Senate Bill 991, a bill that would enable Michigan to enter an interstate online poker compact is making process. The bill has now moved to the state’s House of Representatives after being approved by Senators on September 30. The bill didn’t have a hard time passing through the Senate, gaining approval by an overwhelming 389-36 margin.
The bill’s sponsor Senator Curtis Hertel Jr believes SB 991 will also receive enormous backing from Michigan legislators as it makes a lot of common sense for all concerned. However, Hertel Jr refused to provide an exact timeline for when the bill would be tackled in the House. He said a vote is unlikely to take place before the election. That means it would most probably arrive at the Governor’s desk in late November.
Online Poker Legalization in Michigan
In December 2019, Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed into law the Lawful Internet Gaming Act (LIGA), allowing online gambling, including sports betting, fantasy sports, casino games and online poker. The approval provided a sigh of relief to Michigan players who were left disappointed in 2018 when then Governor Rick Snyder ultimately vetoed an online gambling bill despite gaining immediate approval in the legislature.
Lawmakers originally included interstate agreements in the LIGA draft, but the provisions were removed last minute owing to strong opposition from the state lottery.
Lottery officials argued that massive prize pools created by shared online poker liquidity could potentially entice lottery customers, which would result in a drop in ticket sales. That argument was not a strong argument because online poker prize monies, no matter how huge, will never be as big as multi-state lottery jackpots.
SB 991 acts as an amendment to LIGA, adding a clause that will permit the Michigan Gaming Control Board (MGCB) to participate in interstate agreements with other state regulators as well as tribal gaming authorities. If the bill is ultimately passed into law, Michigan players will be able to compete against other players in other regulated states, as is currently the case between New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware, which are all part of a multi-state internet gaming agreement.
The Importance of Interstate Compacts
Interstate compacts are necessary for the overall online poker ecosystem to grow. The industry is heavily dependent on player traffic and will struggle to survive without enough players. An online poker room cannot continue to operate if player numbers are not good. If online rooms have a shared liquidity agreement in place, it will lead to a bigger player pool which will help the industry to stay afloat.
While regulated online poker took effect in the U.S in 2013, just four states currently allow online poker – Nevada, New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania has yet to take part in the multi-state agreement but it is expected to join in the future.
The addition of Michigan to the shared liquidity agreement will be a huge development for the entire online poker industry in the U.S and could make a good precedent for other states which are also looking at legalizing online poker in their respective jurisdictions.
Senator Hertel knows the importance of interstate compacts and how they help in keeping the industry alive. It will be up to him to continue to educate all concerned parties of how important it is to get interstate online poker up and running. He has played a significant role from the start and will want to see it through.
Hertel managed to avert a potential disaster for the online poker bill when another senator, Dan Lauwers, attempted to link SB 991 to another bill that tackles historical horse racing (HHR).  That bill didn’t sit well with the state’s land-based casinos. Realizing the possible negative consequences if Lauwers’ plans pushed through, Senator Hertel convinced his colleague to take a U-turn and withdraw the amendment.
Michigan is hoping to launch online poker in November, but with the Wire Act court battle still boiling, the state gaming board is expected to wait for the final judgment in the case before joining compacts.

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