Position Of Tribes, Casinos Complicates Future Of Michigan Online Gambling

Michigan Moves Forward On Online Gambling With ‘Yes’ Vote, But The Real Fight Is Yet To Come

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A committee in the Michigan Senate approved a bill that would legalize online gambling in the state on Wednesday.

What happened for Michigan online gambling

The Senate Regulatory Reform Committee moved an iGaming bill — S 203 — to the full Senate floor by a vote of 7-1. That vote was widely expected, however.


First, the bill cleared this same hurdle in 2016. And in 2017, most of the sponsors of the bill also serve as members of the committee. So the vote was one of the most anti-climactic ones in the short history of online gambling legislation in the US.

Still, it was forward momentum for online gambling in the state. And it came quickly, as well, as Sen. Mike Kowall introduced a new series of bills dealing with iGaming just last week.

Stakeholders don’t show up for MI online gambling

The hearing in Michigan was a miniature version of the one in Pennsylvania a day earlier, albeit it much shorter and much less contentious. That was likely due to the realization this bill was moving out of committee whether anyone likes it or not.

It even featured some of the same witnesses as PA, including representatives from Amaya / PokerStars, the Poker Players Alliance, and the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling.

Where do existing Michigan casinos stand?

More telling might be who didn’t show up. While casinos and gaming interests turned out en masse in PA, they did not in Michigan.

Near the end of the hearing, committee chair Sen. Tory Rocca read cards saying where several gaming tribes and commercial casinos stood on the legislation.

The tribes in the state were almost entirely opposed to the bill, or had no comment.

Meanwhile, MGM Grand Detroit came out as “neutral.” OPR’s Dave Palermo wrote about some of the politics and concerns for the current gaming landscape in Michigan earlier this year.

It’s not clear how far this bill will go without the active support of gaming interests in the state. After all, this bill reached the full Senate a year ago, and a vote was never taken.

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Consumer protection angle takes precedence for online gambling

The narrative that online gambling regulation is actually a consumer-protection measure — in addition to providing revenue for the state — went off the rails in Pennsylvania a bit on Tuesday.

But everyone, including Kowall, was on message in Michigan on Wednesday. The idea that online gambling is going on in an unregulated environment and the state is capturing none of the revenue should be a selling point in Michigan, and indeed everywhere.

Said PPA Executive Direction John Pappas:

“Each and every day that the state goes without regulation is another day that consumers are left unprotected. Doing nothing is simply not an option – Michigan consumers and taxpayers should not have to wait for common sense protections.”

Kowall introduced the bill talking about consumer protections before ever getting into the potential for the bottom line of the state. The latter point can’t be ignored, however.

Data presented at Wednesday’s hearing shows what happened to gaming revenue in New Jersey when online gambling got into the mix:

The battle lies ahead in Michigan

Wednesday was a good day for online gambling in Michigan. But it means little if the Senate doesn’t take more action. (That’s to say nothing about the House. Also of note, a sports betting bill was heard in a House committee on Wednesday, but it did not come up for a vote.)

Will the dynamics change in Michigan so gaming interests and lawmakers alike see a path forward for online gambling? What happens this spring and summer will bear that out.

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- Dustin Gouker has been a sports journalist for more than 15 years, working as a reporter, editor and designer -- including stops at The Washington Post and the D.C. Examiner. He has played poker recreationally for his entire adult life and has written about poker since 2008.
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