MANISTEE — The first sportsbook in northern Michigan opened Friday.

The River Rock Sportsbook & Grill opened Friday at 10 a.m. at Little River Casino. The casino in Manistee partnered with Rush Street Interactive, a subsidiary of Chicago-based Rush Street Gaming that does business as BetRivers.

Jonnie Sam, Table Games and Sportsbook manager, said the partnership was in the works for well over a year.

“We interviewed a bunch of companies and ended up settling on Rush Street,” Sam said. “They are top notch in the gaming industry. They come highly recommended by everybody. They’re number one or two in every market they’re in. We thought that they were perfect for us.”

Rivers Casino locations are in Chicago, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and upstate New York. The mobile betting platform has been approved in Illinois, Colorado, Indiana and Pennsylvania to date.

Rivers Casino Des Plaines launched a similar sports book in March, around the time Sam said they initially planned to open theirs as well. The first bets were able to be made in the state on March 11 — but the coronavirus pandemic had other plans for both sports and casinos alike.

That gave time for the casino to regroup, Sam said.

“We had to determine what the casino was comfortable with gambling with,” Sam said. “It was tough because very few people around here have sportsbook experience.”

Little River is now the third tribal casino in the state of Michigan to offer a sportsbook. FireKeepers Casino in Battle Creek and Four Winds Casino in New Buffalo both opened sportsbooks late June after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a bill into law late December of 2019 permitting on-site sports gambling statewide.

The names of two companies, Little River Casino and Rivers Casino, have no relation outside of the partnership, Sam said.

As a matter of fact, Little River is one of two non-Rivers Casinos to host a BetRivers kiosk.

The partnership now provides RSI access to online betting in Michigan, and plans to launch a co-branded online sports betting and online casino statewide as soon as Michigan regulations permit it.

The Michigan Gaming Control Board directors met in February regarding mobile betting. Internet Gaming Rules are expected to take effect by the end of 2020 or early in 2021.

According to information in an email with David Murley, Deputy Director of the MGCB, once those are in place, and all necessary licenses are issued, the casino will be able to accept wagers from people in Detroit, for example, using a mobile device.

Another licensed platform provider being used is DraftKings — the popular daily fantasy sports website — Murley wrote. The Detroit Tigers recently partnered with PointsBet, the first MLB sportsbook partnership of its kind.

“The potential for Online Gaming in Michigan is very exciting,” said RSI’s Haig Sakouyan in an email, the company’s Director of Business to Business Services who helped facilitate the partnership.

“We’ve been impressed with the approach the State has taken towards Online Gaming in respect to allowing multiple verticals for launch. The tax benefits to the State could be substantial. This is a blueprint we hope other States will evaluate as they look towards legalizing Online Gaming in their own jurisdictions.”

Guests will be more than welcome when they walk into the newly named River Rock Sportsbook & Grill, which will operate a the same location of Little River’s older sports bar.

The location will be half sportsbook, half restaurant with six 24-hour betting kiosks, a 16-screen TV wall and a four-window sportsbook cage where winning tickets can be redeemed for cash.

Winning tickets are redeemable only within the Sportsbook where they are printed, Sakouyan said.

Until most major American sports leagues make their return — Tuesday for the MLB, July 30 for the NBA and August 1 for the NHL — the kiosks feature several leagues around the world already in play.

Perhaps even ones you haven’t heard of.

“We had an older gentleman, this morning, make a bet on eSports,” Sam said, recalling the man saying he recognized who the players were after watching them on ESPN.

Little River casino, located at 2700 Orchard Hwy in Manistee, is open 24 hours.

The bar is open from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m., seven days a week. The cage will be staffed Monday through Thursday 2 p.m. to 12 a.m., and Friday, Saturday, Sunday from 10 a.m. to 12 a.m.

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