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Michigan Rep. Brandt Iden explained to Online Poker Report that there really only is one point of contention keeping Indian gaming tribes from supporting his bill to legalize online gambling and sports betting in the state. The problem is he’s not sure what he can do about it.
According to Iden, the tribes are opposed to Section 16 of his bill H 4926, which would authorize online poker and casino gaming along with sports betting in Michigan. This section essentially states that if, for whatever reason, federal law changes to prohibit tribes from offering online gambling that occurs outside their Indian reservation, the commercial casinos in the state would be allowed to continue to operate their internet gambling operations unaffected by the decision.
Iden noted that the section is commonly referred to as the “poison pill.”
“What tribes want is that if the federal government says they are not allowed, the commercial casinos cease from online gaming as well,” Iden said.
Iden agrees that this is a potential area of legal concern, but he thinks the possibility of the federal government taking such action is very slim and contends that he doesn’t have much authority over the matter.
Indian tribes are sovereign nations under federal law that don’t answer to the state legislature. The governor negotiates state compacts with each individual tribe.
“The reality of it is, there isn’t a lot I can put in there to ease that concern,” Iden said. “There isn’t a statute I can put in place to resolve your problem if you’re a sovereign nation that answers to the federal government.”
Iden put Section 16 in the bill at the request of the three commercial casinos located in the Detroit area to get their support of the legislation. They don’t want to invest money into the startup costs of offering online gambling only to be told they have to stop because of a decision that doesn’t involve them.
However, Iden offered that he does understand the tribal concerns of wanting to be treated equitably and that he’s working on softening the language in Section 16.
“We’ve come 90 percent of the way with the tribes on this legislation,” Iden said. “I don’t know if we’re going to be able to get them the rest of the way there, but in the end we’re going to have online gaming in the state of Michigan, and I believe all parties will be able to take part in that. At the end of the day, it will be a win-win for Michigan and our casinos, both corporate and tribal.”
Iden had hoped to get his bill passed at the beginning of this month, but found out that his House colleagues weren’t ready to move on the issue, particularly ones with tribal casinos in their districts.
However, he attested that interest in the bill picked up following the US Supreme Court‘s decision to strike down the federal law that had been preventing Michigan from offering sports betting.
“We’ve got a little wind at our backs now with the decision,” Iden said. “I knew it was coming, but it came a little sooner than anticipated, which is good. It definitely added to the conversation. A lot of colleagues have been asking really good questions about the bill. I think it can only help us get this up for a vote and out of the House.”
Iden still hopes to get a vote on the MI online casino bill before the legislature breaks for the summer on June 21, though the Michigan legislature does return to run through the end of the year. If the bill did pass, it would still need to go through the Senate side.
“I have a great partner in Sen. [Mike] Kowall, and we’re going to work to make sure it becomes law before the end of the year,” Iden said.
Iden has heard the calls from the NFL and NCAA for federal legislation on sports betting, but he’s not sure it will be a priority for Congress.
“With how long it takes the feds to do anything, I’m not sure they’ll have anything in place by the time states start the process and are out to the races,” Iden said. “If that’s the case, we’ll have conflicting legislation again. This decision is best left up to the states, the way gaming always has been. The leagues are just going to have to work with states individually, those who choose to participate.”
Iden indicated that he has had initial conversations with representatives from the pro leagues to set up a conference call to discuss his sports betting bill.
“I know the leagues are being active in every state, and they want to have conversations about an integrity fee or something similar,” Iden said. “One percent at the book I think would be tough because we want to make sure it’s profitable for our casinos to do this and give individuals placing the wagers reason to do so in Michigan, but I want to have those conversations and see what options are out there. Having the leagues as partners in this is helpful.”
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