Online Poker Could Ride the Coattails of Sports Betting in Michigan Online Poker Could Ride the Coattails of Sports Betting in Michigan
jodelli, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License

Lawmakers in Michigan once again have the opportunity to pass legislation that would legalize and regulate online poker in the state.

HB 4311, also known as the “Lawful Internet Gaming Act,” along with companion bill HB 4916, the “Lawful Sports Betting Act,” was referred to the Senate Regulatory Reform Committee last week.

Both bills passed a full House vote in late October as part of an attempt to update the state’s gaming laws to stay competitive with surrounding states. The package of Michigan online gambling related bills are expected to be taken up by the Senate before the body adjourns for the year next week.

Sports Betting Driving Michigan iGaming

Not only are states around the country looking to sports betting to provide additional tax revenue, lawmakers are also looking to try to ensure its residents and visitors (and the dollars in their pockets) do not cross state lines into neighboring states to wager on sports.

Such a protective approach was never really an issue for online poker and online casino games, as evident by the tortoise-like approach of Pennsylvania towards interactive gaming after its neighbor New Jersey became the first east coast state to legalize online gaming in February 2013. Pennsylvania online poker just went live on Monday, November 4.

But the states are much higher with sports betting and online sports betting in particular which has shown to be more lucrative for operators and tax collectors than land-based sports betting. Allowing such a wide expansion of state gaming laws to include sports wagering while not allowing for online poker and casino games would be a tough needle to thread for lawmakers still towing the Sheldon Adelson line “Click Your Mouse and Lose Your House.”

The Path Forward for Michigan Online Poker

Now that the House bills have made it over to the Senate, the action is on the Senate Committee on Regulatory Reform where a vote is expected as soon as Tuesday.

Should the bills pass through committee, they could then be taken up by the full Senate. If the bills emerge from the Senate, they will likely do so with changes to the House versions. The bills would then head back to the House for approval before landing on the desk of Governor Gretchen Whitmer to be signed into law.

But online poker has made it to the Governor’s desk before. In 2018, online poker and casino games were set to be signed into law by then Governor Rick Snyder, but just days before his term as governor was scheduled to end, he vetoed the proposed legislation citing in a letter to the legislature concerns over how online gaming would affect the state’s online lottery and land-based casinos which provide substantial funding to the state’s schools.

For the fiscal year 2018 alone, the Michigan Lottery sent nearly $1 billion to the Michigan School Aid Fund, and since its inception in 1972, the lottery has contributed more than $22 billion to the fund.

Snyder’s concerns from 2018 are also echoed by the administration of the current governor. “Gov. Whitmer has made it clear that protecting revenues for schools is her top priority,” said Whitmer spokeswoman Tiffany Brown.

But Senate lawmakers are aware of the governor’s concerns and are prepared to make sure they are addressed within the legislation before it lands on her desk. “The administration had some real concerns and we took those into account,” said Senator Curtis Hertel Jr. “We’re going to make sure that the school aid fund is healthy going forward.”