Michigan came very close to legalizing online casino and poker in 2018

Michigan Senator: Online Casino, Poker Bill Could Be To Governor By June

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Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. is in his first year sponsoring online gambling legislation in Michigan, but he’s not new to the effort.

Hertel played a key role in getting the Lawful Internet Gaming Act to the governor’s desk last year, according to returning bill sponsor Rep. Brandt Iden.

“He helped last time with the conversations with the city of Detroit and was supportive as we got into the final days of the lame duck and tried to get it past the finish line,” Iden said. “His father is a former member of the legislature who helped put casinos in Detroit 20 years ago. It’s great to have this supportive senator on this, and we’ll work together to get it on the governor’s desk.”

A family legacy in Michigan Legislature

Although Hertel represents Lansing, Mich., he grew up in Detroit, where his father served the city for 18 years as a member of the House. As Speaker of the House, his father was instrumental in getting approval for three casinos to be built in Detroit in 1997.

He still has those Detroit connections, and when former Senate sponsor Mike Kowall ran into issues with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan that threatened to derail the effort in the final days of the session, the outgoing senator called on Hertel to provide an assist.

“I think Detroit has to succeed for Michigan to succeed, and there were concerns how iGaming would affect the brick-and-mortar casinos and their funding structure to the city,” Hertel said. “When you’re a city that just came out of bankruptcy, you can’t have risk to your bottom line. I understood that and helped work with the city on coming up with what I think was a pretty fair split of revenues to make sure they are protected.”

By adding 1.25% tax on MI online gambling revenues from Detroit casinos to the city to go to neighborhood development programs, the sponsors got legislative approval for the bill.

Rebounding from governor’s veto

Following former Gov. Rick Snyder’s surprise veto of the online gambling legislation, Kowall was termed out of office, leaving a vacancy for Senate sponsor in the effort to put the bill back on the governor’s desk for new Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

To show the bipartisan support of the bill, particularly given that Whitmer is a Democrat while the legislature is controlled by Republicans, Iden aligned with a Democrat in Hertel to introduce S 186.

Given that Republicans are leading both legislative chambers, Hertel is taking a back seat while Iden advances his companion bill, H 4311, through the House. That bill currently sits in the Ways and Means Committee that Iden chairs after advancing through the House Regulatory Reform Committee.

A hearing in that committee showed that Hertel’s contributions last session are still making an impact, as Detroit casinos testified in favor of the bill.

“I think everyone was frustrated at the end of last year, as it took a lot of people a lot of work to get there,” Hertel said. “It would have been nice if the former governor let people know. Usually, you have some idea if the governor is going to oppose something. But a lot of negotiations happened toward the end of the session to make sure we had all the players on board and, as far as I’m aware, nobody has jumped ship.”

Bringing the new governor on board for iGaming

While Hertel will take a back seat in the legislative process, he will be at the forefront for garnering support from Whitmer, who has been quiet on internet gambling legislation thus far but did speak in support of legal MI online sports betting during her campaign.

Not only are they in the same party, but Whitmer interned and worked for his father in the Michigan Legislature and was senator of Hertel’s district immediately prior to him.

“We’ve had a long-standing relationship and I feel pretty good about our where she will come down on this issue,” Hertel said. “I’ve talked to her public policy people and haven’t gotten any concerns.”

Hertel, whose brother, Kevin Hertel, is a member of the House, expects to see online casino and MI online poker legislation put back on the governor’s desk. The Michigan Legislature runs until the end of the year, but Iden told Online Poker Report that he wants to get the bill to the governor in June.

“I would be very surprised if it didn’t get passed by both chambers this year,” Hertel said. “I would be shocked. The legislation is not that different than what passed last year, and it’s not overly partisan.”

- 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, Politico.com and CNN.com. Matt also has written on a variety of topics for Playboy Magazine, Men's Journal, Los Angeles magazine, LA Weekly and ESPN.com.
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