Lawmakers speed up approval

I’m not making any promises, but there is as chance – a chance – that online gambling could go live in Michigan this month. Tuesday morning, the state legislature’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules voted to forego the 15-day period during which it can evaluate the new online gaming regulations, effectively giving them the stamp of approval. Now it is on the Michigan Gaming Control Board (MGCB) to get going accepting and reviewing licensing applications. The MGCB thinks some sites could be up and running before year-end.

Some of you may remember way back when some lawmakers in D.C. tried to get online poker legalized on a national level. One reason nothing ever become of it (among many reasons) was that there was no urgency on the part of most elected representatives. Very few of them cared.

In Michigan, however, there is as real desire to get online gambling off the ground, almost a year since it was legalized in the state.

“Part of the legislature’s motivation is to generate additional revenue and it’s worth noting that revenue will be used to fund the Michigan Gaming Control Board, the problem gambling hotline, to support first responders and additionally fund the Michigan school aid fund,” sports attorney Michael Huff told WOODTV.com.

Pandemic has increased the need for online gaming

The COVID-19 pandemic shut down the state’s 26 casinos in the spring. Many of the 23 tribal casinos reopened as the summer began, but Detroit’s three commercial casinos – Greektown, MotorCity, and MGM Grand Detroit – were not permitted to reopen until early August. And now that COVID cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are through the roof, casinos are closed once again.

Sports betting went live in Michigan in March, but it just so happened that it was days before the casino shutdowns, so without online wagering, nobody was placing bets for months (sports stopped for a while, too, so there was a period of time where it didn’t matter).

Even when casinos reopen, there will be capacity limits at least as strict as there were before, so giving people an opportunity to gamble from home will be a boon to casinos and, in turn, the state, which will benefit from the tax revenue.

“Online betting is going to propose a huge opportunity for revenue generation to reach people who are comfortable betting from their homes,” Huff said. “I think the casino is anticipating they’re going to attract some new users as well: people who are die hard sports fans but maybe wouldn’t visit a casino, may want to place bets online.”

Licensing process awaits

Within a couple days, the regulations will be filed with the state. Once that happens, Michigan casinos can apply for online gaming licenses. It is then up to the MGCB to get them reviewed, work with the operators to make sure everything is in line, and test technology platforms. The control board has been doing some initial testing with third-party technology providers, so it has a bit of a head start there.

Don’t expect online poker to be in the first wave, though. In fact, I wouldn’t expect it for a few months, at least. Sports betting and online casino gaming will be the top priority, as those are both more profitable and easier test, since they are player-versus-house games. Poker will launch at some point, so we’ll finally have that fifth state in eight years.

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