Last week there was a lot of excitement around a possible online gaming legislation vote in the Michigan House of Representatives.
The excitement was premature.
After making changes to H 4926 to garner support for passage, Michigan Rep. Brandt Iden thought he had the votes. He was wrong.
“I got it on the agenda and got the opportunity to bring it up to colleagues, and a lot of questions came out of it,” Iden stated . “If they didn’t sit through the committee process and haven’t dealt with this issue, it can be complicated. So I’m working through the members’ questions.”
Online gaming bill still possible this year
Iden is now working gathering support for the bill before the legislature’s summer break.
“I don’t want anyone to feel rush or pressured,” Iden said. “I want to make sure they have all the info they need and are comfortable with the constitutionality of it going forward. The goal is still to get this on the governor’s desk this year.”
Putting a bill on the governor’s desk by the end of the year may be a challenge. Mainly because of the timing.
The legislature goes on break on June 21. It returns to work on Sept. 5. If the bill passes the house before the break, that only leaves three months to get it through the Senate.
Every Michigan house seat is up for election this year, as they are every two years. Passing a controversial gaming bill might not be a priority for many of Michigan’s legislators heading into a contentious midterm election season.
Tribal support and constitutionality remain questionable
Iden mentioned he is busy addressing questions from his colleagues. Those questions are primarily about existing tribal compacts and the constitutionality of the gaming bill without a constitutional amendment.
Representatives with the tribal casinos haven’t voiced their support or their opposition to the gaming bill. Tribal and commercial casinos interests are often at odds. Just look at California, for example.
A positive vote from a legislator with a tribal casino in its district will likely only come with the tribe’s approval. Iden proposes the tribes request a renegotiation to their compact with the governor to include online gaming.
“I believe that adding internet gaming as a platform for the tribes has to be renegotiated through their compact. I think the best way to do it is to ensure the state negotiates with each tribe independently, making sure we address their specific issues.”
The constitutionality of online gaming stems from the question of whether online gambling is an expansion of gaming or regulation of current activity. House Speaker, Tom Leonard is not convinced that regulating the activity would bypass the need for an amendment.
“One of the things I’m trying to address is that the legislation is constitutional, that it merely regulates what is going on in the black market currently,” Iden said. “Once I get them comfortable with that, the Speaker included, I think things will certainly be easier.”
One month left until summer vacation
Iden has just over one month before the summer break to convince his colleagues of the constitutionality of the bill. If (and it’s a big if), he can do that, the legislation has a chance.
“I believe the bill we pass and the governor signs will be a bill that’s fully constitutional and would withstand a court challenge.”
Once representatives agree on the issue of constitutionality, a lower tax rate might convince the tribes. Lowering the tax rate from 15 percent to eight in the new draft might be enough to bring the tribal casinos on board and earn their support.
“We worked with both tribal and commercial casino partners to make sure the tax rate is acceptable to everyone,” Iden said. “It’s a big component of the new draft and one of the big pieces we had to work through.”
There are still a lot of questions and only a limited amount of time to address them all. Iden has his work cut out for him. The good news is he appears committed to the cause.