Michigan Interstate Online Poker Bill Heads To Governor, But Don’t Get Excited Yet

Legislation to allow the Michigan Gaming Control Board to enter into online poker liquidity sharing deals heads to the governor.
Michigan Interstate Online Poker Bill

It could be many, many months before Michigan has legal online poker with liquidity sharing with another state, but a bill to allow the activity is now heading to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Poker players shouldn’t get their hopes up yet, as the proposal doesn’t require Michigan gambling regulators to enter into an online poker agreement with another state. It just gives them the ability to do so. It’s not even clear when Michigan will have online poker. Online gambling is expected to kick off next month, but poker could be left out in the cold for a bit, while sports betting and slots and other table games hit Wolverine State cyberspace. Michiganders will know very soon.

The bill, SB 991, was introduced in June as a correction of the legislation signed into law in December 2019 by Whitmer. Policymakers said that the lack of multi-jurisdictional (or interstate) online poker in the 2019 legislation was simply an oversight, and SB 991 was a quick and easy fix.

So, the bill sailed through the legislative process in 2020. It cleared the Senate by a 36-1 vote in October, and then 85-16 by the House on Dec. 17.

Piece of cake.

Decision now with the governor

It’s now over to Whitmer to sign, and there’s no indication that she won’t. Never say never, though, as Michiganders saw in late 2018 with the veto of the online gambling package by then-Gov. Rick Snyder.

The only states right now that Michigan could partner with for online poker liquidity sharing would be Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Nevada, and West Virginia. However, it would have to involve a poker site that is both live in Michigan and in one or more other states. For example, the WSOP.com site in Nevada, that state’s only real-money online poker portal, isn’t going to pool players with a PokerStars platform in Michigan.

PokerStars and poker from BetMGM, likely under the partypoker brand, will be available in Michigan, but it’s unclear which other brands will open up shop there.

It could be multiple years before Michigan actually partners with another state for online poker. For example, Pennsylvania, which allowed for online poker liquidity sharing under its 2017 online gambling law, still hasn’t linked up with another state.

That said, the law was passed in the Trump era, when Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson was given extraordinary influence over the U.S. Department of Justice and its interpretation of a 1961 federal statute known as the Wire Act. That law has proven to be a thorn in the side of the gaming industry, putting all gambling that crosses state lines under some sort of legal uncertainty. The Biden administration could interpret the Wire Act in a manner that would accelerate online poker liquidity sharing.

No one knows if Michigan will be involved with multi-state online poker games in 2021, or if it will take longer. Good luck trying to get a regulator to show you their hole cards on this one.

The state doesn’t see much of an urgency, at least according to the fiscal note on the legislation.

“The bill would likely result in a net increase in internet gaming tax revenues even after accounting for any substitution effect,” the analysis said. “That said, poker games comprise only between 1-2% of adjusted gross receipts, so the overall impact would be relatively modest … it is expected that both the city of Detroit and the School Aid Fund would realize a relatively small increase in tax revenues.”

Furthermore, the analysis said, the MGCB “would have increased costs in administering and regulating the online poker market, but any costs would be offset through the retention of necessary Internet Gaming Fund funds pursuant to statute. However, these costs are not estimated to be significant.”

The MGCB was a proponent of the bill, which is better than if it were neutral to the legislation.

If you’re in the mood to be optimistic and bullish here: There’s definitely a chance that in 2021, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey will have a tri-state online poker liquidity sharing arrangement, allowing a single PokerStars network to offer games in all three jurisdictions.

That would be an online poker player pool of more than 31 million people, a far cry from the 2000s gray market online poker era, but it could start iPoker’s comeback.


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