Michigan online gambling legislation appears to be smooth sailing as a Senate Committee and public hearing on iGaming rules both went without a hitch. Both were significant procedural steps whose smooth passage provided a glimpse of a bright future for online gambling in the state.

The Regulatory Reform Committee took up 13 bills for consideration, including Senator Curtis Hertel Jr.‘s SB 991, which will enable the Michigan Gaming Control Board (MGCB) to enter into interstate compacts for sharing online poker traffic.

The next day, the MGCB conducted its public hearing to present the draft rules for digital betting, receive comments, and answer questions. As both hearings went according to plan, it will not affect the existing timeline for Michigan online casinos.

While at the rules hearing, MGCB Deputy Director David Murley said the Board sees Thanksgiving as a realistic target date. The initial plan was for operators to start launching next year, but the pandemic-led closures of casino venues in the spring pushed the state to hasten the process.

No Pushback from the Public on iGaming Rules

The rules hearing that was held online due to the coronavirus pandemic was largely a formality with only around 75 people joining the call. However, to keep it transparent the MGCB must give the public a chance to review and comment on the rules for any new form of gaming under its jurisdiction.

Fortunately, there was nothing controversial in the iGaming rules. In fact, its contents are almost the same as what has been implemented in New Jersey with the petty differences the rules being of greater interest to betting operators than residents. Still, the hearing was still vulnerable to exploitation by the opponents of gambling who could use it as a chance to create complications.

Luckily, no opposition surfaced during the meeting. In fact, only two people on the call took the opportunity to comment or ask a question.

Andrew Bernal criticized not the rules, but the drag that the process had been taking. He complained about the troubles that he faced while waiting for Michigan’s online sports betting to go live. Due to delay in legislation, he has to leave Michigan to play online gambling in Indiana. Bernal suggested that Governor Gretchen Whitmer could accelerate the process by using her executive powers due to the COVID-19. However, she refused the idea.

Another citizen, Marko Tomich, asked which operators will be the first to be issued the license. He also did not get his answer and was told it would depend on the licensing process which is underway.

Now, the next phase will be for the Joint Committee of Administrative Rules to submit a final draft of the rules. After review by the Office for Administrative Hearing and Rules, the Legislative Service Bureau’s certification will complete the process and gambling can go live in the state.

Senator Hertel Sidesteps a Tie-Bar Amendment

The issues had the potential to become complicated at the Regulatory Reform Committee hearing on SB 991.

When the interstate poker bill was picked for discussion, Senator Dan Lauwers sought to propose a “tie-bar” amendment. This is a legislative practice for joining two previously separate bills to ensure that one cannot move without the other; he attempted to connect the SB 991 to the SB 661 bill.

The SB 661 bill was passed last year in the Senate but has been frozen in the House since February and seeks several technical changes to the state’s horse betting laws. The most significant change it wants is to extend the definition of pari-mutuel wagering to include historical horse racing (HHR). HHR has served as the additional gambling options at racetracks and betting parlors that are not allowed to offer conventional casino games. Inevitably, it has faced some pushback from Michigan’s commercial casino industry.

Lauwers believed that their support for interstate poker would help stir the SB 661 along if the bills were connected. When the SB 991 was finally picked, Senator Hertel spoke with Lauwers in a private meeting, following which the latter withdrew the proposed amendment. The committee then passed the bill unopposed.

The next step will be the discussion by the entire Senate. After that, there will be some procedural steps before a formal vote, which if passed would send the bill to the House of Representatives.

It appears that Michigan’s online poker will soon be available for the residents.

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