Multistate Online Poker Bill Passes Legislature, Heads To Michigan Governor

Michigan online poker players are one step closer to being able to take part in tournaments and cash games that involve players in other states.

But there are still a lot of questions about how, and if, that might happen.

For now, SB 991 is headed to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer‘s desk. That bill allows the Michigan Gaming Control Board to enter interstate compacts for online gambling.

Update (1/5/2021): On Tuesday, Jan. 5, Gov. Whitmer signed the bill into law. There is still a long road ahead before interstate poker becomes a reality, however. The first online casinos should launch later this month and one or more poker rooms might arrive along with them, but any sharing of player pools with other states is probably at least a year away.

Correcting an earlier mistake

It was never the intent of Michigan lawmakers to forbid interstate poker specifically. However, they changed the Lawful Internet Gaming Act of 2019 at the last moment to prohibit interstate compacts at the behest of the Michigan Lottery. Its concern was that linking progressive slots jackpots between states could hurt sales of its big interstate draw tickets, like Powerball. Poker was just unfortunate collateral damage.

“I’m happy to correct a mistake we made. I look forward to the first shuffle up and deal in Michigan,” bill sponsor Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. told Online Poker Report.

Proximately, that would likely mean liquidity could be shared across state borders for online poker. Right now, Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware share liquidity. While Pennsylvania online poker is legal, it has not joined the compact involving those three states.

More about the online poker bill

SB991 is less of a sweeping change to the law and more a cleanup of the 2019 law allowing online casinos in Michigan as well as online sports betting. The bill passed easily: 85-16 in the House and 36-1 in the Senate.

The bit that online poker players care about is this:

The 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.

Again, to be clear, that does not open Michigan up to multistate online poker immediately. It just allows for it to happen in the future, should Michigan want to join an interstate compact. Existing law would not have allowed this.

So when will multistate online poker start for Michigan?

There is no great answer to this, unfortunately.

Online gambling looks set to launch early in 2021, likely in mid-January. That means casinos and sports betting for sure, although it’s not entirely clear if one or more online poker rooms will go live in parallel.

Online poker going live is obviously first step. What else needs to happen?

  • Whitmer has to sign the bill or let it become law. This has now happened. The MGCB then has to enter a compact with other states. It’s not clear when or if this will happen.
  • An operator would have to go live with an expansion of interstate poker. Given the current Wire Act case in the federal court system, it’s not clear anyone is going to risk that in the short term.

So, while this new bill likely becoming law is good news for the future of Michigan online poker, you may have to wait awhile until you are playing poker against a larger player pool involving more than just Michigan residents.

- Dustin Gouker has been a sports journalist for more than 15 years, working as a reporter, editor and designer -- including stops at The Washington Post and the D.C. Examiner. He has played poker recreationally for his entire adult life and has written about poker since 2008.
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