Interstate Player Pooling A Priority As Michigan Closes In On Online Poker Launch

Sen. Hertel is introducing a bill to clarify that online poker can be played across state lines and says, "It should be an easy fix."
Keyboard Poker Cards

As Michigan legislators attempt to fast track the implementation of the online gaming legislation that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed into law last December, one gambling vertical is in the process of receiving a crucial clarification.

State Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., a Democrat, was one of the driving forces behind the Lawful Internet Gaming Act, and now he’s planning to introduce a bill clarifying that the online poker included in that legislation can include multi-state player pools.

Hertel’s proposed language reads, “The Michigan Gaming Control Board may enter into agreements with other jurisdictions, including Indian tribes, to facilitate, administer, and regulate multijurisdictional internet gaming for poker by internet gaming operators to the extent that entering into the agreement is consistent with state and federal laws and if the internet gaming under the agreement is conducted only in the United States.”

In layman’s terms: Poker sites in Michigan that also cater to other states with regulated online poker can add Michigan to interstate player pools.

‘It should be an easy fix’

There are only four other states that offer legal internet poker at the moment, and one of them — Pennsylvania — has not yet allowed its players to compete against opponents across state lines. But the other three —Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware — do allow pooling, and would welcome the addition of the Wolverine State, which is more populous than any among that trio.

While Hertel can’t project with certainty how soon his legislation will be considered, he is extremely confident in its passing.

“I believe [the lack of clarification on multi-state pooling] was an unintentional problem that was created by an oversight in the drafting and negotiating process,” Hertel told MI Bets. “I don’t think it was intended by anybody, so it should be an easy fix.

“I can’t imagine anyone’s opposed to this. There were certainly issues that were raised about slot machines with large out-of-state pools and how they could compete with the lottery. Those concerns were voiced during the process. But the concerns did not include worries about poker being played across lines.”

Hertel is not one of those legislators who is unfamiliar with the specifics of the casino games in question. He clearly understands poker and understands the problems and limitations with allowing intrastate online poker only.

“If you said Michigan players can only play poker with other people from Michigan, you really would limit the ability of people to find games,” Hertel noted. “You don’t need multiple people to play blackjack online. You don’t need multiple people to play slot machines online. But if you’re trying to get a poker game, you need people that want to play the same game and same limits, and you’re already dividing them among different platforms, so it really does become very limiting.

“And there’s absolutely no policy reason to limit it. There certainly were legitimate concerns on other forms of gaming, but there’s absolutely no reason, policy-wise, to limit poker players. I think it’s a fairly simple fix, but I think it’s important too.”

Shuffle up and deal … when?

Pushed by the COVID-19 crisis to (a) allow the citizens of Michigan to wager safely from their homes and (b) help the state’s financial situation with taxable gambling dollars, the target for when online casino, poker, and sports betting will launch keeps moving up.

So how soon could online poker and other games come to the state?

“I’m a betting person, and this is my best guess,” Hertel said. “I think in the best-case scenario, we’re looking at probably early October.”

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