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Michigan Rep. Brandt Iden, sponsor of the internet gambling bills vetoed by Gov. Rick Snyder on Friday, called the vetoes a ploy to monopolize the money coming into the lottery for the state in a phone interview with Online Poker Report.
Just when it seemed like Michigan had completed a four-year journey to legalize internet gambling, and set up the possibility of online sports betting, Snyder, who will not be returning as governor as he is being termed out of office, pushed the inevitable back at least a year.
“The veto pen came out for my entire gaming package, which is incredibly disappointing,” Iden said. “We had no idea this was coming. We had all the stakeholders supportive of the package and we had alleviated any concerns, so this is a very surprising outcome.”
Iden said the reasons provided by the governor’s office for the veto included concerns about the potential revenue impact of internet gaming, specifically that it would pull money from the state-run lottery, and a general expansion of gambling.
Neither were valid reasons according to Iden, who said he plans to reintroduce the online gambling bills when Michigan begins the 2019 legislative session in January, in addition to his previous plan of introducing a bill to set up the framework for legal sports betting.
Iden said his understanding is that the main reason for the veto was to protect the revenue of Michigan’s state-run lottery, a portion of which supports Michigan’s public school system.
“I think it’s unfair because you’re taking a state entity like the lottery and trying to compare it to the free-market system of other online gaming platforms,” Iden said.
Iden pointed out that New Jersey lottery revenue has increased with the presence of internet gaming. However, there is also the Michigan online lottery, and there are no states with a history of online lottery and iGaming to chart any impact.
Iden called the veto a “ploy to monopolize money coming into the lottery,” which he takes exception to as a free-market Republican.
“If your problem is a concern for the lottery, you’re never going to be comfortable with an iGaming bill because it impedes on the state’s monopoly on the lottery,” Iden said. “That’s not a free-market approach.”
In response to the governor’s concern about iGaming being an expansion of gambling, stressing the ease of access to play online from one’s own home, Iden said it’s always been his position that it is not an expansion.
“With 23 tribal casinos across the state plus commercial casinos,” anyone can gamble in Michigan at any time,” Iden said. “This is a new platform for folks to play on.”
Iden also pointed out that, if the governor were truly concerned about the expansion of gambling to the internet, he wouldn’t have approved of the lottery moving online in 2014.
Iden stated that he will reintroduce the online gambling bills in 2019 while continuing to work on a statutory framework for sports betting. He noted that iGaming is in a good position with all the stakeholders – Indian tribes, commercial casinos, the horse racing industry and the City of Detroit – on board at this time.
“We’ve got great legislation, good bills that I worked on and vetted for two years,” Iden said. “We have a bill that folks agree on, that everyone feels they have a vested stake in. It’s a great place to start from. All I can do is hope that all the partners are willing to stick with the positive progress and bring it to fruition.”
Michigan will have a new governor in 2019, Democrat Gretchen Whitmer. While her stance on online gambling is unknown, the transition can’t be a negative given the veto.
There will also be many new lawmakers taking office, and Sen. Mike Kowall, who has led this issue for four years in his chamber, is being termed out of office. The turnover creates some uncertainty that the vote totals for the Lawful Internet Gaming Act – 33-5 in the Senate and 71-35 in the House – will still be there.
Iden expects that it will take some time to educate the new legislators on the issue, so just because the bill passed easily the first time around doesn’t mean it will be moved quickly in the new session.
“I saw over the course of the last two years the time it takes to educate people on these issues and get them up to speed on where we are,” Iden said. “I’m going to need to do that again, but I’m fully prepared to do so and confident we will have a successful 2019. It took a long time to get here, and this is a bump in the road, but I’m confident it will get done.”