Michigan won't see iGaming in 2020, but 15 operators are licensed for a January 2021 launch

Michgan Awards First Online Gambling Licenses But Launch Won’t Happen Until After The Holidays

Nothing good can happen in the year 2020, or so it feels at times. That being the case, it may not surprise Michiganders to hear that they will not, in fact, be getting an online gambling launch for Christmas.

Instead, we’re back to the original scenario of an early 2021 launch.

Fortunately, this is a good news-bad news story. Although the Michigan Gaming Control Board (MGCB) won’t be successful in its efforts to launch iGaming before the year’s end, it has been making concrete progress.

The Michigan legislature completed its final task in the process on December 2, as the Office of the Great Seal certified the final rules for Michigan online casinos, poker and sports betting. That was an important procedural detail, as the MGCB had been unable to issue any operator licenses prior to its completion. With the rules now finalized, it has issued 15 provisional operator licenses in just over a week’s time.

Thus, while there’s still more waiting to do, it seems as if the market might fill up quite rapidly once the floodgates open. This would be a very different launch scenario than what we’ve seen in both the West Virginia and Pennsylvania online casino markets, where operators have trickled in slowly.

Who’s coming to Michigan?

Corporate structures in the gambling world can be a bit confusing. Thus, the names on some of the licenses might not match the more familiar brands they correspond to. For simplicity’s sake, we’ve omitted the legal names of the companies and their partners. Instead, here is a list of the presumptive brands you’ll see, and the primary casinos of their land-based partners:

  • BetAmerica (with Island Resort)
  • BetMGM (with MGM Grand)
  • BetRivers (with Little River)
  • DraftKings (with Bay Mills)
  • FanDuel (with MotorCity)
  • Firekeepers (self-branded, with Scientific Games as technology partner)
  • Four Winds (probably self-branded, sports betting only, with Kambi as technology partner)
  • Fox Bet/PokerStars (with Odawa)
  • Golden Nugget (with Ojibwa)
  • Hollywood Casino/Barstool Sportsbook (with Greektown)
  • Parx (with Gun Lake)
  • PointsBet (with Northern Waters)
  • William Hill (with Turtle Creek)
  • Wynn (with Kewadin, and GAN as technology partner)

If you’re counting, you’ll notice that there are only 14 brands on the list, not 15. That’s because Wynn and GAN each needed their own license to launch their partnership with Kewadin Casinos.

Will there really be 14 brands live from day one?

Although all these brands now have their provisional licenses, that doesn’t necessarily mean that all will launch at once. MGCB Executive Director Richard Kalm made it clear that there are still a few more hoops to jump through:

“The platform providers still must meet other regulatory requirements before online gaming and sports betting can launch in Michigan. The launch date will depend on how quickly they can fulfill the requirements [and their] ability to meet the requirements of the laws and rules will determine which entities can be licensed for launch first.”

The only other rule in this regard is that at least one operator with a tribal partner and at least one with a commercial partner must receive approval for launch before anyone can do so. Thus, we can be assured that launch day will include at least one of BetMGM, FanDuel or Hollywood/Barstool, plus at least one of the other 11.

What will the options be for online poker in MI?

Those waiting specifically for Michigan online poker may be dismayed to see only PokerStars on the list.

BetMGM also offers online poker in New Jersey, but does so on the Partypoker platform owned by Entain (formerly GVC). Since that company doesn’t yet have a license, we won’t be seeing BetMGM poker in Michigan right away. Meanwhile, Caesars, which owns WSOP.com, hasn’t yet revealed any firm plans for Michigan.

It seems, then, that the initial situation for poker in Michigan will be similar to that in Pennsylvania. There, PokerStars has held a monopoly on online poker for over a year, and it might still be many more months before that changes. While its product is popular, there are a significant number of players in the state who are eager to see an alternative.

It’s also possible that even PokerStars may not launch right away, even if the Fox Bet sportsbook and casino products do. The multiplayer nature of poker makes testing more complicated, which might have contributed to the fact that it took four months to get off the ground in Pennsylvania.

Holiday delays will hopefully be the last

As frustrating as it is to see the Michigan launch delayed yet again, this will hopefully be the last time. Individual operators might encounter difficulties that push their launch dates back, but all the major procedural steps are now out of the way.

Early 2021 was the originally expected launch date, and the latest prediction from the MGCB is mid-January. This spring’s casino shutdown lit a fire under regulators and legislators, but red tape is hard to cut through.

The best case scenario for an accelerated timeline was October. That got pushed back to Thanksgiving, and from there to mid-December. More recently, there was some suggestion of a late December, launch, but this was never likely because of the holidays.

Indeed, the holidays themselves are probably the reason the new (hopefully final) target date is mid-January. Employees both at the MGCB and with the operators will be taking time off. With Christmas falling on a Friday this year, it’s likely that some will be taking days off in the week leading up to it, and others will be taking the following week off.

Realistically, then, it’s probably fair to assume not much will happen from about December 18 to January 4. Early in the new year, we may get more information about who is ready to launch first and an exact date.

- 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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