Note: This article was changed since publication to include comments from the MGCB and additional insight from gaming law attorney Robert Stocker.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the state’s gaming regulator are, reportedly, at odds over who should sign an agreement for the state to join an existing interstate gaming compact — more than likely the Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement (MSIGA).
The question is: Can the regulator sign this [interstate gaming agreement] in lieu of the governor?A source with knowledge of the matter told MI Gaming Review that a debate in Lansing has been ongoing between the Democratic governor and the Michigan Gaming Control Board (MGCB).
“The question is: Can the regulator sign this in lieu of the governor?” the source said Wednesday. “The governor should sign. But it seems she doesn’t want to and they are looking to the regulator.”
The fact that Whitmer and the MGCB were debating who should sign an agreement indicates that the state is satisfied that joining an interstate compact would not run afoul of federal laws. Michigan had previously cited uncertainty over the Biden DOJ’s position on the Wire Act as a reason not to join a compact, but the DOJ declined to appeal an important Wire Act case before the June 2021 deadline to do so.
Membership in an interstate gaming compact would boost online poker in Michigan because players in the state could play against other poker players in other states. Shared liquidity through the compact would also lead to larger prize pools for online poker games and tournaments.
Historically, Governors Signed Inter-State Gambling Agreements
MGCB officials have been tight-lipped about Michigan possibly joining MSIGA.
Last May, Henry Williams, who had just been confirmed as Executive Director of the agency, said he hoped the MGCB would be able to announce that they had joined “a multi-state poker agreement” by the end of 2021. Two months later, MGCB spokeswoman Mary Kay Bean confirmed to pokerfuse that the state was “interested” in either joining an existing interstate compact or creating a new one with other states.
MSIGA is currently comprised of three states — Delaware, Nevada, and New Jersey. The compact started in March 2015 as an agreement between Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval of Nevada and Democratic Gov. Jack Markell of Delaware. Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey brought the Garden State into the compact when he signed on to MSIGA in October 2017.
In the July interview, Bean said that SB 991 — a bill sponsored by Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. (D-East Lansing) and ultimately signed into law by Whitmer in December 2020 — “gives the MGCB the authority to enter compacts.”
Poker Player’s Tweet Causes Stir
Questions about where Michigan is in the process began to surface last week after a poker player took to Twitter to ask if there had been any developments with Michigan and Pennsylvania possibly joining a compact.
The player, who uses the Twitter handle imakewinhappen, suggested that the failure of WSOP MI to launch in the state was one reason why Michigan wouldn’t be joining anytime soon (the tweet has since been deleted). The MGCB has declined several times in recent months to explain why the operator has yet to launch in the state.
Media outlet Play Michigan responded that they had reached out to the MGCB last week and that the regulator had said “our request to join the multi-state agreement is under review by the current states. We will know more when the review is completed. While we don’t have a timeline, we hope Michigan can join soon.”
On Friday, Bean told MI Gaming Review that “state law clearly gives the MGCB executive director the authority to sign the compact.”
Bean added that “Michigan asked to join the compact last year and submitted some suggested changes based on the requirements of our law. We are waiting to hear whether Michigan will be allowed to join the compact.”
Representatives for Whitmer and Hertel, who succeeded Whitmer to lead the senatorial district, did not return messages seeking comment.
Entering into multi-jurisdictional agreements is a logical extension of the legal gaming market in Michigan.Two officials with the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement (NJDGE) also did not return messages seeking confirmation that New Jersey was reviewing an application by Michigan to join MSIGA.
Former Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox told MI Gaming Review that he had not heard of any disagreement between Whitmer and the MGCB over who should sign a compact. That could be telling since Cox, a Republican who left office in 2011, has since started his own firm — one of its practice areas is gaming.
Robert Stocker, a gaming attorney with a Lansing-based practice, told MI Gaming Review that “entering into multi-jurisdictional agreements is a logical extension of the legal gaming market in Michigan. The logical first step is to explore joining MSIGA in connection with internet poker.”
Stocker said he was not aware of a dispute between Whitmer and the MGCB.
No Mention of Gaming in Whitmer’s Recent State of the State
Whitmer has said she will run for re-election in 2022. Her reluctance to sign onto a compact could be, at best, a sign that she is looking to avoid making any political waves. At worst, it could indicate dysfunction in gaming matters.
The governor is already under pressure to make a decision on a proposed casino in Muskegon County. The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians has proposed building the Lakeshore Casino Resort on the site of a former horse race track in Fruitport Township. Whitmer has until June 2022 to make a decision on whether the project, which has federal support, should proceed.
That said, gaming appears to be a non-issue. In her 25-minute State of the State last week, Whitmer made no mention of gaming and, instead, focused her speech on “kitchen table issues” like health care, taxes, and crime.