Healthy competition

Michigan has its second online poker room, as BetMGM launched its site on Monday. It sounded like there was a possibility that the switch wouldn’t be flipped until later in the week, but sure enough, the tables opened and Michiganders can now enjoy another online poker option.

As one would expect, the tables aren’t overflowing with players yet, considering it’s just the second day (and, as I’m writing this, it’s the afternoon). There were a number of tournaments Monday night, the most populous of which was a $25 prize pool freeroll that fielded 134 players. Nothing else had more than 100 players, with the cheapest tournaments drawing the largest crowds.

Contrast that to PokerStars, the first online poker room to launch in Michigan, which had multiple tournament fields of around 300 players last night. But PokerStars already had the player base, a two-month head start, and the name recognition. Plus, plenty of poker players likely still haven’t even heard that BetMGM is an option yet.

Michigan took a long time to launch any online gambling from the time it became legal, but once things got going, poker came along pleasantly quickly. The first online sportsbooks were up and running on January 22 and many, including yours truly, thought it would be a while before we saw poker. Because of its player-versus-player dynamic and lower profit, it is always last in the pecking order behind casino games and sports betting. But just a week later, PokerStars said hello.

And unlike Pennsylvania, where PokerStars still holds a monopoly after nearly two and a half years, Michigan now has a competitive market.

Add another interstate network possibility

For now, Michiganders will have to be content to play against each other, as online poker is still an intrastate pastime in the Wolverine State. Governor Gretchen Whitmer did sign a bill that authorizes interstate compacts, so multi-state online poker is a possibility in the future.

BetMGM also operates in New Jersey, so the interstate network would start there. There are three online poker rooms on what is called the partypoker US Network: BetMGM, partypoker, and Borgata Poker. Borgata Poker is owned by MGM Resorts International, partypoker is owned by Entain, and BetMGM is controlled by each, half and half.

There was some thought in the industry that partypoker would be the brand in that family to launch first in non-New Jersey states, but Entain has really been full steam ahead with BetMGM in the United States, so the fact that BetMGM is the poker room to go live isn’t surprising. Before the UIGEA kicked in in 2006, partypoker was the dominant online poker brand in the US, but because it withdrew from the market (this avoiding legal trouble five years later), its name recognition crumbled in the States.

If Michigan does ever go the interstate poker route, it could also have a PokerStars network, linked with both Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Right now, there is only one multi-state poker network: the All American Poker Network, whose name is never used, for some reason. It consists of the 888-powered sites of WSOP.com in New Jersey and Nevada and the three racetrack-affiliated sites in Delaware.

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