LEGAL WATCH: Indiana, Kentucky Introduce Online Poker Bills; Michigan iGaming Expected to Launch Soon

January 13, 2021
LEGAL WATCH: Indiana, Kentucky Introduce Online Poker Bills; Michigan iGaming Expected to Launch Soon

After a year that saw record revenues in the US online poker industry, there may be some good news on the horizon. Indiana legalized sports betting in 2020, and legislation was introduced Monday to legalize online casino gaming – including poker.

The bill in the state’s senate still has a long way to go, but offers a bit more momentum for regulated online poker. Sen. Jon Ford (R) is leading the effort and added poker after a previous bill left the game out.

Ford originally believed including poker would hurt his bill’s chance of passing. Speaking with other legislators and some in the gaming industry appears to have changed that.

“They didn’t think it would be as big an issue as I thought it will be,” he told PlayIndiana. “But we’ll see. I’m taking the approach that if it’s a problem, I can always take it out.”

Poker players are hoping the last part of that statement won’t apply.

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A look at the Indiana legislation

As US online poker fans have found, getting any online gaming legislation across the finish line is hardly a certainty. At this point, Ford is hoping to get the bill heard before the Senate Public Policy Committee

The bill would allow the state’s 14 casinos and “racinos” to offer iGaming, which would also include poker.

Properties would pay $500,000 for a license and a $50,000 renewal fee. Casinos would be allowed to partner with up to three online gambling partners – known as “skins” in the industry.

Any gaming partner would pay a $100,000 license fee and a $25,000 annual renewal fee. Online gaming revenue would be taxed at 18%.

There seems to be a thirst for online gaming of some sort in the state. Legalized sports betting recorded its best month so far in December. The state took in $313 million, easily topping November’s $251 million.

Getting to a legislative vote isn’t easy

The state general assembly meets from January to April. The Coronavirus pandemic could throw a wrench into that and cause some struggles for legislators to meet.

Ford noted that passing the state’s regular number of bills won’t be easy. That could hinder online gaming legalization efforts.

However, Ford believes pandemic-created financial concerns could help his bill’s chances.

“Most folks I talk to don’t seem to have an issue with this,” Ford said. “Everyone’s pleasantly surprised with the success of sports wagering.

“A great percentage of revenue from sports wagering has come from online, so I think it pretty clearly shows the younger generation in Indiana really wants mobile gaming.”

Michigan online gaming nearing launch

Online poker and other forms of iGaming have already been approved in Michigan. Now the launch of at least some form seems imminent.

In a Michigan Gaming Control Board meeting on Tuesday, executive director Richard Kalm indicated some Michigan online poker sites could launch within days. 

“We’re very close,” Kalm said, according to MLive.com. “I wish I could give an exact day and time, but each day that changes. We’re gathering information daily.”

Once the board gives an operator the go-ahead, it would be up to five days before that poker site could accept wagers. As far as online poker, Kalm expected testing requirements to delay launch “four or five days” relative to casino. But going live would really be up to operators and how much of a priority they put on poker.

That could equate to a faster poker option than seen with the delayed approach to online poker in Pennsylvania. Michigan has already approved PokerStars and MGM/partypoker

Kalm also noted that there are already discussions underway with New Jersey officials for shared liquidity with New Jersey online poker players. That may take longer and he didn’t expect that “any time soon.” The end of 2021 seemed a possibility, he said.

Online poker bill returns in Kentucky

The Bluegrass State has also made some online poker news on two fronts. State Rep. Adam Koenig (R) introduced a new bill last week legalizing online poker in Kentucky alongside sports betting and daily fantasy sports.

This is the third attempt to legalize some type of online gaming in the state. The deck seems stacked against approval however. The state legislature meets only 30 days in odd-numbered years.

Also, all budgetary issues are considered in even-numbered years. Any consideration of a budget-related bill would need two-thirds approval outside of that.

While the bill may offer some hope, its passage at this point seems unlikely. With state budgets struggling due to Coronavirus, bringing the issue back in 2022 might meet with a better result.

Online gaming tax revenue could help fill budget gaps and state pension fund issues. Gov. Andy Beshear (D) has been a proponent of online gaming in the state. It seems likely he’d sign a bill if it reached his desk.

In the meantime, Kentucky poker fans will probably have to play the waiting game.

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State supreme court reinstates PokerStars judgement

Kentucky also recently made some other online poker news. In December, the state’s supreme court reinstated an $870 million judgement against PokerStars’ parent company Flutter Entertainment.

The monetary claim stems from a 2013 case that covered the years PokerStars operated in the state from 2006-11. That period came after passage of the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act.

The state invoked its Loss Recovery Act (LRA) in an effort to collect losses from the state’s players on the site.

PokerStars only collected only $18 million in rake in Kentucky during this time, according to Online Poker Report. A trial court ruled in the state’s favor in 2015, but the state appeals court overturned that in 2018. The appeals court called the ruling “an absurd, unjust result.”

The new supreme court ruling definitely presents some challenges for Flutter. It’s a good bet the company will be paying up some portion of the fine. But Flutter noted that it still had a number of “legal processes” left.

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