So far, so good for Michigan online gambling bill

Michigan Online Gambling Prospects Bullish After Favorable Committee Hearing

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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 the year’s first hearing on iGaming and online sports betting in MI, held Tuesday in front of the House Regulatory Reform Committee.

Committee takes up Michigan online gambling

The committee fielded testimony on several bills related to MI online 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:

  1. Keeping Michigan competitive
  2. Protecting consumers
  3. Generating new tax revenue

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.

Detroit casinos support the bill

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.

GeoComply’s real-time map

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.

Committee asks the right questions

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:

‘Modernization, not legalization’

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.

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All signs points to MI online gambling

Iden was optimistic about the bill’s chances in his interview with Online Poker Report prior to the hearing. Having watched the proceedings, it’s safe to say his optimism wasn’t misplaced.

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.

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.”

- 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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