What fueled the rise of sports betting in Michigan?

With Michigan ranking 7th nationally for online wagering, the gambling industry spends a lot of money on ads within the state.

a hand holds up a smartphone displaying Sportsbook Online Betting

Two years ago, Michigan became the 15th state to legalize online gambling. Michiganders like their betting too — ranking 7th among states in dollars bet all-time.

These bets generate lots of revenue for the industry, reporting a combined $1.1 billion in earnings two years ago strictly from online gaming and sports wagers. Still, only $1 million (as in, 0.001 % of those earnings) went to the Compulsive Gaming Prevention Fund to help problem gamblers.

Proponents of sports betting argue that prohibiting gambling won’t stop the practice — rather, driving it underground. They says it’s better to allow people to do it and let the state benefit from the tax revenue.

But critics argue that sportsbook and other online betting companies prey on those who can fall into addiction. They say with easy access and not enough safeguards, it increases the chances for an individual to have a problem.

So why are we seeing so many ads? And is the rise in sports and online betting a net positive for Michigan?

“I wish we had an inpatient treatment center for gamblers like we do for alcoholics.” — Michael Burke, Michigan Association on Problem Gambling

Listen: Why sports betting ads are flooding Michigan ahead of the Super Bowl.



Emily Stewart covers business and economics for Vox. She previously wrote the piece “Sports betting: Pretty fun, probably terrible.” She says the companies spend a lot of money on marketing to secure their places in a potentially very lucrative market.

“There is a lot of money to be made here,” says Stewart, “and there is a real land grab going on right now.”

Lauren Gibbons is a reporter covering Michigan politics for Bridge Michigan. She says while there were detractors, the Michigan Legislature passed laws allowing sports and online gambling with bipartisan support.

“The argument from the Democrats’ perspective,” says Gibbons, “was that some of this tax revenue would be going to education [and] medical care. Republicans were saying this was a way to generate revenue for the state without dipping into other forms of taxes.”

Michael Burke is the Executive Director of the Michigan Association on Problem Gambling. He says he wishes there was more support for people suffering from gambling addiction.

“We have some programs in place — I wish we had more,” says Burke. “I wish we had an inpatient treatment center for gamblers like we do for alcoholics.”

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