Michigan Government Shutdown Averted But Gambling Expansion Still Uncertain

Posted on October 15, 2019 - Last Updated on October 25, 2019

Fears that the Wolverine State’s government would shut down have been stilled. The question of when gambling expansion could happen persists even though a Michigan budget deal was reached.

In an 11th hour decision, Michigan’s Legislature presented Gov. Gretchen Whitmer with a plan to fund Lansing for the next year. Although she line-vetoed almost a billion dollars’ worth of items in the budget, Whitmer ultimately gave the bill her signature last month.

What that means for the timeline of gambling expansion depends on perspective. The situation is still very fluid.

Why the Michigan budget deal was so important

Simply put, Lansing hasn’t been working on anything else since the fall legislative session began. If a budget wasn’t in place, almost all activity would have come to a standstill.

That would have included the state lottery. Even though the state government avoided a shutdown, the weeks spent negotiating the deal still demanded all of its attention.

That kept other matters, like gambling expansion, on the back burner. That has already resulted in a delay in comparison to the potential timeline for gambling expansion if a budget deal had been reached sooner.

With the budget mostly in the rearview mirror now, the legislature is free to look to other matters. Whether that will include gambling expansion — and if so when — is up in the air, however.

Rep. Brandt Iden has been the strongest proponent for gambling expansion over the past few years. If his resolve stays true, action on his proposals could happen soon.

What Iden is proposing for Michigan gambling expansion

While a lot of focus has gone to Iden’s previous bills to legalize sports betting in Michigan, that’s not all Iden has his sights set on. Iden would ideally like to bring online slots and table games to the Wolverine State as well, although this particular bill contains no language addressing that.

Iden has already introduced HB4916 to the House Regulatory Reform Committee. Currently, no action is scheduled on the bill.

It’s likely discussion and a vote will eventually take place in that committee, however. If it passes through the committee, the full House will eventually vote on it.

Even if the House approves Iden’s bill or a similar version of it, that could be just the beginning of the challenges. No members of the Michigan Senate have introduced a companion bill yet.

During the last term, a similar bill to legalize sports betting never reached the Governor’s desk. Iden is confident he has the votes in the legislature but is hesitant about his bill being vetoed, as it was in January by former Gov. Rick Snyder.

Further doubt exists about the level of support Whitmer may have about the bill. Last year Whitmer opposed Iden’s bill because of the tax structure. Iden and Whitmer may still be far off on that front, as the bill calls for an 8% tax rate and Whitmer has stated she wants a 15% tax.

The good news is that now that the budget crisis is over, negotiations on gambling expansion can begin. How quickly that will happen is uncertain.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Kansas City, Mo. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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