Gretchen Whitmer Is Back At The Negotiating Table On Gambling Expansion

Posted on November 15, 2019

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has taken a seat at the table. Now Michiganders will see how long she stays and what cards she plays.

It’s a net positive for those hoping to see the Wolverine State legalize sports betting and/or iGaming. How much of a win it proves to be is up in the air still, however.

Why it’s important for the Michigan governor to be involved

As bills to legalize both iGaming and sports betting sit in the Michigan Senate, the support or lack thereof from Whitmer is likely key to how the Senate decides to move forward. The Legislature doesn’t want a repeat of January.

In January, the Legislature passed a gambling expansion bill that would have made both forms of gaming legal. It was vetoed, however, by then-Gov. Rick Snyder.

To avoid another instance of the same, the Senate welcomes Whitmer’s feedback now. Until senators like Curtis Hertel Jr. are confident that Whitmer will sign both/either bill(s), they likely won’t hold a vote on them.

Whitmer seems more ready to accept the sports betting bill than the iGaming bill. That’s a big reason why the House passed them separately.

Whitmer’s concerns on both bills have dealt with financial aspects. Her office has recommended higher license fees and tax rates for both forms of gaming than what the Legislature has placed in the bills.

The Senate might need to change those figures in order to placate her. The tax rates currently sit at 8.75% for tribal and 12% for commercial casinos.

The current bills also demand $100,000 for a gaming license and $50,000 to renew that license annually. Whitmer stated she wanted to see 15% for tribal casinos, 18.25% for commercial casinos, $1 million to acquire a license and $500,000 to renew it.

If the Senate makes adjustments to comply with Whitmer’s wishes, the bill(s) would have to return to the Michigan House of Representatives for another vote. It’s likely that would be a formality, however, as House figures are informed in the ongoing negotiations as well.

Because everyone is now at the table, Hertel is optimistic about the eventual success of the process. If he gets his wish, everything could happen quickly.

Updated potential timeline on gambling expansion

Hertel says he would like to see the bills proceed out of the Senate to Whitmer’s desk this week before the Legislature breaks for Thanksgiving. He does acknowledge, however, that next month may be more realistic.

Either way, converting the bills into law before the calendar turns over to the new year is his goal.

“We’re making progress,” Hertel said. “We’re going to make sure these bills get done, signed and that people have access to all this by the beginning of next year. Our goal is certainly to have sports betting before the Super Bowl, not that the Lions will be in it.”

Even if the law is in place before New Year’s Day, that doesn’t mean the first legal bets could be placed in Michigan by Super Bowl Sunday. The state’s gaming control board may need more time than that to draft regulations, process license applications and ensure compliance.

Talks between Whitmer and legislators over the next few weeks will determine whether the board takes up those tasks. The fact that Whitmer is part of the negotiations now is a good sign for the bills’ chances.

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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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