Email: Michigan Governor Standing Firm Against Emergency Rules For iGaming, Online Sports Betting

Posted on May 7, 2020

Despite growing pressure, an email Wednesday from the office of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer indicates she is not planning to use emergency rules to speed up the process for iGaming and online sports betting, PlayMichigan has learned.

Jasmine Tompkins, Whitmer’s deputy director of legislative affairs, said in an email to stakeholders that the current situation does not satisfy the requirements for emergency rule-making.

The email comes as the state and other public entities are losing millions in casino revenue with the facilities closed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

States that have iGaming and online sports betting, meanwhile, have been able to recoup some lost revenue for the struggling industry.

Without emergency rules, mobile sports betting and online casinos are on track for an early 2021 launch, according to past statements from the Michigan Gaming Control Board.

Michigan is one of the hardest-hit states from COVID-19, as the state’s death toll passed 4,300 on Thursday.

Email to stakeholders delivers non-update

Tompkins shared the news with stakeholders about the stance of the governor’s office.

“We’ve considered all submitted statements in favor of emergency rules and unfortunately we have concluded that the circumstances are not likely to satisfy the requirements for emergency rulemaking under the Administrative Procedures Act of 1969,” the email read.

“We will proceed with the ordinary rulemaking with the draft rules you have received, but with an effort to complete the process without delay and as swiftly as possible, while complying with all applicable steps and time periods mandated for the process.”

The state’s gaming control board would need to act on emergency rules along with Whitmer, and board spokeswoman Mary Kay Bean has said the rules are reserved for “rare occasions” where there is a “threat to healthy, safety and welfare,” according to The Detroit News.

Political battles raging in Lansing

Things have been ugly in Lansing over the past month.

Two separate anti-Whitmer protests, including one featuring armed civilians inside the State Capitol, have been staged in response to her executive orders to keep many residents at home in response to the pandemic.

On Wednesday, Republican legislators unveiled a lawsuit against Whitmer, a Democrat, challenging her authority.

This comes as Whitmer’s latest executive order keeps Detroit’s three casinos closed, among many other Michigan businesses, through May 28.

Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield and Brandt Iden, the lead sponsor of the bills Whitmer signed into law in December to expand gambling in Michigan, are among the Republicans pushing for emergency rules to be used for online gambling.

COVID-19 has been costly to casinos, state

Every Michigan casino, including tribal facilities not beholden to Whitmer’s orders, has been closed since March 22.

From the closure of Detroit’s three casinos alone, the state missed out on about $10 million in revenue in April. The city of Detroit lost a few million more, while Native American tribes, local governments across the state, and casino operators are also losing money by the day.

Mayor Mike Duggan painted a grim picture this week about what the rest of the year might look like for Detroit’s casinos. The mayor said Greektown Casino-Hotel, MGM Grand Detroit and MotorCity Casino might not fully reopen until there is a COVID-19 vaccine, and that even partial reopening could be a month or two away.

West Virginia using emergency rules for iGaming

Meanwhile, there is precedence across the country for Whitmer to use emergency rules for online gaming.

The West Virginia Lottery Commission approved a set of emergency rules on April 29 to be sent to the Secretary of State to push iGaming regulations through the process.

There, interim licenses could be granted for a period of 270 days while permanent regulations are finalized.

Business as usual means likely launch in early 2021

Meanwhile, the state’s gaming control board has sent draft rules to stakeholders, seeking responses this month.

The drafts include 63 pages of internet gaming rules and 71 pages of internet sports betting rules.

In a letter to prospective sports betting and internet gaming operators, the deputy director of the gaming control board encouraged operators to gather materials for licensing, including tax returns and other financial statements.

“Providing this information to the MGCB as soon as practicable will help facilitate an efficient licensing process,” Kurt Steinkamp wrote.

Some states mitigating losses with online gambling

States such as Indiana and New Jersey are losing less from casino closures because of their online gaming.

In Pennsylvania, March was the best month ever for online casinos, as the state’s brick and mortar casinos all closed. Total revenue for the online casinos reached $24.3 million.

Operators like FanDuel, DraftKings and BetMGM are still offering online sports betting during the pandemic, with sports like Russian table tennis, Korean baseball taking center stage, along with heavy handles on the recent NFL Draft.

Meanwhile, Colorado actually opened its online sports betting presence last week despite the pandemic, as four apps went live.

Matt Schoch Avatar
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Matt Schoch

A Michigan native, Matt has worked at newspapers in Michigan, Missouri and the Virgin Islands. A versatile sports reporter, Matt has covered sailing on the Great Lakes, cricket in the Caribbean, high school and pro playoffs, and the Olympics in Rio. He's also the host of the Locked On Pistons Podcast and producer of a documentary on Emoni Bates. A former blackjack dealer, Matt has studied the industry from all sides.

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