The day Michigan poker players have been waiting for has arrived! Late in the afternoon of April 6, the regulatory bodies of Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey made the joint announcement that the Wolverine State has been accepted into the Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement (MSIGA).
The three regulators made the announcement through their joint entity, Multi-State Internet Gaming Association LLC, a company registered in Delaware. The company manages the mutual interests of the member states as regards multi-state poker.
State-by-state regulation of online gambling has led to US markets being segregated, or “ring-fenced.”
In 2014, Nevada and Delaware formed a compact to share their traffic, as Delaware’s population was too small to sustain a viable poker ecosystem on its own. New Jersey joined the compact three years later.
Unfortunately, the Department of Justice’s decision to reinterpret the Wire Act to apply to all forms of gambling threw a monkey wrench into things. Under that new interpretation, the MSIGA would have been illegal.
Fortunately, the New Hampshire Lottery challenged that new reading on the basis that it would also prohibit interstate lotteries like Power Ball. It won its case last year. The DOJ has refused to formally withdraw its opinion, but its odds of winning any future court battles are small.
Still, the uncertainty around the Wire Act had a chilling effect on other states’ interest in joining the MSIGA. Despite having created a legal market for online poker in 2019, Pennsylvania has not attempted to join.
Michigan’s road to the MSIGA
Michigan, which only launched its market in 2021 has been bolder. The wording of its original Lawful Internet Gaming Act (LIGA) didn’t allow for multi-state gambling agreements.
However, this was at the behest of the state lottery, whose concerns were largely to do interstate progressive slots jackpots. When poker operators complained about the impact that ring-fencing would have on them, the legislature passed a separate bill to allow the Michigan Gaming Control Board to enter multi-state compacts for the purpose of poker only.
The MGCB began working on its entry to the compact almost immediately. This took longer than anyone expected, however, as regulatory affairs often do. At a certain point, it said it expected to be in by the end of 2021, but this didn’t come to pass.
Recently, there were a couple of signs that this day was coming. First, the MGCB posted guidelines for multi-state poker operators on its website. Soon thereafter, WSOP made its long-awaited entry to the state.
WSOP operates the only multi-state poker network at the moment, spanning the original three states. No other operator has a presence in Delaware or Nevada, and thus no one else has been able to take advantage of the MSIGA until now. Its larger traffic due to interstate liquidity has been one of WSOP’s major selling points, so the assumption here at Online Poker Report has been that it was delaying its entry to Michigan specifically so it could start sharing traffic soon after launch.
A multi-state debut for PokerStars and BetMGM
Now that it’s possible to link Michigan and New Jersey together, all operators are likely to do so. That means it will be the first time that players on PokerStars’ and BetMGM Poker’s regulated US sites will be able to play against opponents in another state.
Luke Staudenmaier, BetMGM’s Director of Poker told OPR:
“BetMGM applauds MSIGA for admitting Michigan into the consortium. Shared liquidity is paramount to the growth of online poker and this is a huge step in the right direction. We remain committed to expanding BetMGM’s poker offering and look forward to serving shared player pools in the future.”
Exactly when that will be is unknown, and may not be immediate. In the case of New Jersey, it took about six months between the time it entered the compact and WSOP was able to go live.
Hopefully, the process will be more streamlined this time around. WSOP certainly knows what it’s doing in this regard now, and PokerStars already has one interjurisdictional network in Europe. That network was originally intended to include France, Spain and Italy, but ultimately only the first two of those joined, as political turmoil in Italy got in the way. Eventually, Portugal joined the network in Italy’s place.
There’s still no word from Pennsylvania about whether it will join or not. However, if things go smoothly with Michigan, and IGT succeeds in its efforts to settle the Wire Act issue once and for all, those factors should ease any remaining worries at the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.
Can WSOP update before the summer series?
Several astute readers on Twitter have brought up an additional point. This is that WSOP’s US sites actually use two completely different and incompatible versions of the software.
WSOP has a technology partnership in place with 888 Holdings, so its sites run on 888poker software. The New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware newtwork runs on an older version of this, while WSOP launched its standalone Pennsylvania and Michigan sites using 888’s new Poker 8 platform.
It’s unthinkable that WSOP would keep the Michigan site separate, so an update for the currently networked states will be required. The question is how quickly it can roll that out.
No timeline from WSOP
Asked for information by OPR,WSOP Executive Director Ty Stewart spoke only in generalities:
WSOP.com was the first operator to service interstate poker and is all-in on the future of online poker in the United States. We embrace any momentum to offer a unified experience for poker players to compete in regulated states and across new markets.
The software has had a long trial run in Pennsylvania, but migrations to a new platform are never easy. The trouble is that the summer’s World Series of Poker starts in less than eight weeks, on May 31. It involves a significant online component, which WSOP will not want disrupted by technical issues. On the other hand, if the MGCB is going to be ready to let operators throw the switch soon, waiting until after the series would provide PokerStars and BetMGM with a big competitive advantage.
It’s hard to guess what WSOP will do. It depends entirely on how much preparation they’ve already done, and what timeline they’re getting from the MGCB.
We can turn this around, however, and watch WSOP for clues about the bigger picture. If it announces a software update in the next couple of weeks, that probably means liquidity sharing will begin before the series. If it doesn’t update, then we’re probably looking at several months’ wait.
Run It Once Poker still a question mark
Of course, there’s now a fourth operator that could come to Michigan. That’s because Rush Street Interactive (RSI) acquired Run It Once Poker (RIO) following that company’s decision to cease its international operations and aim for launch in the US market.
Shared liquidity will certainly help a smaller brand like RIO to achieve viable amounts of traffic. However, a representative for RSI told OPR that the company isn’t prepared to comment on any plans for RIO at this time.
Next steps for the MGCB
Before operators can start networking, the MGCB has requirements of its own to meet. These aren’t spelled out the announcement, though it mentions their existence.
Mary Kay Bean, representing the Board, confirmed to OPR that the MGCB is working on those requirements, but declined to provide much additional information:
Currently, the MGCB and the Michigan Department of Attorney General are reviewing the agreement to ensure Michigan statutory requirements are met.
She did not provide any estimated timeline.