It has been a bit of a roller coaster ride when it comes to online gaming and mobile sports betting in Michigan. Now, the ride is about to get a bit bumpier.
The mid-term elections are less than a month away. Term limits guarantee a significant turnover in both the Senate and House of Representatives. More concerning, though, is that one of online gambling’s most ardent supporters in the Wolverine State, Rep. Brandt Iden, a Republican, is in a heated race to keep his seat in the House.
Michigan online gambling and sports betting legislation
Soon after the US Supreme Court found PASPA unconstitutional, it appeared Michigan online gaming legislation was gaining some momentum.
Iden was confident he had the votes to pass H 4926, the legislation that would legalize online gambling and sports betting. Needless to say, he didn’t.
Even so, Iden was still optimistic about passing a bill before the House adjourned for the summer.
Just before the House went on summer vacation, it passed the Lawful Internet Gaming Act by a vote of 68-40. Unfortunately, the language about sports betting in the bill is vague and would require additional legislation.
At the time, Iden commented on the bill’s passage.
“People in Michigan are already gambling over the internet, but they are doing so at risky and illegal websites. The Michigan websites will have strict state oversight, unlike the illegal and unregulated sites our resident use now, at great risk to their finances and personal information.”
The bill is now in the Senate’s hands, where it has a friend in State Sen. Mike Kowall, but a tougher road to passage.
The midterm elections stand to change things
The 2018 midterm elections are contentious both in Michigan and throughout the country. Recently, the Detroit Free Press predicted a record turnout this November, which experts assume bodes well for Democrats.
It is unlikely there will be a push towards controversial online gaming legislation while legislators are busy trying to keep their jobs. Initially, there was hope the Senate would take up the Lawful Internet Gaming Act during the lame-duck session. Currently, all is quiet on that front.
Iden, on the other hand, committed to introducing legislation specific to sports betting this fall. There are two challenges ahead: the midterms and the casinos.
Iden is facing a formidable challenger in his Democratic opponent, Alberta Griffin, who recently earned the endorsement of former President Barack Obama.
Should the “blue wave” hit Michigan, the future of legal sports betting and online gambling in Michigan becomes questionable at best.
The tribal and commercial casinos are at odds
Even if everything goes online gaming’s way in November, legal sports betting still has a fight on its hands.
Iden has had trouble getting the commercial and Indian casinos to see eye-to-eye on a particular part of the legislation. Iden included language allowing the commercial casinos to operate even if federal regulations prevent tribal casinos from doing so.
Indian tribes are considered sovereign nations and do not fall under the jurisdiction of the state. He included the language to get the commercial casinos’ support for the bill. At the same time, he lost the tribal casinos–who want all online gaming to halt if they can’t offer it.
Iden calls this the “poison pill.”
“The reality of it is, there isn’t a lot I can put in there to ease that concern. There isn’t a statute I can put in place to resolve your problem if you’re a sovereign nation that answers to the federal government.
“We’ve come 90 percent of the way with the tribes on this legislation. I don’t know if we’re going to be able to get them the rest of the way there, but in the end, we’re going to have online gaming in the state of Michigan, and I believe all parties will be able to take part in that. At the end of the day, it will be a win-win for Michigan and our casinos, both corporate and tribal.”
Iden was trying to find a compromise before the summer break but was unsuccessful.
Now, he is busy campaigning to keep his seat. Online gambling and sports betting are taking a back seat to chicken dinners on the campaign trail, at least for the next few weeks.
Then, the voters will have their say, and a new legislative agenda will begin to emerge. Whether online sports betting and gambling is on it is anybody’s guess.