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Efforts to legalize online gambling in Michigan came up just one step short of the finish line in 2018, thanks to a veto from then-Gov. Rick Snyder. Undeterred by the setback, supporters like Rep. Brandt Iden vowed to resurrect the legislation in 2019.
Iden has followed through. Companion online gambling bills were filed in the House (by Iden) and Senate (by Sen. Curtis Hertel) last week.
The introductions set the stage for Michigan’s first hearing on the topic this year, held Tuesday in front of the House Regulatory Reform Committee.
The committee fielded testimony on several bills related to gambling, though no vote was taken on Iden’s proposed legislation. The hearing did, however, set a fine tone for the proceedings to come.
Based on expert testimony and educated questions from the committee, prospects for MI online gambling appear to be on firm footing this year.
As the sponsor of the House bill, Iden pinpointed the three key benefits of legalization:
Iden also reminded the committee that both chambers passed his bill convincingly last session — 71-35 in the House and 33-5 in the Senate — before the governor’s veto.
Representatives from the three Detroit casinos — MGM, Motor City, and Greektown — also testified in support of the bill.
That’s another positive development, considering casino support was fleeting throughout 2018. The casinos only came on board at the very end following a compromise with tribal operators.
Testifying on behalf of GeoComply, John Pappas proactively addressed any lingering technology concerns by demonstrating geolocation technology in action.
To great effect, Pappas showed a real-time map of online gambling activity in New Jersey and the surrounding area. The demo provided an easy-to-understand visual for what can be an abstract technology.
Online gambling hearings can sometimes devolve into a series of basic questions and overly simplistic answers. That wasn’t the case in Michigan.
Tuesday’s hearing was a breath of fresh air, with committee members asking substantive questions:
Testifying on behalf of The Stars Group, Nick Menas offered a simple catchphrase that should be trotted out at every opportunity: “We’re talking about modernization, not legalization.”
Menas laid out a comprehensive argument, including debunking the “slot machine in every kid’s pocket” trope that opponents bandy about.
As Menas told the committee, black market operators make such products readily available — and with limited oversight. Legalization and regulation, he argues, is the best way to remove the slot machine from the pockets of unauthorized gamblers.
According to Iden, the bill starts from a stronger position this year, with more bipartisan support:
“The issue has been thoroughly vetted, and people have an interest in a bill they already voted for. I welcome having Democrat support on the bill and think it will be a key factor as it makes its way to the governor’s desk.”
That certainly seemed to be the case on Tuesday.
As someone who was in the room, I agree with this assessment. Not even a year ago most of these same lawmakers voted for iGaming. Today, they were given even more reason to support.
— John A Pappas (@yanni_dc) March 12, 2019
With mass turnover in the legislature and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer moving into the mansion, there was some concern that reeducation would be an arduous process.
According to Iden, though, he’s engaged in several “positive” conversations with the new governor’s staff. The sponsor is “working through the process to make sure it’s vetted on her end well before it gets to her desk.”