December on the table for Michigan iGaming, but early 2021 looking more likely
Online Poker Report

Michigan Online Gambling By Thanksgiving Weekend? Don’t Count On It

A Thanksgiving target date for Michigan online gambling now looks unlikely

A November launch for Michigan online gambling is looking less and less likely, thanks to an interruption of the state’s legislative session.

The limiting factor at this point for online gambling in Michigan lies with the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR). This group of House Representatives received the final draft of rules from the Michigan Gaming Control Board (MGCB) on October 6.

Per official Michigan policies, JCAR then had 15 session days to study the rules and either approve them or send them back to the MGCB. Originally, that would have put the deadline on December 7.

The MGCB has pressed JCAR to make a decision faster than that. It held a meeting of its own on Tuesday, but there was not much concrete progress. Testing and certification for operators and suppliers is underway, but beyond that, the regulator is mostly stuck waiting.

Unfortunately, the House canceled its latest session on Thursday. There aren’t any more on the schedule until Dec. 1.

Officially, the reason for the canceled session is that there was nothing on the docket requiring an in-person vote. Unofficially, however, there have been rumors that multiple House representatives are in quarantine. One Republican lawmaker confirmed that he has been diagnosed with COVID-19.

Even if the House isn’t actually facing a larger outbreak, special steps would be necessary for there to be any chance of seeing Michigan online casinos and Michigan sports betting apps launch in November. In fact, it’s not even clear now that the day will come before the year is out.

Red tape is hard to cut through

Michigan has been trying hard to accelerate the arrival of online casinos, poker and sports betting.

The closure of casinos due to COVID-19 cost the state considerable gaming revenue. Meanwhile, the comparatively less dire circumstances of Pennsylvania and New Jersey have made the case for legal online gambling more effectively than any lobbyist could.

A great deal of red tape lies between the legalization of online gambling and its implementation, however. Two processes have to happen in tandem: the licensing of eligible operators, and establishing the formal rules under which they will do business.

While licensing is solely the MGCB’s responsibility, rulemaking involves the legislature as well. And unfortunately, the final steps of the licensing process can’t happen until JCAR certifies the rules.

Once the attempt at expediency was underway, the MGCB gave October as a best-case scenario. By September, it was clear that wouldn’t come to pass, but Thanksgiving weekend became the new target date.

Now, it’s a toss-up whether a December launch could be possible or whether the MGCB’s efforts have been in vain. Though the Board remains committed to launching as soon as possible, the legislature has numerous other priorities. If the health of representatives is indeed a factor, then we could be back to the original timeline and an early 2021 launch.

And what about interstate poker?

A swift launch for iGaming isn’t the only casualty of the House’s failure to convene. It also means potential delays for Michigan’s interstate poker bill.

A last-minute change to last year’s Lawful Internet Gaming Act (LIGA) prevents the MGCB from entering into agreements with regulatory bodies from other states. This was done at the behest of the lottery, which was concerned with the possibility of large interstate slots jackpots. Poker, which benefits hugely from shared player pools, was collateral damage.

Senate Bill 991 creates an exception for Michigan online poker in that regard. It passed a vote in the Senate in October and has been in the House ever since. Though it’s expected to pass, it has been a low priority because it won’t have any impact until after online gambling goes live in the state.

Michigan’s legislative session runs straight through to the end of the year. If the House resumes business on Dec. 1 as planned, then SB 991 still has plenty of time to pass. A lot is still up in the air, however. If there is an outbreak of COVID-19 among representatives, most or all of the remaining session days could wind up canceled. And if there’s a last-minute crunch to pass important legislation, interstate poker could fall by the wayside until next year.

The good news is that it seems to have enough support that it will happen eventually. However, the road to entering an interstate poker deal and implementing it is at least as long as that to launching online gambling in the first place. As it stands, it’s unlikely that Michigan poker players will be facing off against their peers in other states before 2022. Delays in both the iGaming launch and the passage of SB 991 would push that day even further away.

Alex Weldon
- Alex is a journalist from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada. Now site runner for OnlinePokerReport, he has been writing about poker and the online gambling industry in various capacities since 2014.
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