Michigan To Legalize Online Casino In 2019? Not Likely, Says Lawmaker

Posted on October 27, 2019 - Last Updated on October 25, 2019

With less than three months left in 2019, the amount of time to enact new legislation draws short. That’s especially true for a Michigan iGaming bill.

The perception, or reality, of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s lack of support for the bill stands as a substantial obstacle. The bill’s sponsor isn’t optimistic about overcoming that this year.

Rep. Brandt Iden’s latest on the Michigan iGaming bill

Rep. Brandt Iden, whom Michiganders may be familiar with for his efforts to legalize Michigan sports betting, is also the sponsor of HB 4311. That bill would add slots and table games to the legal online gambling landscape in the Wolverine State.

Although Iden’s internet gaming and sports betting bills are separate, Iden is pushing them both simultaneously. In a recent interview, he gave his outlook.

“I see these as a package of bills that all go together,” Iden said. “The internet gaming bill is just as important to me as it’s always been. I believe they go together and will continue to move them as such, but this does provide another option, in my opinion. We’ve had people on the record supporting this issue before. The support is still there. I think the votes are there in the Senate as well. Nothing has changed. We still have the votes and support we’ve always had.”

The other option Iden spoke of is his new strategy of presenting iGaming and sports betting as separate bills. Iden was behind an inclusive gambling expansion bill in 2018 that reached the desk of then-Gov. Rick Snyder but was vetoed.

While Iden is confident about support in the Legislature, going forward from there is where that confidence fades. Iden plans to hold the bills in the House Ways and Means Committee until his doubts about Whitmer’s support fade as well.

Whitmer seems unwilling to compromise on iGaming

Iden said he has had no contact with Whitmer in months since her office released its list of concerns about Iden’s bill. The lack of communication on the issue is pushing six months.

Whitmer’s issues stemmed from the tax rate and fears that iGaming would cannibalize the Michigan online lottery and physical casinos. She wants a higher tax rate and online slots to remain illegal.

Whitmer’s most recent comments on gambling indicate she’s still looking for Iden’s bills to accommodate her wishes, although she is open to discussion.

“The fiscal implication with this legislation is concerning; however, we are open to further discussion. We initially submitted suggestions to a draft bill and anticipated that we would have an opportunity to review an updated draft before the bill dropped. However, that did not happen. We continue to have revenue concerns regarding the bill’s impacts on the School Aid Fund.”

Iden said he was willing to come up on the tax rate but not to the degree Whitmer suggested. Excluding slots would run counterproductive to the bill’s purpose, however.

Compounding the problem is the recent conflict over the state’s budget that led Whitmer to use her line-item veto powers. Whitmer, a Democrat, removed almost a billion dollars’ worth of individual measures before she signed the budget passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature mere hours before a deadline.

Because of the short time left before the Legislature recesses for the year and the gulf between Iden and Whitmer, it’s unlikely residents of and visitors to the Wolverine State will see the law change regarding online slots and table games this year. Iden isn’t giving up on the matter yet, however, which could bode well for better luck early in 2020.

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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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