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The Michigan House of Representatives voted 85-16 to approve SB 991, a follow up bill to the Lawful Internet Gaming Act that explicitly authorizes the Michigan Gaming Control Board (MGCB) to enter into agreements with other jurisdiction to facilitate interstate online poker. Nine did not vote.

The bill will now be presented to Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer to sign into law.

The lead sponsor of SB 991, State Senator Curtis Hertel, Jr. representing Michigan’s 23rd district, told pokerfuse “though it was always expected it would pass, it is exciting to see that Michigan will be able to provide a more robust system for online poker players.”

Hertel went on to say that he is not aware of any opposition to the bill from the Governor and he fully expects her to sign it into law.

He also added that he is looking forward to the day when Michigan online poker operators can “shuffle up and deal.”

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Regulated Online Poker in Michigan Close to Becoming a Reality

Online poker first became authorized in the state on December 20, 2019 when Governor Whitmer signed a package of bills into law that legalized internet gaming and sports betting in the state.

At the time, the Governor touted the increase in funds that would be made available to Michigan schools and firefighters battling cancer as a result of tax revenue from online gambling.

From there, the MGCB has been working diligently to get the state’s online games off the ground including developing rules and regulations, vetting operators, and issuing licenses.

Last week, the MGCB issued its first provisional licenses to 15 gaming platform providers. As a result, the first online games are expected to go live in Michigan in January 2020.

One of the 15 licenses went to BetMGM which is currently offering players in Michigan an extra $100 bonus if the preregister by January 4, 2021.

Previously, the MGCB had hoped to launch igaming in the state before the end of 2020.

While the first online wagers are expected in January, online poker could lag behind online casino games and online sports betting.

“We don’t know whether poker will be among the games offered at initial launch,” MGCB Communication Specialist Mary Kay Bean told pokerfuse. “It will depend on an operator’s readiness to offer poker and their desire to do so.”

“The games must be evaluated by independent testing labs and our own gaming lab and approved by the MGCB prior to being deployed,” Bean added.

Because online poker is a peer-to-peer game that is not played against the house like other forms of gaming, the testing and approval process for poker is thought to be more extensive.

In Pennsylvania, the last state to launch online poker, online casino games and sports betting preceded poker by several months, however, online poker enthusiasts and many in the industry expect the gap in Michigan to be shorter.

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When Will Michigan Online Poker Share Liquidity with Other States?

Shared liquidity is not expected to be in place when the first virtual hands are dealt in early 2021. The MGCB will likely want to ensure that its games meet its own standards before introducing the additional complexities involved in allowing players from multiple states to play at the same cash games tables and in the same tournaments.

Currently three states (Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey) have agreed to share online poker liquidity through the MultiState Internet Gaming Agreement (MIGA). However, currently the All American Poker Network is the only online poker platform operating in more than one of the cooperating states, and therefore, only the rooms comprising that network are allowed to offer interstate online poker.

The most prominent of those rooms is WSOP.com which offers WSOP NJ in New Jersey and WSOP NV in Nevada. Also on the network is 888poker which provides the software for the platform. It operates 888poker NJ in New Jersey and offers its platform to three racinos in Delaware.

Besides Michigan, another state that may join the MIGA is Pennsylvania. Online poker launched in the Keystone State in 2019, but because state gaming regulators have been cautious not to violate federal law, only PokerStars PA has launched in the state.

The Wire Act and Shared Liquidity

Before allowing online poker liquidity sharing, the MGCB may wait for a resolution to the Wire Act case that is currently pending a ruling from the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. After all, SB 991 stipulates that shared liquidity must be “consistent with state and federal laws.”

Following an attempt by the Trump administration to reinterpret the 1961 Wire Act in a way that would make interstate online poker and other forms of online gaming that cross state lines illegal, the New Hampshire Lottery Commission sued and the industry rallied behind.

Every ruling in the case so far has indicated that interstate online gaming in not illegal under The Wire Act, and it is expected the federal government will abandon its reinterpretation efforts under the Biden administration.