Michigan Sports Betting Regulators Order Bovada Online Sportsbook to Leave the State

Dan Favale
By , Updated on: Jun 5, 2024 08:00 PM
Michigan Sports Betting Regulators Order Bovada Online Sportsbook to Leave the State

Bovada sportsbook has officially been asked to vacate the Michigan sports betting market.

A cease and desist letter was sent to the prominent Curacao sportsbook from the Michigan Gaming Control Board (MGCB) on Wednesday, May 30. The MGCB reportedly gave Bovada until June 12 to officially pull out of the Great Lake State.

What prompted this action from Michigan sports betting regulators? Which reasons did the MGCB cite in their official action? What does this mean for the general future of sports betting in Michigan? Are there any ramifications that could be felt in other states?

Let’s break it all down.

Bovada Asked to Exit Great Lake State on Basis of Committing Multiple Michigan Sports Betting Violates

This news comes as something of a surprise. Though Michigan sports betting officially launched in 2021, Bovada has operated inside the Great Lake State for much longer than that. They were among the top online sportsbooks in the United States that accepted wagers from across the country before the United States Supreme Court overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) back in 2018. What’s more Bovada remains a popular USA betting site even though new players like DraftKings, FanDuel, BetMGM and other domestically based organizations have entered the game.

So, what exactly prompted the cease and desist letter from Michigan sports betting officials? Sam Macquillan from Legal Sports Report breaks it all down:

[Bovada’s] parent company, Harp Media B.V., is accused of violating three Michigan laws:

  •  Lawful Internet Gaming Act: requires a state-approved license to conduct internet gambling
  • Michigan Gaming Control and Revenue Act: imposes penalties on unlicensed gambling, ranging from up to 10 years in prison and or a $100,000 fine.
  • Michigan Penal Code: broadly prohibits all forms of gambling involving consideration, prize, and chance.

With these in mind, it’s interesting that Michigan sports betting regulators are singling out Bovada. Plenty of other offshore sportsbooks operate in the United States without a license. Then, as it turns out, this isn’t necessarily a unique situation.

Michigan Gaming Control Board Has Previously Dispensed with Other Online Sportsbooks

Bovada is not the only online sportsbook in Michigan to receive a decease and desist letter. Heck, they’re not even the lone operator to get one in the past six months. As Maquillan wrote:

“[This] is the fourth cease and desist letter issued by the MGCB in the past six months. In January, the MGCB announced Cyprus-based Stake.us, Austrian-based VGW, and PredictionStrike, a New York-based startup, faced similar penalties. Each website has pulled out of the Great Lake State since.

“‘The proliferation of online gaming platforms has led to increased scrutiny from regulatory bodies worldwide, and this action serves as a stern warning to overseas companies that flouting local regulations will not be tolerated,’ MGCB Executive Director Henry Williams said in the letter. ‘The MGCB remains steadfast in its commitment to upholding Michigan’s laws and regulations and will continue to actively monitor and enforce compliance within the state to ensure a fair and secure gaming environment for all.’”

While the reasoning is well justified, the timing doesn’t feel like a coincidence. Michigan sports betting regulators weren’t nearly so committed to expelling offshore sportsbooks from the state before legalizing the practice. It speaks volume that they’re taking an interest now.

Sure, consumer safety is part of it. But when you’re dealing with a more reputable brand like Bovada, it seems more like an attempt to neutralize Michigan sports betting competition. And look, that’s fair. Michigan has over two dozen licensed online sportsbooks. Bovada isn’t one of them. But is this a purely regulatory act? We find that hard to believe when Michigan has allowed things like sponsorships between universities and online sportsbooks in the past. More than anything else, this feels like an attempt to placate the sportsbooks they have licensed.

Will Anything Change for Michigan Sports Betting and for Bovada?

Despite this ordeal being headline-worthy, not much will change for either party. 

At some point, perhaps this month, Michigan sports bettors should no longer be able to access Bovada unless they’re traveling outside the state or using VPN software. That will be a nuisance for anyone who counts themselves as a Bovada absolutist. 

However, Michigan sports betting has plenty of options when it comes to operators. As of June 2024, the Great Lake state has licensed 14 online sportsbooks and 15 casinos. Bettors would feel the squeeze much more if Michigan didn’t already legalize online sports gambling and instead went with on-site only. Residents from a place like Wisconsin, which only has brick-and-mortar sports betting, would be more impacted if the state decided to crackdown on Bovada’s operators.

And for Bovada’s part, they will obviously lose some business. That might sting. It may also be immaterial. Bovada’s sportsbook has been around since 2011. They have a built-in customer base internationally, and even if they exit Michigan, they will still remain accessible in more than any other states. Delaware, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey and New York are the lone exceptions.

Indeed, the ripple effects might be greater for sports betting in the United States at large than they are (immediately) for Bovada and Michigan. Many are already wondering whether other states will follow Michigan’s lead. The truth is, places will likely wait to see how this particular issue pans out before mirroring the Great Lake State. 

Granted, states could start to feel pressure from licensed online sportsbooks to oust offshore operations. But again, the popularity of this may rest on how effective a regulatory arm like Michigan’s fares in the coming year(s). So if Bovada is going to really feel any ill effects from their latest market exit, it shouldn’t be for many (many) years to come. 

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Meet the author

Dan Favale

Dan Favale leverages over 12 years of sports journalism expertise in his role as New York staff writer. He provides in-depth analysis across the NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, tennis, NASCAR, college basketball, and sports betting. Dan co-hosts the popular Hardwood Knocks NBA podc...

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