Political Climate In Lansing Will Continue To Impact Casinos

Posted on May 1, 2020

After another day of unrest at the Michigan Capitol on Thursday, it’s not a bad instinct to tune out state government in these turbulent times.

Lansing has long lost any sense of harmony, but contemporary political fractures have brought a tinge of toxicity that’s unique to these times.

Armed protestors storming the Capitol stole the headlines this week, but Gov. Gretchen Whitmer made news as well, extending the state’s stay-at-home order through May 28.

The newest order specifically prohibited Detroit’s three casinos and the state’s one horse racing track from opening.

As with most things political these days, it did not come without opposition.

Anti-Whitmer rallies staged again in Lansing

For the second time, protestors of Whitmer’s orders took to Lansing on Thursday, this time actually going inside the legislative chamber with guns.

President Donald Trump sided with the demonstrators in a tweet on Friday morning, calling them “very good people” and encouraging Whitmer to negotiate with them.

State Republicans, who hold majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives, have adopted resolutions for a lawsuit against Whitmer to challenge her executive powers.

Cooperation level currently very low

Depressing as it sounds, Michiganians should buckle up for more unrest this year, especially as Whitmer gains steam as a national political figure.

Steve Brubaker, president of Brubaker Public Relations, warned the gridlock will continue for most things, including Michigan sports betting.

“Legislatures are political animals,” Brubaker said Thursday at the SBC Digital Summit. “Those Republicans that control that chamber are unlikely to give much of anything in new revenue streams to the Democratic governor because they kind of want this issue for November.”

Whitmer is not the one up for re-election this November. That’s not until 2022.

But Trump and many state Republicans are, which brings us to the gaming industry.

Impacts on casino industry across state

In December, Whitmer and Republicans came together on expanded gambling laws to add sports betting and online gaming.

Retail sports betting came in March but the regulatory process is holding up the launch of iGaming and online sports betting until early 2021.

Republicans, such as House Speaker Lee Chatfield of Levering, have been on the forefront of a push to expedite the process, lobbying the governor to use emergency rules.

“It appears that there’s some momentum for online to open sooner than had been previously anticipated,” said Joe Asher, CEO of William Hill US, at the SBC summit.

So far the governor has not instituted the rules, and it’s unclear how much, or if, they could speed up the process.

Gaming negotiations hard sell in this environment

Online gaming might seem like a trite topic for the times but the fact is the revenue could help the state during the COVID-19 crisis.

April came and went without a single bet placed in a Michigan casino. Detroit’s trio of casinos netted the state $10.1 million in revenue in April 2019. More could have been reasonably expected with retail sports betting added to the gambling menu.

Still, online gambling is just one of many issues to plow through for state politicians who can’t seem to agree on anything.

For instance, the website for the state’s unemployment agency is causing issues for the more than 1 million people who have filed, and the bureau is delayed in handling claims.

“Legislators are looking at COVID as the most important thing for their constituents,” Brubaker said. “After the COVID crisis is over, I am wondering if any other type of legislation besides that gets completed for the rest of the session.”

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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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