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Michigan moves forward with bill to regulate online poker

9 Jun 2016

By Gary Trask
Senator Mike Kowall

Senator Mike Kowall (photo by Courtesy of Sen. Mike Kowall)

Less than two months after being introduced, a bill to regulate and legalize online poker in Michigan was overwhelmingly approved by a Senate committee on Wednesday. But, according to the office of State Senator Mike Kowall, the primary sponsor of the bill and the Senate Majority Floor Leader, it will not go any further during the current legislative session, meaning it won't be voted on by the Senate until after Labor Day, at the earliest.

"There's not enough time (for the Senate to vote on it before June 16), but yesterday was obviously a huge step forward," Dave Biswas, chief of staff and legislative director to Senator Kowall, told Casino City on Thursday morning. "Our goal was to get the bill out of committee and onto the Senate floor, and that's what we did."

The bill – SB 889 – was first referred to the Regulatory Reform Committee by Sen. Kowall on April 14. In May, a hearing was held to discuss both the online poker bill and SB 890, a tandem bill that amends the state's penal code to make an exemption for gambling under SB 889. The committee heard testimony from four people in support of the bills, including Poker Players Alliance (PPA) President John Pappas and three representatives from PokerStars/Amaya Gaming.

"To be clear, citizens of this state have access to online poker, online casino games and online sports betting – but they play on foreign sites, none of which are properly licensed or regulated by this government," said Pappas in his testimony. "SB 889 changes this dynamic and puts Michigan in control of Internet gaming by corralling the unregulated market and turning it into a state-based industry that is safe for consumers and accountable to regulators."

On Wednesday, the committee signed off on SB 889 by an 8-1 vote, which was not an upset by any means since four co-sponsors of the bill – Curtis Hertel, Jr., Rebekah Warren, Bert Johnson and Marty Knollenberg – are also on the committee.

SB 889 stipulates that online gambling operating licenses will be restricted to tribal casinos and Michigan commercial casinos already in possession of a license, and a maximum of eight licenses will be issued. The up-front cost to obtain a license will be $5 million and there will be a $100,000 application fee that would be an advance payment of Internet wagering taxes.

Michigan, which began offering online lottery games in 2011, is hoping become the fourth state to regulate online gambling, along with Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware.

"The bill is in a very good position right now," added Biswas. "Now, we'll get back to work on it during the summer, touch base with the casinos and tribes and move to get it out of Senate right when we get back in session in September."
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