What Michigan's interstate poker amendment means for players

Jon Pill
Posted on: January 06, 2021 12:00 PST

Michigan has just legalized interstate gambling, a move that could see the state join the MultiState Internet Gaming Agreement.

In the same week, they announced that the first sportsbook licenses have been approved. Some of the licensees will be operating within the month.

This is big news in a state where online gambling has been legal for over a year but without anyone stepping in to provide the service.

Online poker has been legal, but not available, in the state since December 2019. But despite that law passing, very little has moved on that front. With no poker sites receiving licenses. This week, however, Michigan announced that 15 sports books have been awarded licenses.

The wheels turn slow, but they get there in the end.

Poker however will continue to drag behind the sports betting a bit. In part because it's a slightly harder market to establish. And partly because of rigorous testing requirements for poker software in the state.

The hope is that the option for interstate gambling might attract online platforms to fill that niche in the market.

Just a bill

In June 2020, Amendment SB 991 was first put to the state senate by State Senator Curtis Hertel Jr. This is the amendment to the 2019 gambling. It was intended to allow Michigan the option to join the shared player pool enjoyed by Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware.

SB 991 cleared the state senate handily in October 2020 with a majority of 389-36. This happened in spite of Senator Dan Lauwers's bill-tieing shenanigans. But then SB 991 went back in the queue. This time for the state's house of representatives.

After they ignored it for a few sittings, they sat and voted. The bill got through in the end. Governor Gretchen Whitmer didn't put her pen to it until December 29, 2020.

With her ink dry on SB 991, we now have a clear idea of exactly what the finalized amendment contains.

Most importantly, for poker players the finalized version of the law states that "the [Michigan gaming control] Board may enter into agreement 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 [...]." (Emphasis my own.)

"Other jurisdictions" in this case more or less means the MSIGA. There are not a lot of other games in town.

The wording in bold, might prove a sticking point in the short run though. This is thanks to the DOJ's 2019 reinterpretation of the Wire Act.

Bird on the Wire Act

A couple of states are wary of MSIGA at the moment because the Wire Act is back under the microscope in the courts.

The DOJ is being sued over this, and they are losing their way from court to court, right now. An unfavorable ruling, though not looking likely, could dismantle multi-state gambling. It certainly put PA off joining right away. Like their brotherly love brother, Michigan might opt to wait and see which way the judges place their bets.

However, there is reason to be hopeful. Joe Biden has come out against dismantling the progress made on sports betting, and what's good for the sport's betting gander shouldn't cook the poker player's goose.

Either way, it will be at least 90-days before the bill goes into effect. And even after that, any agreement with the other states will still have to impress the gatekeepers on the gambling board.

But it is another step in the right direction.

Featured image source: Flickr