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1st Michigan iGaming Partnership: Stars + Odawa Tribe

MI Outline Map

The end of 2019 was quite an epic time for the State of Michigan as it saw Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D) affix her signature to a package of gaming bills that had been forwarded to her desk on Friday, Dec. 20. With the completion of that action, sports betting, online gambling and daily fantasy sports became legal in The Wolverine State. Never one to rest on its laurels, The Stars Group has become the first brand to gain access to the newly legal Michigan market, striking up a deal with Odawa Indians based in the state.

Gretchen WhitmerGovernor Whitmer Signed Online Gaming Bills Into Law

PokerStars Parent Company Announces Partnership with Tribal Authority

Man Holding Megaphone

Even though it has only been a short couple of weeks or so since the governor of Michigan signed the package of gaming bills, the parent company of the popular real money PokerStars US app, The Stars Group, chose to announce that it had come to terms on a deal to start operating in the state. Partnering up with the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians Gaming Authority, The Stars Group has secured itself a deal that will allow it to provide online poker and other games to residents of Michigan.

As part of this deal, The Stars Group gains first skin access to the legal gambling industry within the state, and this gives it the possibility of not only providing online poker but casino games and sports betting options, too. The terms of the deal that has been signed allow the operator to offer its various popular iGaming brands within Michigan, which includes the PokerStars site as well as FOX Bet, providing an online sportsbook.

Speaking of the partnership, the Chief Executive Officer of FOX Bet, Robin Chhabra, said the following in a press release issued on Monday, Jan. 6, 2020:

We are excited to announce this agreement with the Odawa tribe, which further strengthens our market access as we work to continue to build our FOX Bet business into one of the leaders in the emerging U.S. online betting and gaming market.

Robin ChhabraRobin Chhabra, the CEO of FOX Bet

At the moment, the Odawa tribe operates in two locations, those being in Petoskey and Mackinaw City. The deal that was signed with The Stars Group will see the tribe receive a percentage of the revenue generated by the company’s brands via the online gaming products offered.

Casino Locations Run by Odawa TribeThe Odawa Operate Casinos in Petoskey and Mackinaw City
Detroit Shown for Reference

The Other Deal for PokerStars in Michigan

While the partnership with the Odawa tribe is a great step forward for The Stars Group, it’s not the only one that will be relevant for Stars' ambitions in Michigan as there’s an existing one too. It was in August of last year that the poker giant entered into a partnership with Penn National Gaming (PNG) – a land-based casino company. This was done as a way for The Stars Group to increase its market access, and the deal is in place for 20 years.

As a part of that arrangement, there’s the option for The Stars Group to provide online gaming in nine states where PNG either owns or operates any land-based casino establishments subject to the legalization of online gambling. Michigan is a part of this, with Penn National as the owner of Greektown Casino in Detroit, and The Stars Group gets to set up interactive gaming there in exchange for a share of the revenue as well as a $12.5 million cash payment.

Greektown DetroitThe Greektown Casino Hotel in Detroit's Historic Greektown District

Yet, under the terms of that same deal, Stars only received first skin options in four of the nine states. For the other five, that would only be possible if the law provides for multiple skins or brands when it comes to online gaming. Fortunately, the law within Michigan does allow for such although it limits the use to a single brand for online poker and an extra brand for online casino gaming. It was that provision of the Michigan legislation that had the potential to shut The Stars Group out. Therefore, it is thought to have been a motivational factor leading to the company striking up a new deal where online gaming access is concerned.

A Series of Firsts for PokerStars

Checklist on Clipboard

Like we said before, The Stars Group has never been one to settle for second place. Because of this, it could hold a monopoly over the Michigan market once it launches officially even if only temporarily. The same occurred when PokerStars went through its soft launch in Pennsylvania on Nov. 4, 2019. It remains as the sole operator of legalized online poker in The Keystone State although it is expected that additional firms will begin operating there in the near future.

The launch of poker in Pennsylvania was a great success story for both the state and The Stars Group, considering it brought in around $3 million in gross revenue through its first month – a stark contrast to the New Jersey online poker scene, which suffered its lowest-ever revenue on record in the same month. There will no doubt be hopes that once PokerStars launches in Michigan, it will have the same success as the Pennsylvania launch. That would place it in quite the dominant position as far as legal online poker in the United States is concerned.

PokerStars also may be able to benefit long-term from the current interstate poker network. Through this, real money online poker players from Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey are able to play against one another with the goal of player pools and traffic being better and the prizes being larger.

New Jersey, Delaware, and NevadaThe Three Members of the Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement

Yet, is the only group of sites that currently benefit from this networking because they're the only ones that transact in more than one of the participating states. PokerStars does, as mentioned before, operate in New Jersey, but it has no presence in Nevada or Delaware.

With the legalization of online poker in Pennsylvania, there were hopes that it would join into this gaming compact too. However, with the constant issues surrounding the interpretation of the Wire Act in the US, perhaps the state is holding off on doing so for the time being. We can expect Michigan to be similarly cautious while the Wire Act dispute plays out in the courts.

The Online Poker Outlook for Michigan

Pair of Binoculars

While it’s always nice to see that things are progressing forward, players in Michigan probably shouldn’t get too excited just yet. An actual launch of online gambling opportunities is still far from coming to fruition within the state. It wasn’t really such a huge surprise that The Stars Group was the first to enter into a partnership.

It’s expected that additional companies will announce their partnerships in the coming months. It’s likely that, as is the case in New Jersey, the primary competition for PokerStars will be WSOP/888 and/or PartyPoker. Yet, as things stand for the moment, neither of these brands has announced any kind of partnership within Michigan. PartyPoker will probably partner up with MGM Grand considering that there is an existing deal in place between GVC (PartyPoker’s parent company) and MGM.

For the time being though, there hasn’t been a specific timeframe marked out for online gambling to launch within Michigan. If you were to take a look at other states that have introduced such already, it’s more likely to be a long, drawn-out affair. Pennsylvania, for example, passed its online gambling bill back in October 2017 and didn’t launch its first online casinos until July of 2019. And as noted, PokerStars didn’t become active there until November of last year.

Meanwhile, West Virginia legalized internet gambling in March 2019, but sites for it have yet to go live despite the fact that licensed sports betting has appeared in the Mountain State. West Virginia did send a delegation to Pennsylvania recently to see how to successfully run internet-based gaming, so it may be possible for the first WV online poker and casino sites to open for business in 2020.

With that being the case, it would be quite optimistic to suggest that Michigan will introduce online gambling in 2020 as well. A more likely scenario is that it will become a possibility in 2021 instead.

Playing Online Poker in Michigan Before 2021

Desk Calendar

If you’re not sure that you can wait for licensed online gaming options to become operational in Michigan, then you needn’t worry. You don’t have to bide your time until 2021 to play online poker there. As it happens, there are several offshore poker platforms that currently offer their services to residents of Michigan already. You may want to check out our guide to playing real money online poker in Michigan to find a satisfying site for this pastime.

If you reside elsewhere in the United States, then you also have the ability to enjoy internet poker with any one of several providers. Consult our USA real money online poker guide for all the relevant information. And if you would like to know more about how the law impacts poker as played over the internet, don't neglect to read our legal online poker roundup.