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Michigan Legalizes Online Poker in Time for Christmas

Michigan Legalizes Online Poker

Christmas came early for online poker and sports betting fans in Michigan. 

On Friday, December 20, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed bills that expanded online gambling throughout the state of Michigan. The bills pave the way for sports betting, online casinos and online poker. 

The legislation was passed with broad bipartisan support and is expected to bring in around $19 million a year for the state, according to an estimate by the Michigan Department of Treasury. Those funds will go to support a school aid fund and the First Responder Presumed Coverage Fund (FRPCF), said a media release from the governor’s office.

“Thanks in part to the hard work and leadership of Senator (Curtis) Hertel and Representative (Rebekah) Warren, these bills will put more dollars in Michigan classrooms and increase funding for firefighters battling cancer,” Whitmer said in the release. “This is a real bipartisan win for our state.” 

Online gaming and sports betting has had bipartisan support in Michigan and nearly became law last year. Legislators pushed through a similar bill last December, but former governor Rick Snyder vetoed it, citing concerns about online gaming affecting the Michigan Lottery. 

The Michigan Lottery helps fund the state’s school aid fund and Whitmer ensured this year’s package of bills protected that funding. That seemed to solve all the remaining hangups and now Michiganders are ready to start firing up a game of online poker. Well, almost...

When can I start playing?

While this gift came early for Michiganders, they’re going to have to wait a bit to unwrap it and start playing. Batteries are required and they won’t be coming for a few months. While online gaming is now legal, the infrastructure and software to support it aren’t there yet. The Michigan Gaming Control Board is in charge of regulating online gambling in the state and has to establish a new set of rules regulating online gaming first. 

The bills state that new online offerings will be offered through the state’s land-based and tribal casinos. It’s now up to these casinos to launch the platforms they’re going to roll out for players. That date is anyone’s guess, but there’s been chatter around casinos hoping to launch something – especially sports betting – in time for March Madness.

Michigan becomes 6th state to legalize online poker

The road to a United States of Online Poker broke ground after a 2012 federal judge ruling that said poker was a game of skill, not chance, and therefore not gambling under federal law. This opened the way for states to make their own legislation regarding online gambling. Since then, six states have legalized online poker.

Not surprisingly, Nevada was the first state to lead the charge and allow for online poker in 2013. Delaware and New Jersey followed soon after, with Pennsylvania and West Virginia joining the fray this year. Pennsylvania launched its first game this November while West Virginia has yet to roll out a platform for online gaming. Pennsylvania had a fairly successful launch and has games running around the clock. 

Now the question for these states is shared player pools. Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey signed agreements allowing for players to play across state lines, but the three newest states have yet to sign on. Pennsylvania has proven it can survive without shared player pools, but that might not be the case with a small state like West Virginia. We’ll see if these new three join the three old to create a more United States of Online Poker.

What about Utah, California or (Insert non-poker state here)?

If you’re in California, there are steps being taken to legalize online poker, but there’s a rocky road ahead. If you’re in Utah, you basically have no shot since gambling is clearly banned in the state constitution. In California, a big hurdle is opposition by tribal casinos and every state has its own hangups, but several are moving toward legalization.

The recent flurry of action is also thanks to a 2018 Supreme Court ruling that paved the way for states to legalize sports betting. This has led to a number of states’ renegotiated gaming compacts, which often include poker.

We’ll see how many more states join the fray in 2020.