Lawmakers in the state of Michigan are mounting another push forward to legalize and regulate online poker and other forms of online gaming in the state.
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Lawmakers in the state of Michigan are mounting another push forward to legalize and regulate online poker and other forms of online gaming in the state.

Following a near miss in 2018—when online gaming legislation made it all the way through to the desk of Governor Rick Snyder before being vetoed just before his term was about to expire—last week, Representative Brandt Iden introduced the Lawful Internet Gaming Act (House Bill 4311) in an effort to try once again to bring online gaming to Michigan.

The House Regulatory Reform committee gathered in Lansing on Tuesday for the first hearing of 2019 on online gambling in the state where it appeared that igaming proponents were able to maintain some of the momentum and support generated in 2018.

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Iden set the tone for the hearing by pushing back on Snyder’s justification for vetoing the 2018 version of the bill. In a letter explaining his reasoning for rejecting the proposed legislation after lawmakers in both chambers had passed it, Snyder expressed concern over the impact that internet gambling would have on the health of the state lottery.

Support for the 2019 initiative also came from representatives of the land-based casinos in Detroit. Often pitted against online gambling by gambling opponents with already debunked assertions of cannibalization, land-based casinos usually serve as a good barometer for the appetite for igaming in a state.

Not only did the land-based casino contingent speak in favor of online gambling, it touted it as a form of protection for its workforce, asserting that igaming legislation could protect thousands of casino jobs.

Additional support came from The Stars Group (TSG), parent company of the world’s leading online poker site, PokerStars. Nick Menas, Senior Vice President of Strategy & Government Relations for TSG, framed the topic as a choice between protecting consumers through regulation and modernization or allowing offshore companies to continue to flout state laws in an environment where changing times could have an adverse impact on the well-being of the state’s casino industry.

Though no organizations spoke out against online gaming at the hearing, questions were raised on the topic of federal restrictions resulting from the revised opinion of the Wire Act by the US Department of Justice.

In spite of the uncertainty created with the release of the revised opinion in January, the desire to move forward with online gambling in the state seemed strong.

How US Online Poker is Shaping up in 2019

The most defining incident of 2019 so far has been the release of the revised opinion of the Wire Act by the DOJ which declares the restrictions of the Act apply to all forms of internet gaming that cross state lines.

However, despite the dark cloud cast over multistate online poker by the DOJ, lawmakers do not seem to be deterred, as evidenced in Michigan today.

In 2017, Pennsylvania broke the nearly five-year drought of US states legalizing online gambling by becoming the first state to do so since then-Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, signed online gaming into law in the Garden State in February 2013.

The fact that the state was unable to get its igaming market off the ground last year just makes the outlook for 2019 all the more brighter. The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) now estimates that online poker and other forms of real money internet gaming will be live in the state by the end of June or early July at the latest.

West Virginia Senate Passes Online Poker Bill

In addition to the positive momentum in Pennsylvania and Michigan, West Virginia represents a bright sport for online poker too.

Last month the WV House passed HB2934, sending the bill over to the Senate for approval. Over the weekend, the WV Senate passed HB2934. The final step before the bill becomes law is to obtain the signature of Governor Jim Justice.

Justice is fully expected to enact the legislation. As noted by local reporter Shauna Johnson of MetroNews, “Governor Justice is the owner of The Greenbrier Resort, home to one of the five casinos that will have the option of taking gambling online under the legislation if it becomes law.”

With the potential for two states to legalize online poker this year and the launch of the soon-to-be largest online poker market in the country in Pennsylvania, 2019 stands ready to become the best year on record for online poker in the US.