Michigan is home to a thriving gambling industry with 23 tribal casinos, 3 casinos in Detroit and one parimutuel horse racing track. Land-based casinos in Michigan are regulated by the Michigan Gaming Control Board although most of the board’s power is limited to overseeing Detroit’s casinos. The Michigan Gaming Control Board only oversees certain aspects of tribal gaming related to state compacts and taxation.
The state also permits multiple forms of online betting. Online lottery games, horse and greyhound racing, fantasy sports and skill games have all been legal for quite some time.
In late 2018, the Michigan legislature passed legislation to also open the door for online sports betting, casino games and poker. That legislation looked like a done deal at one point, but Governor Snyder vetoed the bill in the final days of 2018. However, Michigan online gambling still has the support of local casinos, many representatives and the horse racing industry.
Best Legal Michigan Betting Sites
Horse and Greyhound Betting:
Games of Skill:
Until the first licensed gambling sites and sportsbooks launch, Michiganders have no strictly legal options to play casino games or bet on sports online. There are numerous offshore gambling sites that operate contrary to state and federal law, but those sites are completely unregulated and are not at all recommended.
Not only is their legal status questionable, but players face the risk of losing money if (when) the government takes action against those sites. For a period of time, Michigan had laws on the books that made it a crime to use the internet to play at unlicensed gaming sites. The language that applied to online gambling was repealed by Public Act 185 of the year 2000, but it goes to show it’s best to stick with what’s legal.
The laws for participating in unauthorized online gambling may be lax, but Michigan does enact harsh punishments for those who organize unlawful gambling games. If you’re not authorized to run your own game, you could land yourself in a significant heap of trouble for doing so.
Section 432.218 of Michigan’s statutes make it a felony with up to 10 years imprisonment and up to a $100,000 fine for organizing an unlicensed gambling game:
“(1) A person is guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment for not more than 10 years or a fine of not more than $100,000.00, or both, and shall be barred from receiving or maintaining a license for doing any of the following:
(a) Conducting a gambling operation where wagering is used or to be used without a license issued by the board.
(b) Conducting a gambling operation where wagering is permitted other than in the manner specified in section 9.”
This is one of the harshest penalties in the nation for unlawful gambling so stay far away from anything that could be construed as “conducting a gambling operation.” If you have any questions about the legality of an event you’d like to host, make sure you visit an attorney first.
Sports Betting in Michigan
The legalization of sports betting in Michigan once seemed like a major long shot effort, but major developments both at the federal and state level changed the landscape entirely. Now, online sports betting is very likely coming to Michigan sooner or later.
First, there was the Supreme Court decision issued in May of 2018 that found the federal sports betting prohibition unconstitutional. In that case, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) was stricken down.
The death of PASPA cleared the first major hurdle for Michigan’s sports betting efforts – in fact, it was the primary hurdle for years because PASPA blocked all states from enacting laws to authorize or regulate sports betting.
With PASPA out of the picture, what remained for Michigan was to pass a state law to legalize and regulate sports betting. That effort was undertaken by lawmakers beginning in June of 2018 with the Michigan House passing HB 4926 on a vote of 68-40 to send it over to the Senate.
The Senate did not get to the bill in time to get something passed during the summer legislative session, but those efforts resumed that fall. Finally, during the waning hours of the 2018 session, lawmakers in the House and Senate approved a final version of the bill legalizing online casino games, poker and sports betting (if approved by the newly-created Division of Internet Gaming).
While HB 4926 deals primarily with online casinos and poker sites, it also includes a bit of text authorizing the Division of Internet Gaming (DIG) to approve online sports betting:
“The division may permit internet gaming operators licensed by the division to accept internet wagers under this act on any amateur or professional sporting event or contest.”
The passage of HB 4926 does not guarantee MI betting sites will begin offering sports betting any time soon, but it very clearly leaves that option open. The DIG will likely need to create additional regulations governing sports betting and possibly require additional legislation from lawmakers. In short, sports betting is a very realistic possibility in Michigan, but some things still need to be done before all you sports fans out there can crack the champagne bottles.
