Commercial casinos in Michigan still oppose online gambling bill considered in hearing

Michigan Online Gambling Bill Sponsor: ‘iGaming Will Become Law At Some Stage’

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A Michigan bill that would legalize online gambling surfaced quickly this week, and was the subject of a hearing in the state House on Wednesday morning.

At that hearing of the House Regulatory Reform Committee, the bill’s chief sponsor made a bold prediction.

“If I were a betting man, and I am, iGaming will become law at some stage in the state of Michigan,” Rep. Brandt Iden, the committee’s chairman, said to kick off the hearing.

Iden didn’t make a forecast about exactly when that will happen — he said it would not be a “swift” process. Smart money isn’t on it happening this year. Still, it was a heartening statement for proponents of legal online poker and casinos.

“I believe it is incumbent upon this committee and this legislature to be proactive and to protect our citizens,” Iden said. “And it will happen. So the ‘when’ is up to all of you.”

No vote was taken on the bill, H 4926, on Wednesday. An iGaming bill passed the Senate version of the committee this spring.

Casinos still not on board

Not much of substance came out of the hearing. But once again, the big players are not championing Michigan online casinos, at least not publicly.

The three commercial casinos in the state — MGM Grand Detroit, Greektown Casino and MotorCity Casino — did not appear to speak at the hearing. But all offered that they opposed the bill as introduced by Iden. MGM, at least, said they “support the concept” of online gambling presented by the bill.

The numerous tribal gaming interests in the state also didn’t show up to speak. Of the 12 tribes that operate 23 gambling facilities, only the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi said it opposed the bill as written. The tribe did say it was willing to offer “constructive feedback.”

Until the state’s casinos are brought on board in a material way, it’s difficult to see how iGaming will make it to the finish line. The issue of allowing both commercial casinos and tribal gaming to conduct online gambling remains a sticking point, despite Iden’s bill evolving the earlier Senate version on tribal issues.

Notably, Michigan online lottery sales are already legal in the state.

The tone of the Michigan online gambling hearing

The hearing was informational in nature for the members of the committee, with no vote being taken yet.

It featured many of the usual suspects that we have seen in hearings in other states (and in earlier hearings in Michigan), including representatives from the Stars Group (formerly Amaya), the Poker Players Alliance and the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling.

The tone from members on the committee who spoke or asked questions was not combative, and instead seemed focused on supporting the bill or learning more about the industry.

A common theme in online gambling discussions, Iden and others emphasized the bill as a consumer protection measure first and a revenue generator second.

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Testimony on iGaming

Former state attorney general Mike Cox appeared to support the bill before the committee.

“These bills are the product of collaboration… Collaboration primarily with the three states that are doing it well right now, Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey,” Cox said. “Thankfully for us in the state of Michigan, they’ve worked out a lot of the kinks.

“These bills are a result of talking with their regulators and using those things that work well, incorporating them for the benefit of Michigan citizens and complementary with Michigan law.”

Cox also said he believed the bill was valid under the state constitution.

Dave Murley, of the Michigan Gaming Control Board also appeared, saying his agency was neutral on the bill. He did raise a number of concerns, including constitutionality and existing state statutes and tribal issues.

- 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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