NFLbets’ two main areas of concern vis-à-vis Michigan may be summarized rather succinctly. In betting, Michigan’s laws are about identical to most states’. In football, Michigan hosts a team notable on its level of play for diametrically opposed reasons: While the vicious University of Michigan Wolverines have been near the front of the college pack since the 19th century, the toothless Detroit Lions are simply one of the two or three worst NFL franchises of the modern era.
Betting in Michigan
Pretty standard stuff, slightly on the libertarian side. Post-incorporation into the union, the first form of gambling allowed in Michigan was pari-mutuel betting at state racetracks in 1933. The nationwide crackdown on organized crime’s involvement in illegal betting games in the 50s was particularly effective in Detroit and Michigan, with virtually all illegally operating bookmakers reportedly shut down by 1957. The state lottery was introduced just slightly ahead of the norm in ’72.
All other forms of gambling were explicitly outlawed until the Keweenaw Bay tribe begain pushing the boundaries of that law in the mid-1980s. By the time then-president Ronald Reagan signed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) into law in1988, the bingo halls of the Keweenaw Bay folks and other Native Americans in Michigan had electronic betting games hastily added, as the taxation and legal infrastructure was already in place.
Full-on casino-style gaming came to Michigan in 1994 when the Saginaw Chippewa tribe opened the Soaring Eagle Casino. As part of the licensing procedure, the owner/operators agreed on a compact which gives state and municipal governments 10% of profits – actually a decent deal in the long run, as the community and state now have a vested interest in the place. The 10% deal was extended to all other operations, this outlet was required to give up 10% of its profits to state and municipal governments, a standard still in place to this day.
Michigan Gaming Control Board (MGCB) authorities were so immediately impressed by the returns shown by the Soaring Eagle that, in a nearly unprecedently early move, granted licensure to three casinos on non-reservation land in 1996.
As for daily fantasy sports betting, the MGCB official noted a “concern” with DFS offerings in the state in September 2015, but no legislation or statements from counsel have been made.
Football in Michigan
No one but a time traveler could really fault a Michiganer for his/her optimism regarding professional football in Michigan in the 1920s or 30s. Semi-pro teams cropped up all over the state, many with graduates of the powerhouse college teams. Despite the fly-by-night nature of many an NFL franchise in the early days of the league, the city of Detroit was seemingly always home to winning teams, like the two-year Detroit Panthers, who finished third in 1925 with a 8-2-2 record, and the 1928 Detroit Wolverines (guess why that name was chosen) of a 7-2-1 mark and a third-place finish.
For a few years, Detroit was without a pro team altogether, but in 1934, a local radio station announced its purchase of an NFL team which would be relocated to Detroit. And not just any team, but the Portsmouth Spartans, who’d played in the first (unofficial) NFL championship game in ’32.
In their first season in Detroit, the newly rechristened Lions were coached/QBed by Potsy Clark to 10-3 mark in 1934 and took their first NFL title in ’35. This championship would unfortunately precede a 16-year drought without a playoff appearance in the days before wild-card bids. However, the Lions regrouped into a force once again in the early 1950s. The 50s Lions were loaded with legends like Doak Walker, Bobby Layne, Yale Lary, Leon Hart and Jack Christiansen. Between 1952 and ’57, the Lions played in four championships and won three.
Who in 1957 would have known what would follow? Specifically, three playoff appearances (one of them coming based on a 4-5 record in the strike-shortened 1982 season) in the next 33 years; wasting the career of all-time great Barry Sanders, including the incredible team-effort no show in the 1992 NFC Championship game; the Matt Millen Era of 2001-08 “culminating” in the 0-16 of ’08; and finally an era of mediocrity which will probably ultimately go down as the wasting of franchise QB Matthew Stafford’s career.
Stunningly, when the United States Football League (USFL) moved into town with the establishment of the Michigan Panthers in 1983, fans would masochistically stay loyal to the Lions despite the already firmly established losing tradition. Even Michigan alum Anthony Carter, a championship title in ’83 and another playoff appearance in ’84 could save the Panthers from merger with the Oakland Invaders.
So … how ’bout them Wolverines?
After all, if you want to talk winning football in Michigan, you’re talking University of Michigan Wolverines football, antidote to the losing Lions for nearly 60 years.
How to summarize the entire history of Wolverines football succinctly? Impossible! Let’s start with the fact that, going into the 2018 season, they’ve accumulated the most wins of any college football team, regardless of division. In September 2016, a seemingly typical 49-10 crushing of Penn State actually carried additional historical significance in that the Wolverines had passed Notre Dame as the all-time college football leader in winning percentage. As of the conclusion of the 2017 season, the Wolverines have 37 more wins than the runner-up Fighting Irish and are in a statistical tie with the ’Irish in winning percentage, though Michigan would be 19 games up on an all-time standings board.
Over the course of their history, the Wolverines have bagged 11 national championships and 38 top-10 finishes. A list of head coaches that reads like a “Who’s Who in the Hall of Fame” (including, so as to span three centuries, Fielding Yost, Bo Schembechler and Jim Harbaugh) have produced three Heisman Trophy winners (Tom Harmon, Desmond Howard, Charles Woodson) and innumerable quality NFL players. Among the all-time notables here are Harmon, Woodson, Dutch Marion, “Crazy Legs” Hirsch, Ron Kramer, Dan Diedorf, Steve Hutchinson, Jon Runyan, Ty Law and that dude most famous for riding the bench in Michigan, Tom Brady.
In the shadows of the mighty Wolverines are the Michigan State Spartans, as well as the excitingly burgeoning programs at Western Michigan U. and Central Michigan U. In fact, the Spartans’ success in the 1950s and 60s made the MSU program, for a brief while, tops in the Wolverine State. These were the days of head coach Duffy Daugherty. From 1954 to ’72 did Daugherty coach MSU, and in his 19 seasons the team was named national champion by at least one major organization four times.
Daugherty was taking over a program that had been coached by Biggie Munn. That side had run up a 26-game winning streak between 1950 and ’52 and was named undisputed national champion in that last season. Munn was promoted to the Michigan State athletic director position and stayed there nearly as long as his named replacement would stay on the sidelines. Daugherty’s 1965 and ’66 teams were led by Heisman Trophy-winning QB Steve Spurrier and went 19-1-1 including the 1966 Rose Bowl loss to UCLA. The ’65 team was recognized as national champions regardless.
Central Michigan and Western Michigan both play in the recently-reformed Mid-American Conference. The CMU Chippewas claim one national title as a division II team (in 1974), while the WMU Broncos have just recently forced their way into the national consciousness.
Following the 2015 season, the Broncos notched their first-ever bowl game win by topping Middle Tennessee in the Bahamas Bowl (nice). A 13-0 season in ’16 got the team into the national top 25 for the first time ever, but if perfection can be topped, it was in ’17. That year not only saw the Broncos again go 18-0, but also earn a Cotton Bowl invite. Though taking a loss to the Wisconsin Badgers, the WMU ended that season with a no. 12 ranking – but also the bad news that head coach Max Fleck would depart the school on that 26-1 run to take a post with the University of Minnesota.
Betting on football in Michigan
With no standing law on daily fantasy football betting, DFS games are still offered to Michigan residents by all the major (and minor) providers. As with any state – liberal attitudes toward gambling or no – any addition of sports betting to current gaming options would represent a huge step. However, the state’s history with betting-game legislation, i.e. taking care of the lawmaking before legalizing the vice, would imply that betting on football would come quickly to Michigan once precedent is set.
Just don’t bet too heavily on a certain team in Honolulu blue…