Last June, Sen. Curtis Hertel introduced SB 991, which would allow Michigan online poker operators to share a player and liquidity pool with other states. The bill was being discussed last September when there were rumors that Michigan online poker could be live in November and it passed through both chambers of the state legislature easily.
The Senate voted in favor of the bill by a 36-1 margin at the start of October and the House passed the proposal 85-16 in mid-December. It was sent to the Governor’s desk and signed on Dec. 29.
With Whitmer’s signature, Michigan will be free to join interstate online poker pools with other states, but the bill will not go into effect immediately. Operators will be forced to wait 90 days from the launch of the online gambling market until they can allow their players to compete against gamblers from other states.
The easiest fit for the Wolverine State would be to join the already existing player pool shared by Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware, but WSOP.com is the only operator serving that player pool and Caesars Interactive Entertainment was not one of the companies that received provisional licenses from regulators.
The Stars Group received a provisional license, however, making it likely that PokerStars MI will be one of the first online poker rooms available to those in Michigan. PokerStars also operates in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, so a second compact could be formed among those three states eventually, but Pennsylvania is opting to stay out of interstate pools until the pending Wire Act case is adjudicated.
Ultimately, it’s unclear at the moment where Michigan would fit in with the existing compacts unless they were to form a brand new one with New Jersey.
At the start of 2019, the United States Department of Justice released a memo that stated all forms of interstate online gambling was illegal. That interpretation of the 1961 federal law would ban not just shared online poker liquidity pools, but also would make many state lotteries, like Powerball, illegal.
After the memo was released, the New Hampshire Lottery filed a lawsuit against the DOJ, arguing that the Wire Act only applies to sports betting, like it was originally intended.
In June a U.S. District Judge ruled in favor of the New Hampshire Lottery, but the DOJ filed an appeal just a few months later. There hasn’t been another development since. It will likely endure a lengthy legal battle before there is a conclusion.
Michigan online gaming is expected to launch within the next few weeks, as several local outlets have been reporting a launch in mid-January. Online casinos and sports betting will be the first services rolled out. Online poker will come in the weeks following the initial launch.