Poker players got some welcome news on Friday morning. With a legislative deadline looming, the Michigan Senate approved a broad-based Internet gambling bill that would legalize online gaming including online poker and sports wagering.
Nuts and bolts
In recent months, online poker expansion has taken a backseat to the growth of the sports wagering market. News of declining player activity online compared to the growth in online gaming as a whole has been a common refrain.
“Online poker revenue continues to diverge sharply from its online casino counterpart,” OnlinePokerReport.com noted earlier this month. “While the latter is soaring to record highs, the former sunk to (another) record low in November. Even lower than October’s low — barely a million and a half in revenue.”
However, the news out of Michigan and the recent expansion of online action, including poker, in Pennsylvania offers some hope for poker players and the growth of the industry in the U.S. In Michigan, after the Senate approved the bill on Thursday, the House affirmed the bill in a Friday vote. The bill heads to outgoing Gov. Rick Snyder, who many expect to sign it.
Under the proposal, the Michigan Gaming Control Board would create a division of internet gaming to regulate the market and determine which games are allowed online. The good news is it appears that mandate would definitely include poker.
The proposal was able to navigate a myriad of interests in the legislation including the state’s commercial casino industry, tribal gaming facilities, and the horse racing industry. The online offerings would be run through properties within Michigan, but the plan appears to allow for outside vendors and platforms to partner with casinos within the state, similar to the system in New Jersey.
“An ‘internet gaming platform provider’ license would cost $100,000 with a $50,000 yearly renewal fee,” the Detroit News notes. “Tribal casinos could also seek an amendment to their compact agreement with the state to allow internet gambling.”
The newspaper also notes: “The legislation would also create a new license for internet gaming vendors, who could provide goods, software or services to a casino with an internet gaming license.”
Along with Nevada, New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania, Michigan would become the fifth state offering online poker. How long would it take for Internet gaming to be up and running? The proposed legislation calls for the new Internet gaming division to craft rules within one year of the law going into effect, which would be 90 days after the governor signs it. So that would be about 15 months before play could begin.
While cards won’t be dealt anytime soon, there are some real positives for poker fans. Many hope that as sports betting continues to gain traction, online poker seems like a natural complement. The Wolverine State offers a large market of players with a population of almost 10 million.
Among those five states that will have legalized online poker, only Pennsylvania is more populous with almost 13 million. New Jersey has almost 9 million, followed by the much smaller states of Nevada (3 million) and Delaware (961,000).
Michigan adds significantly to that total. One of those leading a four-year effort to bring the issue to the governor was Republican state Sen. Mike Kowall, who has indicated he hopes the state’s online poker effort will be able to moved into a shared liquidity market with those other states, allowing for larger player numbers and prize pools. This was his final term in office and stressed this was something he’d hoped to accomplish.
“This was one more project I saw to add revenue to the state that had been going uncollected,” he told OnlinePokerReport.com. “I would have been extremely disappointed if I hadn’t gotten this done.”