The Michigan Gaming Control Board expects to make an announcement about interstate poker this summer or fall

The Michigan Gaming Control Board’s New Executive Director Says Expanding Online Gaming Remains A Priority

Expanding online gaming, as well as optimizing the current offerings, will be among Henry Williams‘ priorities during his six-year term as executive director of the Michigan Gaming Control Board (MGCB), he told Online Poker Report.

Williams took the helm on May 17, replacing outgoing executive director Richard S. Kalm. Kalm oversaw the launch of Michigan online casinos and sportsbooks in January. As of April 30, Michigan saw $280 million in revenue from iGaming alone.

Williams expects the state to implement multi-state online poker during 2021. Eventually, MGCB will allow 15 operators to offer both online casino and online sports betting, said the board’s newly appointed leader.

Who is Henry Williams?

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer appointed Williams in April. He was confirmed by the Senate last week.

Williams is the former deputy director for the agency’s Casino Operations division. In that division, Williams helped regulate the Detroit commercial casinos, issued occupational licenses, worked on the agency’s Gaming Lab and managed self-exclusion programs for problem gamblers.

Speaking of helping problem gamblers, Williams also happens to be a social worker, licensed in Michigan. Prior to joining the MGCB, Williams was a juvenile justice worker, family independence specialist, protective services worker and probation officer.

What follows are Online Poker Report’s questions to Williams, and his responses in his own words.

Congratulations on the new role. What are your short- and long-term goals for it?

We recently launched online gaming. The agency staff has done a tremendous job over some very trying times.

For the short term, I want to ensure the online gaming section has all the resources needed to regulate the 15 online platforms. The agency also must maintain the lines of communication with all online operators. In addition, the agency regulates four other gaming acts that need my attention.

For the long term, I want to strengthen the agency’s IT infrastructure to address the technology changes in the industry. We need to expand our IT staff and recruit the best IT talent we can. We also must purchase the software and hardware needed for our staff to implement and regulate the legislation passed by the legislature and signed into law by the governor.

What do you plan to do differently?

It is not so much what I would do differently, but I will focus on what can I do to support our staff in carrying out the responsibilities of the gaming acts we regulate.

Specifically related to online casino, online poker and online sports betting, what do you think will change under your tenure?

I expect a multi-state poker agreement to be signed. The agency has been in discussions with other states and hopes to announce an agreement later this year.

I also expect two of the very large tribal operators to go online — the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi Indians (FireKeepers Casino) and the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan (Soaring Eagle Casino).

The agency also anticipates authorizing studio casino games later this year, after providers meet regulatory requirements.

We’re off to a good start, and I believe internet casino gaming and online sports betting will continue to attract patrons. We hope to see the summer tourist season bring more visitors to Michigan who want to place bets online.

MGCB is slated to make an announcement about interstate poker this summer or fall. Can you elaborate on that?

MGCB representatives continue to meet with representatives from other states regarding multistate poker. The Michigan statute allows the agency to enter into multi-state poker compacts, but the other states have to agree. Further, poker providers actually have to offer the product. As of today, only one provider offers multi-state poker.

You’ve got 13 operators in the state. How many do you think the state will have?

There will be 15 operators when all regulatory requirements are met. Michigan laws limited internet casino gaming and online sports betting licenses to the Detroit commercial casinos and the 12 federally recognized tribes operating Class III casinos in Michigan.

[ See Lawful Internet Gaming Act Sec. 432.306 Sec. 6 and the Lawful Sports Betting Act Sec. 432.406 Sec. 6. ]

We continue to work closely with the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi Indians and its FireKeepers Casino staff and the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan and their Soaring Eagle Casino staff as they maintain efforts to complete requirements for launch.

The MGCB expects all 15 operators will offer both forms of gaming.

Offshore online entities are still taking bets in the US. Do you have any plans to create any PSAs around that?

We keep an eye on offshore online gaming entities, but enforcement generally falls to the federal government. We have an anonymous tip program for citizens to report illegal or suspicious gaming activity, and the MGCB works closely with the Michigan Department of Attorney General and law enforcement to ensure the integrity of gaming in Michigan.

Is there anything I haven’t asked you that you’d like to talk about?

The MGCB plans to work closely with [the] Michigan Lottery and [the] Michigan Department of Health and Human Services on problem gambling issues and making sure the public knows about the available resources. This is particularly important following the introduction of internet casino gaming and online sports betting. By law, MDHHS receives funding from the Detroit casinos, and the internet gaming and sports betting laws established funds from which MDHHS receives tax dollars collected on internet casino gaming and online sports betting for problem gambling programs. However, as an organization, we are updating our outreach material for citizens, and we also will be looking to air our own PSAs and have staff available to speak to groups regarding the self-exclusion services the agency offers.

- Heather Fletcher is the lead writer with OnlinePokerReport. She's a career journalist, with bylines in The New York Times, Adweek and other publications. Reach her at [email protected]
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