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Stadiums closed, but Michigan's sportsbooks open despite coronavirus
12th March, 10:03Eric Adams clutched $500 in one hand and a list of bets in his other. He was the first one in line at MGM Grand Detroit on Wednesday afternoon -- a moment that felt both historic and a little surreal -- when it became legal to place live sports bets at casinos in Michigan.
"It's like a dream come true," said Adams, 38, of St. Clair Shores. "I go to Vegas all the time for the (NCAA) tournament. Now, I get to stay here."
As Adams stood in line in front of 37 others, a group of celebrities placed the first bets.
Former Tigers pitcher Dave Rozema bet the 2020 Tigers would win more than 56.5 games, a number that several people took the under of. And Lions broadcaster Lomas Brown took the Lions to win more than 6.5 games in 2020.
"It's awesome," Adams said. "I love it. I go to Vegas two or three times a year. Or I'd go through Windsor or through a bookie."
Sports betting also went live at Greektown Casino on Wednesday and will start at Motor City Casino on Thursday. Proponents hope that online and mobile-app betting will be legalized in a year.
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"This is to ensure that people don't have to go to the bookies anymore," said State Rep. Brandt Iden (R-Portage), who has worked on getting sports betting in Michigan for 4 ½ years. "People aren't going to get their legs broken for not paying their bills. This is a legal safe, fun sports venue."
We are living in a time when news stories seem to slam together -- one event impacting another.
On the same day several people were placing bets for either Michigan or Michigan State to win the NCAA tournament -- not to mention other teams -- both MSU and U-M announced they were going to online learning because of the coronavirus.
Hours later, the NCAA announced that all tournament games will be held with no fans, which seems like the right thing to do. The Big Ten originally announced plans to allow fans at its tournament, but reversed course later in the day.
It was surreal and strange and it all sort of blended together.
At MGM, there were long lines of bettors, and people were packed together in places, but nobody seemed concerned about the virus that has turned into a global pandemic, according to the World Health Organization.
MGM has placed hand sanitizer dispensing stations in high-traffic areas such as entrances, exits, elevator landings and hotel lobbies. The casino says that it has increased the frequency of disinfecting procedures, putting a focus on faucets and toilet flush levers, doorknobs and locks, entrance and exit doors and door handles, handrails and slot machine handles and armrests.
[What Michigan's state of emergency for the coronavirus means]
A hand sanitizer station was set up in front of nine sports betting kiosks.
After Vinny Gonella placed some bets at a kiosk, he went to the hand sanitizer station and got a squirt of disinfectant.
"Because kiosks are notorious for nastiness," said Gonella, 60, of Dearborn.
"Just being preventative," said his 28-year-old son, Nick.
Gonella bet the Tigers' under and the Lions' over.
"I've been watching the Lions since the '60s, and this is the year," Gonella said, enthusiastically.
He smiled. "Yeah, right."
Placing a bet in Michigan is not completely like Vegas. Not yet.
"We are not doing what they call negative bets, like who will fumble, who will throw an interception," said Louis Theros, MGM Grand's vice president and general counsel. "Those are called negative prop bets. The gaming board did not authorize those.
"For the NCAA, you can do team bets, but no individual bets for the NCAA. You can't have, 'Will (MSU guard) Cassius Winston score over 20'. The gaming board does not allow that bet as of yet."
Also, there is no international betting at MGM Grand.
"We don't have any international sports right now," he said. "I'm eager to launch that in April or May."
More: Metro Detroit stores sell out of hand sanitizers, toilet paper after outbreak
All in all, a back corner of Detroit started to look and feel like Vegas.
Cashiers stood at six cash registers, waiting to take bets -- a $10 minimum at the window, $5 at the kiosks.
Then, it went from surreal to, well, a little farfetched when Tom Novock placed a $10 bet for the Lions to win the Super Bowl.
"I'm getting everybody Christmas presents. I'm doing my shopping right now."
Welcome to Detroit, 2020: Where you can Christmas-shop at a sportsbook.
"It's great," Novock, 69, of Detroit, said. "It's 2,000 miles closer than Vegas and I don't have to stand in line at Metro."
For the record, it took Novock several minutes to finish his bet.
Gregory Ponders might have been the first person from the general public to place a bet.
He also looked the most thrilled.
"Man, I'm about to have a heart attack," Ponders said, after putting $10 on MSU to win the NCAA tournament. "I'm sweating."
He held up his betting slips.
"Man, this is fantastic," he said. "I think it's so cool. I love the excitement of it."