Historical Horse Racing Almost Derails Poker Bill From Passing Senate

Posted on October 1, 2020 - Last Updated on October 14, 2020

Michigan took the first step toward having multi-state online poker player pools Thursday with the Senate passing the legislation.

After passing the Senate by a vote of 36-1, S 991 needs to pass the House and get the governor’s signature to become law.

Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., who sponsored the bill, told PlayMichigan he doesn’t expect House passage to take place until the lame-duck session in November.

“I think the bill is a common-sense thing all agreed to and it should move on,” Hertel said. “I don’t think there’s any controversy. How fast, I don’t know. I don’t think it will be before the election. Probably right after.”

Michigan is in the process of finalizing the regulations and licensing to allow for online gambling, which is expected to launch around Thanksgiving.

MI multi-state online poker bill almost derailed by historical horse racing

The Senate Regulatory Reform Committee recommended the bill for passage last week.

But that effort wasn’t without incident. A co-sponsor of a bill to legalize historical horse racing tried to tie his effort to the multi-state poker bill.

Hertel was not notified of the amendment prior to the hearing. He said he had to run over “like a bat out of hell” to get them to recess the committee and convince Sen. Dan Lauwers, a co-sponsor on the committee, that the amendment wouldn’t work.

“They thought this was something that could force casinos to accept historical racing. But I told him that casinos want this but it’s really not that big of a deal for them. It’s a bigger deal for players than the casinos themselves. Poker is not a huge moneymaker. Once I talked to them, they were reasonable and pulled the amendment.”

If the amendment had passed, the multi-state poker bill could not become law without the historical racing bill. While Hertel supports the historical horse racing bill, opposition from Michigan casinos makes it more controversial. Attaching it to the poker bill could have killed its chances.

MI multi-state online poker language fixes mistake

Language to allow for multi-state pooling originally was in the Lawful Internet Gaming Act, which passed late in 2019.

Right before passage, lawmakers removed the language at the request of the Michigan Lottery. The lottery was concerned about the possibility of multi-state progressive slot machine jackpots competing with interstate lottery games such as Mega Millions.

Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey currently have an interstate poker pool through the Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement. Michigan may want to enter that agreement or form one of its own with neighboring Pennsylvania to bring more liquidity and options to online poker players in the state.

Hertel saw the omission as an oversight and seeks to correct it with the following language:

The Michigan Gaming Control Board may enter into agreements with other jurisdictions, including Indian tribes, to facilitate, administer and regulate multijurisdictional internet gaming for poker by internet gaming operators to the extent that entering into the agreement is consistent with state and federal laws and if the internet gaming under the agreement is conducted only in the United States.

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Matthew Kredell

Matthew has covered efforts to legalize and regulate online gambling since 2007. His reporting on the legalization of sports betting began in 2010 with an article for Playboy Magazine on how the NFL was pushing US money overseas by fighting the expansion of regulated sports betting. A USC journalism alum, Matt started his career as a sportswriter at the Los Angeles Daily News and has written on a variety of topics for Playboy, Men’s Journal, Los Angeles magazine, LA Weekly and ESPN.com.

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