Michigan Senate Passes Bill to Allow Interstate Online Poker

  • SB 991 passed easily by a 389-36 vote
  • The bill approved interstate online poker compacts, but does not establish regulations
  • The state lottery blocked interstate compacts from the 2019 online poker legalization bill
  • Online sports betting rules are also on their way through the approval process
Interstate highways signs pointing to Flint and Toledo
Michigan’s state Senate has passed a bill permitting interstate online poker compacts, though no official regulations were established. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Update: The Michigan House of Representatives approved SB 991 on December 18 with a vote of 85-16. The bill now awaits Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s final signature for it to become law.

No problem in the Senate

Though online poker is not yet up and running in Michigan, the Senate took a positive step toward allowing the industry to thrive on Wednesday, as the state Senate passed a bill to permit interstate online poker. SB 991 had no problem garnering enough votes, passing by a 389-36 margin.

Up next for the bill is the House, followed by Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s approval. There is no reason to expect that either will be an obstacle.

the bill is a common-sense thing all agreed to”

“I think the bill is a common-sense thing all agreed to and it should move on,” the bill’s sponsor, Senator Curtis Hertel Jr. told PlayMichigan. “I don’t think there’s any controversy. How fast, I don’t know. I don’t think it will be before the [November 3] election. Probably right after.”

The state previously approved online poker in December 2019, when the governor signed the Lawful Internet Gaming Act (LIGA) into law. SB 991 adds to that, allowing Michigan players to share tables with poker players in other states. It does not, however, establish any rules.

Lottery originally blocked interstate compacts

Though interstate online poker compacts make perfect sense, they were not included in LIGA because of the Michigan Lottery’s influence. Lottery officials believed that if poker rooms were linked across states, the prize pools could get large enough to pull customers away from the lottery. They simply did not understand that multi-state lottery jackpots like Mega Millions dwarf any top prize any poker room could ever offer.

Interstate compacts are important because the viability of the online poker economy relies on player traffic. Poker games cannot run without enough players because people play against each other, unlike casino games where players compete against the house. If poker rooms don’t have strong player traffic, games will have trouble both starting and staying alive. And the fewer players a poker room has, the fewer new players will want to sign up.

Legal, regulated online poker launched for the first time in the United States in 2013, when the now-defunct Ultimate Poker went live in Nevada. In seven years, just four states – Nevada, New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania – have regulated internet poker sites. All but Pennsylvania share player pools through interstate compacts; Pennsylvania is expected to join in the future.

one interstate poker network in the United States

There is only one interstate poker network in the United States, linking Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware on 888’s poker platform. Players in Nevada and New Jersey access the network via WSOP.com, while those in Delaware play on one of three poker brands in the state. Delaware players were shut out of the 2020 World Series of Poker Online, however, because they don’t actually play on WSOP.com.

Online sports betting on the way

Online sports betting is close to becoming a reality, as well. Last week, the Michigan Gaming Control Board held a hearing to discuss sports betting regulations. The Control Board had already drawn up a set of rules, but established a window during which the public could submit comments and suggestions. It took those comments under consideration, made a few changes, and prepared to forward the regulations to the Michigan Office of Administrative Hearings and Rules and the Legislative Service Bureau for review.

Once they are approved by the Office of Administrative Hearings and Rules, the regulations will be sent to the state legislature’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, where they will be held and looked over for at least 15 days.

After the rules are finally made official, online and mobile betting will be permitted to get underway when at least one commercial casino (there are three in Detroit) and one tribal casino are granted licenses.

Online poker rooms, casinos, and sportsbooks are expected to launch in Michigan in late November.