Michigan Gaming Control Board Puts Bovada on Notice, but Can They Make it Stick?

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  • Citing violations of three different legal statutes, the Michigan Gaming Control Board (MGCB) issued a cease and desist notice to offshore online gambling entity Bovada.
  • Bovada.com and Bovada.lv are conduits from a gaming company located in the South Caribbean.
  • Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Maryland and Nevada have already banned the offshore book.

Give the Michigan Gaming Control Board (MGCB) some credit, they talked the talk, and now they’re trying to walk it.

Last week the MGCB formally sent a cease and desist letter (code for stop what you’re doing now) to Harp Media B.V. which operates the popular Bovada online gaming sites. The letter, dated May 29, gives the offshore sportsbook (based in Curacao) 14 days to respond.

The action is the latest in a series of moves made by the state’s gambling agency to prevent Michigan residents from using unregulated offshore sites, protecting the consumer.

“The proliferation of online gaming platforms has led to increased scrutiny from regulatory bodies worldwide, and this action serves as a stern warning to overseas companies that flouting local regulations will not be tolerated,” MGCB Executive Director Henry Williams said in a press release.

Breaking The Law

The rationale behind banning offshore iGaming sites and sportsbooks is because they aren’t subject to the same Michigan and federal laws regulating odds and payouts. It’s also about money, since Michigan residents don’t gain the rewards of taxable revenue from offshore operators.

The MGCB said that Bovada and its subsidiaries are breaking three Michigan laws on the books, and detailed each one.

Lawful Internet Gaming Act: Basically, reads that only the MGCB can license internet gaming operators, and only federally-recognized tribal casinos in Michigan have the right to apply for a license.

Michigan Gaming Control and Revenue Act: This prohibits an entity from conducting a gambling operation without an MGCB licenses and lays out the punishments for doing so as 10 years in prison or a $100,000 fine or both.

Michigan Penal Code: Which prohibits gambling in the form of games of chance giving prizes.

What’s The Next Move?

Typically in situations like this, Bovada will reset it’s geolocation filters to block any Michigan resident from being able to access its sites. This is the way Bovada can comply, but it’s not clear what they do with Michigan residents already with Bovada accounts.

The 14-day period may be in place to give those players a chance to remove their funds.

However, it must be pointed out that there is a technological workaround to all of this, which is downloading a VPN for your private use and connecting to a server in a state where Bovada is still active. While the MGCB has good intentions, it knows there will be people still using Bovada to bet. Fining Bovada $100,000 is a drop in the bucket and fingering an individual to go to jail for 10 years would be difficult.

MGCB On the Case

Many state gambling associations have paid lip service to taking down offshore operators, but nothing more than that. Michigan continues to try.

“The MGCB remains steadfast in its commitment to upholding Michigan’s laws and regulations and will continue to actively monitor and enforce compliance within the state to ensure a fair and secure gaming environment for all,” said Williams.

The American Gambling Association has been leading the charge to fight against unregulated online casinos for years and has even sought help from the U.S. Department of Justice. Locally, the MGCB sent letters to 64 businesses in 2023 within the state demanding they shutter any illegal gambling machines. 167 machines were removed with 79 seized.

Born and raised in Louisiana, Darren Cooper has a fond appreciation for bayous, Mardi Gras beads and the sports betting industry. Darren has worked for multiple print and online publications since 1998, primarily as a sports columnist in the Northeast. He’s covered a Super Bowl (it was a blowout), the World Series (same) and the NBA Draft (man, those guys are tall). For the last few years he’s dug deep into the sports gambling industry as it exploded across America, learning how the legal sausage is made and how while all the sportsbooks look the same, they all have different identities and styles. He’s learned to always bet within his means -- and take the under. When not in front of his computer creating, Darren spends time with his three boys. He runs, reads and is always looking for the next big thing to write about.