Update: Hopefully you didn’t crack those champagne bottles after all. In a surprise move, outgoing governor Rick Snyder vetoed HB 4926 and its companion bills to put a hold on Michigan sports betting for now. Lawmakers are expected to try again during the next legislative session.
Horse racing betting is available at any of Michigan’s four live racetracks plus at BetAmerica.com. The state at one time authorized three major betting websites, but two have since pulled out of Michigan. That leaves us with BetAmerica only, but fortunately BetAmerica is a reputable betting site that covers races across the US and internationally.
Michigan’s racetracks have also hit hard times, with two of the three closing in recent years. This leaves us with the following racetrack only:
- Northville Downs: www.northvilledowns.com
Northville Downs also provides simulcasting services that allow you to wager on races that take place at other tracks around the country. If you’d rather bet from the comfort of home, BetAmerica.com is the place to go. BetAmerica covers races at hundreds of tracks in the US and other horse racing nations.
Michigan Online Lottery
Michigan is one of just a handful of states with a full-service online lottery available to anyone 18 or older and located within state borders. Governor Rick Snyder expressed support for online lottery sales in 2013, and the lottery bureau got to work.
In late 2014, the Michigan Lottery launched its online platform to little fanfare, but word got out and Michigan’s iLottery has experienced growth every year since. In 2017, the Michigan lottery raised nearly $78 million for state coffers.
The Michigan online lottery platform offers the full lottery experience from home. With an online account, customers can play 50+ online lottery games and buy tickets to all major drawings. Powerball, Mega Millions, Lotto 47 and Fantasy 5 tickets may all be purchased online for exactly the same amount it would cost to buy them at your local gas station.
Since going live, the Michigan online lottery has produced some impressive wins. Within months of the Michigan lottery going online, it produced its first $1,000,000 winner. MLive.com reported at the time that an anonymous player won a $1 million jackpot while playing Diamond Payout, which is an instant scratch game that’s still available today. Numerous other reports from local media outlets detail other major wins in excess of $100,000.
You can try the Michigan Lottery online and claim a $100 bonus at:
Daily fantasy sports sites have been operating in Michigan for years and nearly received formal legal status in 2018 with a piece of legislation that created a licensing process and established some basic consumer protection regulations.
The bill, HB 6420, was vetoed on the same day as the failed online gambling and sports betting bill. This one wouldn’t have changed much on the ground because the major daily fantasy sites have already adapted their business models to similar regulations that had already been enacted by numerous other states at the time.
In short, the bill would have required MI fantasy sites to:
- Establish all customers are at least 18 or older
- Identify highly experienced players with an icon so other players can see who is experience (in this case, “highly experienced” means a player who has played in 1,000 or more contests or who has won 3+ prizes worth $1,000+ at that site)
- Licensed fantasy sites must prohibit third party tools designed to give players an advantage unless the site makes that tool widely available to everyone
- Site employees, owners and any family members who live in the same household may not play on their own sites
- Athletes and officials connected to sporting events may not participate in fantasy contests related to those events
- Daily fantasy sites are also required to pay a $50,000 licensing fee and a renewal fee of $20,000 every year.
HB 6420 also provided a minor exemption for private DFS games. No license is needed for people wishing to run their own fantasy games as long as those games are not open to the public, have 15 or fewer participants, no more than $10,000 in entry fees are collected in a single calendar year and if at least 95% of entry fees are paid back out as prizes.
Although HB 6420 was ultimately vetoed, major DFS sites continue to operate in Michigan to this day under the belief that the games they offer are based on skill and therefore do not constitute illegal gambling.
Michigan Gambling Sites
Online gambling is likely coming to Michigan at some point in the near-to-medium future. In December 2018, lawmakers in the House and Senate voted in favor of HB 4926 and sent it to the governor’s office for one last signature before coming law. Although the governor vetoed the bill at the last minute, a similar effort is likely to materialize in 2019.
For reference, HB 4926 included some text relating to sports betting, but for the most part dealt with casino games and poker. In short, the law would have authorized Michigan’s three commercial casinos in Detroit and 23 tribal casinos across the state to offer online casino games and player-vs-player poker.
