Nine Years After Black Friday, Michigan Online Poker Is Still A Year Away

Posted on April 15, 2020

Nine years ago Wednesday, the Michigan online poker world was largely shut down when the US Department of Justice cracked down on top poker sites.

It should be just about the decade mark of that Black Friday anniversary when legalized online poker officially makes its return to Michigan next year.

While the state is missing out on a bit of a poker boon during the COVID-19 pandemic, Michigan should be well-positioned for play when regulations are adopted and poker comes online across the state early in 2021.

Black Friday crushed US online poker

During the poker boom of the early 2000s, Rounders, Chris Moneymaker and the World Series of Poker were legitimate cultural forces. Michigan was as fertile ground as any.

WSOP winners Joe Cada of Shelby Township (2009) and Ryan Riess of Clarkston (2013) hail from the Great Lakes State.

Then, on April 15, 2011, the federal government deemed US online poker illegal by shutting down PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker.

Since April 2013, though, online poker has returned to Nevada, Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed expanded gambling legislation in December 2019, clearing the way for legal online poker.

While retail sportsbooks were first to get regulated and opened in March, the implementation of mobile sports betting, online casinos and online poker are expected in early 2021.

Online poker thriving with everyone home

Online poker is filling a void for many around the globe who are stuck at home with not much to do.

Global Poker is a popular legal online poker site offering free play during April.

The popular site uses a sweepstakes model instead of a real-money model, allowing them to operate online in the US legally.

As for real-money games, which are not up and running in Michigan, PokerStars recently set a record for entries in a tournament with 93,016 for a $215 buy-in that netted a prize pool of $18.6 million and just under $1.2 million for the winner, according to ESPN.

In addition, the Pennsylvania Spring Championship of Online Poker is off to a fast start with more than 6,000 “seats filled” recently for the opening night.

Celebrities such as Ben Affleck, Tom Brady, Matt Damon and Adam Sandler took part in a charity online poker game Saturday to raise money for Feeding America, which reportedly raised over $1 million.

PokerStars already locked into Michigan

Michigan poker players can expect PokerStars to be an avenue for games, as The Stars Group has linked with a northern Michigan Native American tribe.

The Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians Gaming Authority, which operates Odawa Casinos in Petoskey and Mackinaw City, announced the partnership in January.

Because of an existing partnership with partypoker parent company GVC, it’s a safe bet that platform will be rolled out through MGM Grand Detroit.

Potential online poker partners still out there

As for other potential online poker companies that have not yet announced partnerships, keep an eye on WSOP/888 Poker, the main competition for PokerStars and partypoker in New Jersey and sole provider of online poker software in Delaware.

Mary Kay Bean, of the Michigan Control Board, told USPoker.com that the board would not release names of online gaming partners until rules are finalized and applicants are vetted.

“The agency cannot license casinos nor applicants that will support their online betting operations until the administrative rules are promulgated,” she said. “We will share applicants’ names after we’ve completed vetting them and are ready to seek licensing approval from the five-member board.

“We expect online sports and casino-style betting to become available early next year.”

Matt Schoch Avatar
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Matt Schoch

A Michigan native, Matt has worked at newspapers in Michigan, Missouri and the Virgin Islands. A versatile sports reporter, Matt has covered sailing on the Great Lakes, cricket in the Caribbean, high school and pro playoffs, and the Olympics in Rio. He's also the host of the Locked On Pistons Podcast and producer of a documentary on Emoni Bates. A former blackjack dealer, Matt has studied the industry from all sides.

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