Still a Waiting Game for Michigan Online Poker

Would-be Michigan online poker players are dealing with mixed emotions in the wake of news that fully legalized and regulated sites won’t be available, it seems, until some point in 2021. The Wolverine State’s waiting online players had high hopes last month following Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s signing of a generalized gambling expansion bill that included both sports betting and online poker. However, the state is in no rush to bring the newly-approved markets to an active state.

News that Michigan would take the slow-and-steady approach emerged in recent days from Mary Kay Bean, spokeswoman for the Michigan Gaming Control Board. In a press conference Bean acknowledged that the sports-betting part of the expansion equation would take priority, while online poker and other forms of online casino gambling would be shuffled down the list.

Michigan Online Poker Bill“We are at a very early stage of this process,” Bean told the Associated Press. “The agency must establish several sets of administrative rules, which pass through many levels of review. The timing of implementation depends not only on our agency but also on decisions other departments, agencies and the Legislature make along the way.”

Besides the creation of regulation governing all the new forms of gambling to be enjoyed by Michiganders, time must also be built into the process to allow for applications, approvals, and software testing. When added to the reality that most of the state’s casino operators want the sports-betting expansion handled first, a 2021 live date for online poker is all but certain.

“Timing will depend on how quickly we receive applications, can approve the casinos’ internal controls and are able to issue required licenses,” Bean added.

Bean also noted that many of the state’s 27 casinos are already charging ahead with plans to begin accepting in-person sports wagering within the next few months. Several of the state’s larger casinos have already undertaken renovations creating in-house sports books. Those books will begin as in-person operations only, adding online and mobile wagering at a later date. Michigan has 27 total casinos. Three large casino properties serve the greater Detroit area, while 24 tribal casino properties, varying significantly in size, blanket the rest of the state.

By comparison, only a handful of those Michigan casinos offer live poker, and the online version of the game is likely to be serve up by a similar small percentage of the state’s casino properties. One that will participate is the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians Gaming Authority, which recently inked a deal that (pending regulatory approval) will return the famed PokerStars brand to the state. The LTTB operates in the northern part of lower Michigan, though in terms of online poker, it has a chance to establish itself as an outsized presence come 2021. Further deals involving well-known online brands are likely to be announced in the coming months.

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