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Michigan’s progress toward legal online gambling advanced significantly this week. A Senate committee meeting on Tuesday and public hearing on iGaming rules on Wednesday both went off without a hitch.
Both were important procedural steps in their respective efforts. Neither was likely to pose a major challenge, but it’s a positive sign that they proceeded swiftly. They also provided a glimpse of the road ahead, which looks to be clear at the moment.
Tuesday’s meeting was of the senators composing the Regulatory Reform Committee. Some 13 bills were up for consideration, including Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr.’s SB 991, which would provide the Michigan Gaming Control Board (MGCB) the ability to enter into interstate compacts for purposes of sharing online poker traffic.
The following day, the MGCB held its public hearing to present the draft rules for online betting, receive comments, and answer questions. That draft was released at the beginning of the month.
Since both hearings went according to plan, the current timeline for Michigan online casinos and more hasn’t been affected. MGCB Deputy Director David Murley reiterated at the rules hearing that the Board currently sees Thanksgiving as a realistic target date. The original plan was for operators to begin launching next year, but since the closure of land-based casinos in the spring, the state has been rushing to try to get things off the ground before then.
The rules hearing was largely a formality. It was held online due to COVID-19, and approximately 75 people joined the call.
In the interests of accountability, the MGCB must allow the public a chance to review and comment on the rules for any new form of gambling under its jurisdiction. However, nothing in the iGaming rules was likely to be controversial. For the most part, they resemble those successfully implemented in New Jersey. What small differences they contain are of greater interest to the operators than their customers.
The biggest risk to the process was the possibility that opponents of gambling might use the hearing as a chance to create complications or demand concessions. Fortunately, no such effort materialized. Indeed, of the people on the call, only two took the chance to offer a comment or ask a question.
Andrew Bernal of Clinton Township had a criticism to make. He wasn’t concerned with the rules, however, but with how long the process was taking. He complained about having had to travel to Indiana to place sports bets while waiting for Michigan online sports betting to go live. Bernal suggested that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer could expedite the process by using her power to enact emergency rules due to the pandemic, an idea she has resisted.
Another resident, Marko Tomich, wanted to know which operators he could expect to launch first. Murley could not offer a definitive answer. He explained that it would depend on the licensing process, which is happening in parallel to rule-making.
Now, the next step will be for the Joint Committee of Administrative Rules to submit a final draft of the rules to the Office for Administrative Hearings and Rules. Following that review, certification by the Legislative Service Bureau will complete the process.
Matters could have become more interesting and complicated at the Regulatory Reform Committee hearing on SB 991.
When the interstate poker bill‘s turn came up, Sen. Dan Lauwers began by proposing a so-called “tie-bar” amendment. This is a legislative technique for connecting two previously separate bills in order to ensure that one cannot advance without the other.
The bill that Lauwers wanted to connect to SB 991 was SB 661. That bill passed in the Senate last year but has been held up in the House without progress since February. This bill makes various technical changes to the state’s horse betting laws, most significantly extending the definition of pari-mutuel wagering to include historical horse racing (HHR).
HHR has been used as a means of offering additional gambling options at racetracks and betting parlors that lack permission to offer conventional casino games. It has therefore faced some pushback from the state’s commercial casino industry.
Lauwers hoped that their support for interstate poker would help nudge SB 661 along if the two bills were thus connected. His proposal caused the committee to move on to other bills for a time. By the time it had come back to SB 991, Sen. Hertel had spoken with Lauwers privately and the two had arrived at some agreement.
As a result of their conversation, Lauwers withdrew his proposed amendment. The committee then voted unanimously in favor of the bill, 9-0.
The next step will be further discussion by the Committee of the Whole, i.e., the entire Senate. There will then be a few more procedural steps before a formal vote that would, if successful, send the bill to the House of Representatives.
No matter what, Michigan online poker should be on its way eventually.