GETTING CLOSER: PokerStars, MGM/Partypoker Approved by Michigan Gaming Board

December 10, 2020
GETTING CLOSER: PokerStars, MGM/Partypoker Approved by Michigan Gaming Board

Online poker players in Michigan received some good news on Thursday. The Michigan Gaming Control Board (MGCB) approved provisional licenses for 15 platform providers.

For poker fans, two companies stand out on that list: Roar Digital and TSG Interactive (The Stars Group). Roar is the gaming partnership between MGM and GVC Holdings (owner of partypoker US Network).

TSG is a division of Flutter Entertainment, which owns PokerStars and the Fox Bet sports wagering platform.

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The MGCB told USPoker on Thursday that online gaming may be launching in the coming weeks. It’s unknown if that could include poker.

“Based on what we know at this point, we expect to authorize launch by mid-January,” MGCB spokeswoman Mary Kay Bean told USPoker in an email.

“We don’t know whether poker will be among the games included at initial launch. It will depend on an operator’s readiness to offer poker (their games have been evaluated by independent testing labs and our own gaming lab) and their desire to do so.”

What the operator approvals mean

Those timelines can change but a launch a couple weeks after New Year’s would be welcomed by players. The approvals grant each company a provisional license to operate in the state.

This comes after the filing of the administrative rules for online casino gaming and sports betting on Dec. 2. Operators still aren’t quite at the launch stage yet however.

“The platform providers still must meet other regulatory requirements before online gaming and sports betting can launch in Michigan,” MGCB executive director Richard S. Kalm said in a news release. “The launch date will depend on how quickly they can fulfill the requirements.”

Those requirements include independent testing of platforms and games. To ensure gaming integrity, MGCB must also approve each company’s internal controls. The firms also must secure occupational licenses for certain employees. 

The companies approved for provisional licenses with their better-known brands include:

  • TSG Interactive US Services Limited (Fox Bet, PokerStars)
  • BetMGM (Roar Digital and partypoker US Network)
  • American Wagering, Inc. (William Hill Sports Book)
  • Betfair Interactive US (FanDuel Sportsbook)
  • Churchill Downs Interactive Gaming (TwinSpires)
  • Crown MI Gaming (DraftKings)
  • GAN Nevada Inc. (online gaming technology provider)
  • Golden Nugget Online Gaming, Inc.
  • NYX Digital Gaming USA (digital gaming supplier)
  • Parx Interactive Inc.
  • Penn Sports Interactive
  • PointsBet Michigan
  • Rush Street Interactive MI
  • Sports Information Services Limited (Kambi sports betting service)
  • WSI US, LLC (Wynn Sports)

A look ahead at Michigan online poker 

Poker players will probably be most interested in those first two operators. PokerStars operates “ringed-in” platforms in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The company remains the only operator in the latter.

Partypoker US Network operates in New Jersey and also includes the BetMGM and BorgataPoker.com skins.

World Series of Poker (WSOP.com) and its software partner 888poker are absent from the list so far. Pennsylvania has also approved WSOP/888 and partypoker US, but they have yet to go live.

Major launches by these in Michigan and Pennsylvania could add to the growing momentum the US market experienced in 2020.

A couple other companies on the list of license approvals also stand out. Parx has a major live poker scene in Pennsylvania.

Rush Street Interactive is also a major leader in online gaming. Phil Hellmuth is linked to the company and told USPoker that Rush Street has plans to eventually launch online poker.

The MGCB has accepted applications from companies since mid-May. The board has also worked toward:

  • communicating licensing requirements
  • reviewing internal controls
  • reviewing branding submissions

The agency has already allowed operators to unveil apps prior to full-scale launch, which has hastened the process. Michigan residents can download and create accounts. No bets can go forward until final approval to launch.

“The platform providers’ ability to meet the requirements of the laws and rules will determine which entities can be licensed for launch first,” Kalm said.

A Michigan player’s perspective

No doubt many Michigan players will be pleased with the news that legal, real money online poker is getting closer. The state legalized online gaming, sports betting, and poker in 2019.

Until the legal battle over the Wire Act is final, however, Michigan will be a ringed-in market. That means players only battle other players within the state.

Mike Lehnner is a 51-year-old retired corrections officer and runs the Team Michigan Poker Facebook group. He divides time between Ithaca and Las Vegas and pleased his home state is getting closer to legal online poker.

“I think it is long overdue as it never should have been shut down,” he says, referring to Black Friday. “Michigan has some of the best poker players in the world and I just wish the player pool was expanded.”

Lehnner believes the Wolverine State can be a leader in the industry and model for other states.

“Long term, I hope we get back to nationwide and worldwide player pools,” he says. “I think we are on the verge of another poker boom. Expanding player pools will be critical to allowing a boom to happen.”

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