Michigan i-Gaming Hearing Heads in Right Direction

Michigan i-Gaming Hearing Heads in Right Direction
Michigan legislators hear online gaming testimony
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One day after a new bill to legalize and regulate online gaming appears in the Michigan House of Representatives, an information committee hearing shows support for the measure. With positive testimony from the Poker Players Alliance and former Attorney General Mike Cox, there is potential for movement forward in the coming weeks.

Of course, all parties are not on board the online gambling train. Indian gaming interests are not pleased with the current wording of the bill, and no particular support has been vocalized by any of the land-based casinos or even the Michigan Gaming Control Board. This indicates that the House bill may need revisions, similar to what is happening to its companion Senate bill at the moment, so hoping for a 2017 vote on internet poker and gambling may be too optimistic. But 2018 is a real and significant possibility, if the actions this year are any indication.

House Hearing Holds No Vote

State Representative Brandt Iden introduced HB.4926 on Tuesday, and it was placed quickly on the agenda for the following day’s Michigan House Regulatory Reform Committee hearing.

The hearing agenda was set to start with items, such as law enforcement, fireworks, and liquor laws, with internet gambling near the bottom of the schedule. But when the meeting was called to order, online gaming became the first topic to be discussed.

Over the course of the hearing, there were several speakers on both sides of the online gaming issue. The Poker Players Alliance, of course, was represented by Executive Director John Pappas, who testified to the benefits of regulating online gaming, including revenue for the state and protections for consumers, as well as the dangers of an unregulated industry. Former Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox also spoke in support of the bill, who also spoke of consumer protections and increased revenue from licensing fees and taxes on regulated poker and casino game sites. He also referred to the three states already operating online gaming in some form – Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey – all of which have regulated the games in a way that sets a high standard and example for Michigan to follow.

On the other side of the coin, representatives from the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling (formed and financed by Sheldon Adelson) and the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi spoke against the bill. The tribal representative, however, noted the willingness to discuss the bill with the possibility of making it agreeable to the tribe.

Michigan Gaming Control Board Deputy Director Dave Murley was more concerned than anything else about the bill. While Cox said he believed the bill was in line with the state’s constitution, Murley questioned that notion and noted that he is unsure how the courts would rule on the issue of online gaming, considering the current state law requires people be physically present in a casino when wagering money on any form of gaming. Though the board is officially neutral on the bill, Murley also expressed worry about the complications of tribal contracts with the nearly two dozen entities affected by the proposal.

The bill’s author had the most forceful statements on the bill. Iden, who is also the chairman of the committee, said, “If I were a betting man, and I am, i-gaming will become law at some stage.” He also noted that the committee and state legislature is responsible for protecting citizens of the state from unregulated sites. While he said the process might take time and not be completed this year, he expressed much confidence that the bill will pass.

Status of House and Senate Bills

At this point, HB.4926 will need a committee vote to move on to the House floor. However, the hearing indicated that the Michigan Gaming Control Board may need more information and legal advice before supporting it, and affected tribal interests want changes to the bill.

Meanwhile, SB.203 from State Senator Mike Kowall remains in the revision phase, as talks that began over the summer with various interested parties to devise a better piece of legislation for all involved. Since that revised or new bill has not yet been presented to the Senate, it is unclear if agreements have been reached to satisfy land-based casinos and/or Native American tribes.

Both bills may experience the same type of hesitant response from lawmakers if tribes, casinos, and the gaming board are not supportive.

 

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