Michigan Has A New Online Gambling Bill, But Support Remains Elusive

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michigan gambling bill

Michigan lawmakers are hoping reworked language in an online gambling bill, introduced by Rep. Brandt Iden last week, will be enough to push the issue across the finish line.

If Michigan was to legalize online gambling, it would become the first state with legal online lottery and online casino and poker games.

Bill’s introduction followed by a hearing

The bill was introduced on Tuesday, and a hearing in the House Regulatory Reform Committee, chaired by Iden, was held Wednesday.

The hearing was informational in nature, and no vote took place.

Iden kicked off the hearing by expressing that online gambling is inevitable and his belief that Michigan should be proactive in its approach.

“If I were a betting man, and I am,” the Regulatory Reform Chair began, “iGaming will become law at some stage in the state of Michigan.”

According to Iden, the impetus for the bill is to provide better consumer protections and offer a legal, regulated alternative to the illegal, offshore sites. In doing so, the state of Michigan would also benefit financially.

However, Iden also cautioned the process would take some time, telling his fellow committee members, “The ‘when’ is up to all of you.”

Speaking in favor of the bill during the hearing were:

  • representatives of The Stars Group, including the company’s responsible gaming manager, Jeanne David. Her testimony was apropos to the consumer protection angle of the hearing. Stars has been a mainstay at Michigan hearings and seems to be leading the lobbying efforts in Michigan.
  • John Pappas, the executive director of the Poker Players Alliance. Pappas used his time to refute claims made by the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling’s witness.
  • former Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox. Cox told the committee he believed the bill was lawful under the state’s constitution.
  • Dave Murley of the Michigan Gaming Control Board. Murley expressed no doubt the Control Board could regulate online gambling but did outline several potential legal problems with the bill as written.

Speaking against the bill was former Nebraska Assistant Attorney General David Cookson, who is becoming a regular talking head for the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling. Cookson’s fire-and-brimstone testimony didn’t seem to have any impact on the proceedings, particularly when he was unable or unwilling to answer Rep. Iden’s simple question: “Who funds CSIG?”

The 800-pound gorilla

State Sen. Mike Kowall has introduced similar legislation this year and last, and Rep. Iden’s bill pulls largely from the framework Kowall crafted.

Iden’s bill differs from Kowall’s in that it doesn’t call on Michigan Native American tribes to give up any part of their tribal sovereignty. Instead, the Iden bill requires tribes interested in online gambling to amend their existing contract, or create a new compact with the state if one doesn’t currently exist.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like Iden’s reworked language is going to get the job done. The bill has turned the commercial casinos from neural to opposed and hasn’t brought any tribes on board.

Michigan’s three commercial casinos — MGM Grand Detroit, Greektown Casino, and MotorCity Casino — submitted written testimony opposing the legislation as written. The one positive may be MGM’s caveat that it “supports the concept” of the legislation.

Only one of Michigan’s 12 gaming tribes offered a written opinion, and like the commercial casinos, the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi said it opposed the bill as written.

Steve Ruddock

About

Steve Ruddock is a veteran of the poker and online gambling media. A contributor to OnlinePokerReport.com, PlayNJ.com, USA Today, and a variety of other industry publications both online and off, Steve is based in Massachusetts.