Possible Michigan Government Shutdown Threatens Gambling Expansion Delay

Posted on August 30, 2019

Earlier this year, Michigan Rep. Brandt Iden expressed that he wants a set of Michigan gambling expansion bills approved by Super Bowl Sunday 2020. That was ambitious at the time, but in light of a possible Michigan government shutdown, it now looks overly optimistic.

A looming deadline to pass a budget framework and several obstacles to doing so may put Lansing out of commission. That would mean an indefinite delay to Iden’s bills.

Why there’s a threat of a Michigan government shutdown

The Michigan Senate has begun its fall 2019 session. The state House will do so next week. There is one huge item on the agenda in both chambers.

That item is the state’s $60 billion budget. Michigan’s Republican legislative leadership and the state’s Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer have much to discuss.

Both chambers have already passed their own budget bills, but the two bills have to be reconciled with each other. Then there’s the issue of getting Whitmer to approve a final package.

Whitmer is at odds with legislators over funding for education and roads projects. The state government won’t spend much time, if any, on anything else but the budget until one is in place.

The deadline for doing so is Oct. 1. If a budget isn’t in place by then, the first shutdown of the state government in a decade is likely.

That would mean a significant delay for online gambling and online sports betting in Michigan.

How a government shutdown would affect gambling expansion

The fact that no other bills are likely to be taken up by either chamber until a budget bill is passed already puts a damper on the situation. That’s the best-case scenario.

If Oct. 1 comes and goes without a budget deal, there’s no telling how long it could be before Whitmer and legislators would get to the gambling expansion bills. Whitmer and Iden have already displayed some distance between themselves on the matter.

In separate interviews, Iden and Whitmer have laid out their positions and indirectly responded to each other through the media. The main issue for Whitmer is how online gambling and sports betting in Michigan could detract from the state lottery.

For Whitmer, that means fewer dollars going to public education. Iden insists he is flexible on the financials, but regardless there has been no meaningful activity on the issue.

Now both parties are focused on the budget. That could be the situation long past Oct. 1 and even through Super Bowl Sunday.

An optimistic appraisal of the situation would have a budget deal getting done quickly. That would free the state government to attend to other matters, like gambling expansion.

Even if the budget deadline is met, there are perhaps more pressing matters at hand like criminal justice reform and drinking water initiatives. Gambling expansion may stay on the back burner until those matters have been addressed.

Online gambling and sports betting in the Wolverine State by the first Sunday in February seem impossibly ambitious. The current ambition is a budget deal, and until that happens, the state government won’t address anything else.

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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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