we can to get it processed," Bean said.

Mobile and online bets could start as soon as the third-party provider is licensed, Bean added via email, even if the track itself were closed. Bets on simulcast races could still be placed.

Simulcast racing brings in significantly more bets than the live races do, $60.5 million compared to $2.1 million in 2019, according to the board. 

Horse racing brought in about $2.1 million for the state from simulcast bets last year.

Northville Downs can make as many agreements as it chooses with third-party facilitators, Bean said. 

Kalm, in a statement, said the order would "enable the state’s horse racing industry to gain new followers."