The law would have also set up a process by which local casinos could apply for online gaming licenses at an up-front cost of $200,000 plus an annual renewal fee of $100,000. The bill also called for a reasonable 8% tax rate, permitting Michigan to enter multistate agreements with other states (which would clear the way for Michigan poker players to sit at tables alongside players from other states) and setting a minimum age of 21.
HB 4926 specified that no online gaming may commence until after one year has passed from the date the bill becomes law.
HB 4926 was killed at the end of 2018, but does serve as a preview of what future legislation is likely to look like. Here’s a review of some of the provisions called for in HB 4926:
- Online casino games and poker will be legalized
- Minimum age of 21 to play
- Low tax rate of 8% foretells a thriving and competitive industry
- 12-month delay before online gambling may begin
- Read more
Previous Legalization Attempts
Senate Bill 203 was introduced in early 2017 in an attempt to legalize online casinos and poker. This bill sought to establish the “Lawful Internet Gaming Act” and permit existing casino operators to take their casino and poker games online. SB 203 called for a $200,000 licensing fee and $100,000 renewal fee for online gaming sites as well as a 10% tax on gross revenues and a variety of consumer protection regulations.
SB 203 served a promising start, but was unable to make it through the necessary votes to become law before the 2017 legislative season ended. That bill had little support among the state’s existing casino operators. Additionally, lawmakers must always tread very carefully to satisfy Michigan’s gaming tribes and commercial operators at the same time. You can read more about this bill and our predictions at the time this old post.
That bill appeared all but dead up through the early months of 2017. However, the bill resurfaced once again in March of 2017. The updated version of the bill made two concessions to tribal gaming interests in the hopes of making the bill more palatable for all interested parties.
One of those concessions was imposing a 12-month moratorium on commercial casinos launching their own casino sites in order to give the tribes time to prepare their own regulations and launch plans. Additionally, the bill gave tribal gaming interests more say in how they regulate online gambling. Tribes would have still been subject to some state regulations such as minimum age of participation, but the tribes would have been given more leeway in coming up with other regulations.
This all led up to the introduction of HB 4926 in 2017. HB 4926 read almost identically to the Senate bill from earlier in 2017. However, lawmakers added language to the bill this time around to potentially allow Michigan to legalize sports betting on the condition that sports betting is not prohibited by federal law (the Supreme Court has since stricken down the federal law prohibiting sports betting).
A bill introduced back in 2016 also tried but failed to legalize online poker and casinos in Michigan. Senate Bill 889 (full text here) sought to legalize online poker and casino games, create a division of internet gaming and issue up to 8 licenses for operators to offer real money poker games and casino gambling on the internet.
This post published in 2016 provides more detail. In summary, SB 889 would have given Michiganders 21 or older the ability to play legal online poker and casino games with licensed operators. Furthermore, the bill included a provision that would allow Michigan to enter online gaming compacts with other states and foreign jurisdictions, provided those compacts did not violate federal law or the laws of the other jurisdiction.
That part about gaming compacts was especially important for online poker because it avoided the problems that follow when states ring-fence their players off from the rest of the world. Restricting players to only playing with other people from the same state puts a severe damper on how many tables actually run at any given time. Online poker needs a large player base to keep the games running.
SB 889 successfully made it through its first vote in June of 2016. The Senate Regulatory Reform Committee approved the bill by an 8-1 vote. That moved the bill one step closer to a full Senate vote but was never able to gain the traction it needed before the 2016 legislative session came to a close.
It is legal to bet on contests of skill in the US as long as you are considered one of the competitors and have direct control over winning and losing. It is also legal to bet on games of skill online as long as those games are truly based on skill.
Many people (myself included) consider poker to be a game of skill but the law does not so you won’t find poker at a skill gaming site. What you’ll find instead are heads-up games such as Scrabble, Spades and Bejeweled. Your goal in these games is to use your skills to outplay your opponent and win the bet.
WorldWinner.com is the largest skill gaming website today, but it’s still a fairly small site compared to any of those mentioned above. The site imposes strict deposit and wagering limits and uses somewhat dated software. Overall, WorldWinner is a decent place to play real money skill games but it’s not the type of place where you can go to win life-changing amounts of money.