In more ways than one, Bryan Newland did a lot to help the Bay Mills Indian Community. The longtime tribal leader earned accolades for his efforts to aid online gambling in Michigan.
Newland announced last week that Friday was his last day as tribal chairperson. On Monday, the longtime tribal leader announced he was joining the US Department of the Interior.
Newland will serve as principal deputy assistant secretary for Indian Affairs undersecretary nominee Deb Haaland.
Brenda Bjork was sworn in as acting chairperson for Bay Mills on Friday. There will soon be a special election for the permanent seat.
Bryan Newland instrumental in wooing DraftKings
For a small Upper Peninsula tribe, the Bay Mills Indian Community set big targets with Newland’s help.
Even before Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed expanded gambling legislation in December 2019, gambling operators were looking for dance partners in the state.
Michigan’s 12 federally recognized tribes and three Detroit casinos had the power to grant market access for the industry’s biggest brands.
Bay Mills, an eastern U.P. community with a population of about 2,000, went after the biggest name: DraftKings.
“We said, ‘Let’s go hunting,’” Newland said in a summer interview. “We said, ‘Let’s go out and bag the biggest and best partner that we can who will fit our culture. That’s what we did.”
As expected, DraftKings Michigan was among the leaders in the first 10 days of online gambling in Michigan — second in online sports betting handle and second in internet gaming.
Creating more revenue for the tribe will help the community recover from economic hits brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. So, in the same way, Newland and the BMIC became the state’s first tribe to open a marijuana business. Northern Lights Cannabis Company opened near Sault Ste. Marie.
Newland touted those accomplishments, among others, in his resignation announcement on Friday.
“Elected leaders will come and go,” Newland wrote. “But our people will always be capable of doing amazing things on behalf of ourselves. As I leave, my hope is that we have inspired one another to believe this to be true. I hope that we never settle for less, and that we ask our leaders to empower us to do incredible things.”
Online gambling law didn’t come easy for Michigan
Newland talked about some of the main considerations they faced during years of a tug-of-war that involved state legislators and executives, gambling operators and lobbyists, and tribal leaders.
While there are many reasons for tribes across the country to keep their states out of the online gambling market, last summer Newland detailed some of the Michigan-specific reasons to get the state’s tribes in the mix:
- The Michigan Lottery online offerings were already cutting into the gambling market anyways.
- Rural locations of tribal casinos kept them at an uneven playing field with commercial brick-and-mortar counterparts; online gambling doesn’t have that disadvantage
- The 15 casino operators made for an appropriate number of licenses that made sure a tribe like Bay Mills could snag a deal with a company like DraftKings
The eventual deal was a commercial one and outside of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which has uncertainty about whether a bet can originate outside of reservation land.
Because of this, the online gaming deal is separate from other gaming agreements. This allows regulatory bodies to intervene in the online gaming component but maintains tribal sovereignty for the rest of the gaming business.
Newland to return to familiar Indian Affairs job
Haaland, whose confirmation hearings started on Tuesday, would be the first Native American cabinet secretary. President Joe Biden nominated the New Mexico congresswoman last month.
The Department of the Interior announced Newland’s appointment on Monday, along with three others.
Newland is a citizen of the Bay Mills Indian Community and graduated from Michigan State and the Michigan State University College of Law.
Previous to becoming tribal chairperson, Newland served as a counselor and policy advisor to the assistant secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs during the first Barack Obama term.
Newland then came home as chief judge of the Bay Mills Tribal Court. He was elected as tribal chairperson in November 2017.
Major Michigan players in gambling expansion move on
Newland isn’t the only major player in the expansion of Michigan online gambling who has recently moved on.
Brandt Iden, the Republican state representative who pushed legislation for many years until the 2019 passage, has moved on to a job within the industry.
The term-limited legislator is now head of government affairs at Sportradar. Iden will work the other side of the table as states look to follow Michigan’s model for expanded gambling.
Years of work from many of the state’s top gambling decision-makers began to pay dividends last month.
Now some of those figures are off to what’s next.