Michigan Online Poker Bill Passes Committee by an 8-1 Margin


Mike Kowall is leading the effort to regulate online poker in Michigan

First it was John Harbaugh. Then it was Jon Bostic and Stevan Ridley. Now, online gambling could be coming to Michigan.

On Wednesday, the Senate Regulatory Reform Committee in the Midwestern state approved a bill to regulate online gambling by an overwhelming 8-1 margin. But, that’s just the first of many steps needed for it to become law.

The bill that passed is a version of SB 889, introduced by State Senator Mike Kowall. And according to the Poker Players Alliance, the main lobbying voice for poker players in the US, discussion about it has come on rather quickly.

Sudden Movement

“There wasn’t a lot of public talk about Michigan doing anything about online poker,” PPA Vice President Rich Muny said. “Then, a week later, they had a positive hearing about it in May. Now, the committee has voted on it and passed it by an 8-1 margin. It’s a very good thing. It’s good for Michigan and it’s good for states like Pennsylvania where they’re looking at going forward. The momentum that’s slowly developing in these states will hopefully push at least one state across the finish line. Now, more and more states are talking about it, and that can’t be a bad thing.”

Next Steps

The bill passed the Wolverine State’s Senate Regulatory Reform Committee and now goes before the full Senate.

“There’s still some shuffling around to work out the details, which is probably not surprising given the time line so far,” Muny said. “Everyone seems to want online poker and they have embraced the lottery, so that’s positive.”

Besides advancing through the Senate, it needs a companion bill in the House, which must still be developed and introduced.

“A companion bill in the House is a necessity to make it go forward,” Muny said. “It has to happen to have it pass. Sometimes bills like this can pass as a standalone bill and they can sometimes be included in other bills. Now, the real lobbying will begin since a bill has passed committee.”

According to Muny, Kowall, who serves Michigan’s 15th State Senate District, has been looking at regulating and legalizing online gambling for a few years, so this isn’t as out of the blue as it may seem.

“They’ve had the lottery there for a little bit now and lawmakers appear ready to expand on it,” Muny said. “In the past, Kowall has commented that he’s been working on this for three years.”

If Kowall’s bill gets a companion that’s passed in the House, and itself passes in the Senate, then it’ll head to the desk of Michigan governor Rick Snyder to sign.

“They’re going to need the money and it’ll be hard for him to say no,” Muny said of Snyder’s likelihood of putting pen to paper. “But, other governors have said no in the past. Sometimes governors don’t lend their position on a bill until legislation starts coming through. Michigan does have a lottery and Snyder didn’t come out against that.”

Importance of Michigan

Also compelling for Muny and the PPA is the fact that Michigan is separated geographically from states like New York, Pennsylvania, and California that have advanced efforts to regulate online gambling. We could, therefore, see a “domino effect” of sorts in the Midwest if Michigan chooses to pass legislation. Populous states like Ohio and Illinois could quickly follow suit if Michigan passes a bill.

“It’s geographically interesting where if one state does something, neighboring states will look to do something similar,” Muny said. “That’s why New York and Pennsylvania are on the short list for gaming right now. They’re right next to each other geographically. Michigan isn’t geographically connected to any of the states that have been talking about online poker right now. So, that gets us a new foothold.”