Appetite for online gambling TBD after Michigan midterms

Will Elections Spell Doom For Michigan Online Gambling And Sports Betting?

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Compared to daily fantasy sports and sports betting, the legalization of online gambling has moved at a snail’s pace.

New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware began offering legal online gambling in 2013. Pennsylvania will join them sometime in the first half of 2019. Beyond that, there hasn’t been much progress.

Michigan online sports betting and iGaming looks to have some legs, though. It’s one of two states with active online gambling bills on file — Illinois is considering expanded online gambling as well — but action this year and beyond is beginning to look less likely.

Unresolved problems for Michigan online gambling

The Michigan House of Representatives passed an online gambling and sports betting expansion bill (H 4926) back in June. At the time, there was some hope that the Senate would take up the measure during the lame-duck session post-election.

Despite the movement earlier this year, the Michigan online gambling effort has encountered difficulties in recent months.

Michigan tribal and commercial operators remain at odds over some small-but-important details of the bill dealing with renegotiated compacts and timelines for launch. Beyond these squabbles, neither side has offered full-throated support for online gambling.

There’s also lingering uncertainty over the constitutionality of the bill and whether or not it represents an expansion of gambling. Local legal experts that spoke with GamblingCompliance (paywall) earlier this year believe it does.

According to GC’s reporting, “the main legal argument — that a public vote is necessary for internet gambling legislation to become law in Michigan — is sound and could prove persuasive in potential state court battles over online gaming policy.”

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Brandt Iden disagreed in a May interview with Online Poker Report:

“I believe the bill we will pass and the governor signs will be a bill that’s fully constitutional and will withstand a court challenge. I expect opponents of the legislation will want it to go in front of the courts as they have in other states, and they will lose as they lost in other states. Opponents have tried to discredit this issue, engaging members in those states and making a case for the bill not being constitutional, and at the end of the day they have lost that argument time and time again. I’m confident that if they try it on my bill that they will lose again.”

Iden reiterated his belief that online gambling doesn’t require a constitutional amendment at the NCLGS conference in July.

Online gambling unlikely to be a priority in 2019

The situation is even more tenuous going forward.

Expect high turnover in the House and especially the Senate, where term limits are in play. That has some pundits predicting incumbent Senators to hold just one third of all seats after the November 6 elections.

Further, in the current polarized political climate, these new lawmakers will head to Lansing with a mandate from voters. Online gambling isn’t going to be a part of that mandate. And if the legislature and governorship flip, Republican majorities would likely focus on more important policy items during the lame duck.

On a micro level, online gambling could lose a key supporter. Rep. Iden is in a tough race that is trending toward his opponent, who was endorsed by Barack Obama.

Iden has shepherded online gambling legislation through the House in 2017 and 2018. Should he be unseated, stakeholders would need to educate new lawmakers and find a new champion.

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Some positive signs, though

On the plus side, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, trails Democrat Gretchen Whitmer by nearly 10 points in Real Clear Politics polling. Schuette is an unabashed opponent of online gambling.

Online gambling could also piggyback off sports betting.

Sports betting is a far sexier topic at the moment, and at least a dozen states are likely to introduce legislation next year — including several that border Michigan. Whether or not the two issues can remain intertwined, however, remains to be seen.

- Steve covers nearly every angle of online poker in his job as a full-time freelance poker writer. His primary focus for OPR is the developing legal and legislative picture for regulated US online poker and gambling.
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