Matt Buckley is excited.
Nearly three years after participating in the opening of Detroit’s MGM Grand sportsbook and launch of the company’s BetMGM Michigan sports betting app, he’s at it again. And this time around, Buckley, president and chief operating officer of MGM Resorts Midwest Group, says things should be even better for MGM Northfield Park near Cleveland and its affiliated digital sportsbook.
The Ohio Casino Control Commission is set to launch retail and digital sportsbooks at 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 1.
“I was part of the launch in Michigan, and we’ve been able to incorporate feedback from that” and other launches, he told OH Bets. “They’ve improved navigation [on the app]. You can now view local events and sort college football by ranked teams or conferences. You can organize your bet slips to straight bets, parlays, round robins. They’ve worked on the app from customer feedback to make it so much better.”
The opening of the sportsbook at MGM Northfield and launch of BetMGM in Ohio will differ greatly from the go-live experience in Michigan at a time when COVID began sweeping the nation and shutdowns followed. MGM Grand’s sportsbook opened on March 11, 2020, one day before the NBA became the first U.S. professional league to suspend play. The mobile app went live Jan. 22, 2021, as America and the world still struggled to find a new normal.
Retail, digital to launch on Jan. 1
In Ohio, wagering is set to go live on an NFL Sunday. The slate of NFL games will be followed by the shift of the traditional schedule of New Year’s Day college football bowl games to Jan. 2, plus the Buffalo Bills will play at the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday Night Football.
The launch will be a day too late for No. 4 Ohio State’s Dec. 31 turn in the Peach Bowl against No. 1 Georgia in the College Football Playoff semifinals. Despite rumors that the Ohio Casino Control Commission would announce an earlier launch, it confirmed last week that it is sticking with the Jan. 1 date.
Buckley said BetMGM plans to launch its digital platform as soon as possible. Approximately 20 platforms are approved to go live Jan. 1, though at least two, BetFanatics and Underdog Sportsbook, have announced that they will start later in the year.
On the retail side, Buckley said that the new MGM racino sportsbook is aiming to take its first bets “as soon as possible” on Jan. 1, but the company isn’t looking to make it a big media event. Visitors to the new book will find “almost like VIP floor-style seats” that are wide and fully padded. Each is “designed to have the perfect view” of the new book’s 29-foot-by-8-foot video wall. There are 42 individual seats, each with a drink holder and table attached, and a banquette of booths. The book has been open as a sports lounge without betting since early in the NFL season.
Given his own experience and the fact that a hospitality company with a national footprint is behind MGM Northfield Park, Buckley isn’t too worried about dealing with a busy opening day.
“I think if we were part of a company that hadn’t launched as many as we have so far, I’d be more nervous,” he said. “We have the ability to bring in people from other areas who have launched before. There are going to be first-day jitters, but I think being able to leverage our strength as a company is going to help us.”
Good and bad to a dual launch
Located adjacent to the TAP Sports Bar and the casino’s Center Bar, customers will be able to order food and beverage from their seats during regular business hours.
Bettors will be able to place wagers at five teller windows — all of which will be open the first few busy days — inside the sportsbook or at any of the 16 kiosks. Ten kiosks will be in a bank just outside the book, with the rest spread around the gaming floor.
While opening on a busy sports day will be a challenge, Buckley also pointed to another key difference between the Ohio and Michigan launches: Ohio will allow retail and digital sportsbooks to go live on the same day, while there were 10 months between the two in Michigan.
“Launching both at the same time, I think there is good and bad for that,” Buckley said. “I think it is better for online, but there is a little less of a reason to come to one of our retail sportsbooks.
“In Michigan, if you wanted to make a legal sports bet, you had to go to a sportsbook [at first], and here, you won’t have to do that. I think the synergy of being in a temperature-controlled tailgate party is better than sitting on the couch with your phone.”
Photos: MGM Northfield