Proposal would legalize Michigan online poker, casinos, sports betting

Rep. Iden: Michigan Online Gambling Bill ‘Close To The Finish Line’

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With three weeks and nine sessions left in the Michigan legislative session, Rep. Brandt Iden remains hopeful that his online gambling bill will reach the governor’s desk this year.

“We’re close to the finish line,” Iden told OPR, “and it’s a top priority of mine to see it come through to the end.”

H 4926, the Lawful Internet Gaming Act, passed through the state’s House of Representatives in June, which means Iden has already done his job. No matter what hopes he has for the bill; the next steps towards real money online casinos in MI are mostly out of his hands.

All eyes on the Michigan Senate

The fate of the online gaming bill lies in the state Senate, where the situation is complicated.

Majority Floor Leader Mike Kowall is in his final weeks in office, unable to run for re-election under term limits. Kowall did compete as a Republican candidate for the US House but lost in the primary.

“Sen. Kowall is still floor leader in the Senate for the remainder of the lame duck,” Iden said. “Even though he’s not coming back to the legislature because of term limits, he’s still very supported in the Senate. He’s still an advocate for the bill, and I’ll work with him to get it to the finish line.”

If the bill doesn’t pass before this session ends, it would not only lose its champion in the Senate but fall off the books entirely. Bills do not carry over to odd years in Michigan.

“There is urgency because Sen. Kowall is leaving,” Iden said, “and because all bills die and need to be reintroduced, starting the process over.”

Sen. Meekhof in dealer’s chair

Iden indicated that whether his Michigan bill keeps moving hinges on Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof.

The bill currently sits in the Senate Committee on Government Operations, which isn’t scheduled to meet during the lame duck. That doesn’t seem to bode well for its prospects, of course. But Meekhof is chair of the committee and can call a meeting at any time if he decides to move the bill.

“Being in front of his committee is a positive,” Iden said. “Having the Senate majority leader oversee how these bills are handled is important for the legislation because getting his blessing is critical to get passage.”

Iden said he doesn’t know Meekhof’s intent with the bill, but he was involved in meeting with local gaming stakeholders earlier this year to work on internet gambling.

The Michigan legislative session ends Dec. 20.

Sports betting bill postponed

H 4926 would also permit the Michigan Gaming Control Board to establish parameters for online sports betting.

However, Iden indicated back in June that another bill focusing specifically on sports betting was needed to set the requirements for brick-and-mortar casinos interested in offering sports betting. There are also some financial and technical details to itemize, including the tax rate.

Iden was aiming to introduce that bill in the fall, but he now says it will be pushed into 2019 due to the midterm elections. The incumbent Republican barely edged his Democratic challenger to win a third term.

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Integrity fee under consideration, but …

Since he spoke at the US Sports Betting Policy Summit a couple of weeks ago, much has been made about Iden’s indication that Michigan could be the first state to approve an integrity fee, giving sports leagues a percentage the action.

However, Iden told OPR that he hasn’t yet made any determination. He’s just open to considering it:

“I did originally start from a position that there was no place for integrity fees in my mind, but since then I’ve had conversations with the leagues and I do feel there’s reason to continue discussion on the issue. That doesn’t mean there’s any determination of what a fee would be. My comment is specific to that I haven’t closed the door on integrity fees. I’m open to discussing it.”

No state’s sports betting law includes such a fee.

- Matthew began writing about legislative efforts to regulate online poker in 2007 after UIGEA interfered with his hobby of playing small-stakes online poker while working as a sportswriter at the Los Angeles Daily News. Covering the topic for Bluff Magazine, PokerNews and now Online Poker Report, he has interviewed four U.S. Congressmen and 40+ state legislators. His poker writing has been cited by The Atlantic, and Matt also has written on a variety of topics for Playboy Magazine, Men's Journal, Los Angeles magazine, LA Weekly and
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