Michigan Senate Passes Bill To Enable Interstate Online Poker Compacts

The Michigan state senate voted 36-1 Thursday to add language to internet gaming laws that would permit interstate online poker.
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The Michigan state Senate approved a bill Thursday that would permit online poker to be played across state lines, pending agreements with other online poker states.

SB 0991, introduced in June by Sen. Curtis Hertel, passed by a vote of 36-1, with one senator excused from voting. Hertel, a Democrat from Ingham County, has been a crucial supporter of the state’s legislative efforts around regulated sports betting and online gambling.

The bill, which awaits a vote in the House Committee on Regulatory Reform and subsequent action by the full House, is intended to allow mobile poker players in Michigan to join games with players in other states and tribal territories where legal online poker is available.

When Hertel introduced the bill, he told MI Bets that he believed the omission of interstate poker language from the Lawful Internet Gaming Act, which Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed into law last December, had been unintentional. “I believe it was an unintentional problem that was created by an oversight in the drafting and negotiating process,” Hertel said. “It’s a fairly simple fix, but I think it’s important, too.”

New language would make Michigan fourth state to allow regulated, interstate online poker

If passed into law, the interstate online poker bill would amend the Internet Gaming Act. The key changes would provide a clear definition of games qualifying as “poker” as well as grant the Michigan Gaming Control Board power to enter into agreements with other U.S. jurisdictions that offer legal online poker:

  • “‘Poker’ means the traditional game of poker, and any derivative of the game of poker as approved by the board, in which 2 or more authorized participants play against each other and wager on the value of the cards in the authorized participants’ hands.”
  • “The board may enter into agreements with other jurisdictions, including Indian tribes, to facilitate, administer, and regulate multi-jurisdictional 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.”

Online poker is currently legal in four states — Nevada, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware — but Pennsylvania doesn’t yet allow players within its borders to join games with players located in other regulated jurisdictions. Interstate player pooling is particularly important to online poker because, unlike other standard casino games offered through iGaming platforms, poker requires more players to be simultaneously engaged with the same game.

“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 told MI Bets in June. “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.”

With a population of about 10 million, Michigan would be a welcome addition to the existing pool of players from New Jersey, Nevada, and Delaware, which have a combined population of about 13 million people.

Interstate online poker won’t be available when Michigan launches mobile gambling

Intrastate (not interstate) online poker might be available once the state rolls out mobile wagering. It’s unclear when the first iPoker games will begin in Michigan. For example, Pennsylvania began online casino gambling without poker, which took months to join the iGaming equation in the Keystone State.

The Michigan Gaming Control Board and state regulators are nearing completion of the rulemaking process for online sports betting and casino games. “Before online gaming can start, the agency must license applicants,” said MGCB Executive Director Richard S. Kalm in a statement after last month’s public hearing on the draft rules for internet wagering. “The MGCB has limited ability to license before the rules go into effect. The licensing timetable also depends on the applicants and their delivery of complete and timely applications to us. Michigan must have at least one tribal and one commercial license approved before launch, which I hope can happen by late fall.”

The demand among Michiganders for online poker was evident during the September hearing, when one of the only questions raised by a member of the public focused on the estimated launch date for online poker.

The board’s deputy director, David Murley, noted that the November election could delay the state’s start of online gaming — including poker — if required legislative action is put on the shelf while state lawmakers are busy campaigning.

“We think we should have the rules in in October, but it will be up to the legislature to approve them,” Murley said. “They actually have to meet and say these rules go into effect. If they don’t do that, then it could be pushed off into next year. So while we haven’t heard any negative things from the legislature — we think they’re OK with these rules — it is election season. So I’m not sure how often they’re going to be meeting between now and the election.”

The interstate online poker bill still needs to make it through committee and a full vote of the Michigan House of Representatives before the board can begin negotiating player-pooling agreements with New Jersey, Nevada, Delaware, and/or Pennsylvania.

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