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Michigan is considering two new online gambling bill that would allow the state to push ahead with various iGaming and poker operations.

Michigan’s Long Road to Legalizing Online Poker

Michigan has been making efforts to legalize its online gambling industry, and by extension – online poker, since at least 2016. Multiple bills arrived at the time with Senator Mike Kowall vowing a strong support for the expansion of the state’s industry.

Bringing industrial casinos and tribal compacts to the same table to negotiate an expansion of the online industry failed, but the idea persevered. It lasted until 2017 when Mr. Kowall was back, sponsoring two bills trying to reinstate the issue. Mr. Kowall’s S 203 and S 204 joined S 202 and S 205, bringing the total number of proposals to four that year.

None of this picked off, though and Mr. Kowall had to wait until his colleague, Rep. Brandt Iden, drew the most successful proposal to date, H 4926. H 4926 was the state’s first successful attempt to clear all regulatory milestones, blasting its way through the House and Senate, Committees, and finally arriving at the office of now former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder. Mr. Iden had good reason to throw his support behind a poker legislation:

And make no mistake about it — people across Michigan already are playing poker, black jack and other casino-style games online. When they play for money, they are doing so illegally under current state law. They also risk identity theft, problems accessing their money and other dangers playing on unsafe, unregulated sites.

Unfortunately, 2018 didn’t see the bill push through as Mr. Snyder struck it down in December, arguing that the issue was too sensitive, citing fears over inter-state and online gambling both. In light of what happened in January, 2019, Mr. Snyder wasn’t too far from the mark.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein signed a revised DOJ OCL opinion on the Wire Act according to which sports betting was not the only segment affected by the WA. With this small legal change present, the fate of online gambling is less certain these days.

This hasn’t stopped Michigan’s lawmakers to pursue the idea nevertheless.

On Thursday, March 7 two new bills hit the House and Senate, with Sen. Curtis Hertel introducing S 186 and Rep. Brandt Iden back in the spotlight, with a refurbished bill (H 4311), Michigan is seeing a massive push into expanding the industry.

There are two inherent challenges coming with the new bills. First, they will have to win the support of lawmakers. This has already been done in 2018, but the question remains if Mr. Snyder’s outright denial to sign the bill into law had clamped down on that support.

Mr. Snyder is now out of office, replaced by Democrat Gretchen Whitmer whose stance on matters such sports betting is not entirely defined. This leaves room for hope and doubt as well. The bills forwarded by Mr. Iden and Mr. Hertel are cognizant of a simple fact – the tribes command immense power in gambling matters, so both bills put the licensing fees at the fairly low $200,000.

They also specify that tribes can pursue expansion into online gambling, which tribes have so far avoiding to endorse openly.