Michigan online sports betting poker
Legal Developments

Michigan on the Fast-Track to Online Sports Betting and Poker

Michigan gaming revenue took a big hit when COVID-19 forced its land-based casinos and fledgling legal sports betting industry to shut down during the pandemic. The state is hoping to offset some of these losses by fast-tracking the introduction of legal mobile sports betting and online gambling from early-2021 to late-2020.

There’s tentative optimism that Michigan can facilitate a mobile launch by the end of this year. That push comes alongside an effort to improve the Wolverine State’s online poker outlook by expressly allowing interstate online poker agreements.

Public Hearing on Mobile Betting

Last week, the Michigan Gaming Control Board (MGCB) held a public hearing about mobile gaming laws. During the hearing, a question arose about why the introduction of online gaming and sports betting wasn’t a greater priority, considering how COVID-19 has battered the retail sports betting industry.

The director of the Michigan Gaming Control Board, Richard S. Kalm, now has 40 days from the public hearings to submit the final draft of mobile wagering rules to the necessary administration bodies. 

Retail Betting Is Nice; Mobile Wagering Is Better

Thus far, Michigan has limited sports betting to retail sportsbooks. Hoping to cash in on March Madness, retail sportsbooks launched in March. But it was also just before the pandemic broke out – which made for the worst possible timing. The government lost millions in revenue from casinos shuttering, and with most sports leagues’ seasons suspended, sports betting was off the table. 

Even after casinos were allowed to reopen on August 5th, they did so at reduced capacity. Governor Gretchen Whitmer instructed casinos to limit their capacity to just 15% and restricted indoor alcohol sales. The restrictions meant continued economic pain for the state, which reaps significant tax revenues from the casinos.

Since reopening in July, a growing number of Michigan casinos have added retail sports betting to their offering. The latest was Gun Lake Casino, located in Allegan County, where guests can place bets on a wide range of sports in its Stage 131 Sportsbook and Lounge. It follows other tribal casinos such as Four Winds and Firekeepers, which both opened up sports betting over the summer months.

Michigan Online Sports Betting Raring to Go

Some of the biggest names in US sports betting are already at the start line, waiting for the flag to fall so that they can start offering online and mobile sports betting. Many of them, including BetMGM, DraftKings, and FanDuel, have already set up shop in retail locations. They are counting on the gambling authorities to fast-track mobile betting to expand their prospects in Michigan.

If all goes to plan, we could see the launch of legal and regulated online gaming and sports betting in Michigan by late November.

Where Does Online Poker Fit Into the Equation?

During the public hearings, the question of online poker also came up, specifically, if online poker in Michigan would start alongside online casino and sports betting. According to the MGCB,  If there is a demand for online poker from operators, licenses will be made available.

Potential demand for online poker got an assist from the legislature last week. Parallel to the public hearings, Senate Bill 991, which allows the MGCB to enter into agreements with other states to offer interstate online poker in Michigan, passed a Senate floor vote last week (389 – 36). It now needs approval from the House of Representatives and the governor to become law.

MichiganVotes.org explains that SB 991 will “authorize the Michigan gaming control board ‘to enter into agreements with other jurisdictions, including Indian tribes, to facilitate, administer and regulate multijurisdictional internet gaming for poker by internet gaming operators,’ meaning Michigan’s Indian and Detroit casinos.”

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr, called it a “common-sense thing” that everyone has agreed to and said that there is no reason why the bill shouldn’t obtain final approval.

The online poker bill should reach the governor’s desk by Thanksgiving. Around the same time, the MGCB is set to submit its final mobile wagering regulations.  If the legislation passes, online poker could come to Michigan sooner than expected.

It may be some time, though, before Michigan online poker players can play against their peers in other states. As New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement Director David Rebuck so often says, interstate networking isn’t as simple as “flipping a switch.” Further, the state may be waiting on clarification regarding the Wire Act and how it impacts interstate online poker compacts.

It also depends on how many operators are willing to prioritize an online poker launch in Michigan, considering online poker revenue lags well behind casino and sports betting.

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