Michigan Sets Online Gaming Bill for Success
Online poker advocates have hopes set on New York as the next state to legalize the internet games, but they would be remiss to ignore the serious steps taken in Michigan in 2017. The results of the most recent committee hearing are yet another part of consistent forward movement to push for the legalization and regulation of online gaming in 2018.
The determination of State Representative Brandt Iden seems stronger than ever. If he can ignite the same fire under State Senator Mike Kowall, the two might be able to spearhead online poker and casino games right into legal territory in 2018.
Accomplishments in 2017
It’s important to see how far Michigan progressed in 2017 to understand the speed with which Iden’s bill seems to be moving in recent months.
Earlier in the year, Kowall’s SB.203 passed the Senate Regulatory Reform Committee, but tribal interests throughout the state expressed concern about online gambling’s impact on their gambling endeavors. Kowall began to meet with willing parties to discuss possible changes in the bill, but it seemed to stall with no progress of which to speak.
Meanwhile, Iden emerged from the House with HB.4926 in September and held an immediate informational hearing in the House Regulatory Reform Committee. In the months that followed, he indicated an optimistic attitude about passing his bill first – before Thanksgiving was his original goal – due to the interest in new revenue for tribes and commercial casinos. He acknowledged the significant problem of tribal gaming not regulated by the state and commercial casinos under full state regulations, but he noted, “I believe that there is middle ground that can be reached.”
Thanksgiving came and went, however, with little word coming from Iden’s office.
A December Surprise
Last week, the aforementioned Michigan House committee, of which Iden is the chairperson, met again to discuss H.4926 in a slightly amended form. A number of interested parties attended the hearing to voice concerns. And ultimately, the committee members passed the bill by a 12-3 vote
New server-in-the-casino lingo in HB4926 presumably intended to strengthen lingo elsewhere in the bill stating that #MI #iGaming takes place *in the casino.* Why important? Very (!) loosely, iGaming-in-the-casino *may* = a-form-of-gaming-that-complies-with-the-MI-Constitution.
— Chris Krafcik (@CKrafcik) December 13, 2017
The most significant change in the new version of the bill is that online gambling operators will be required to locate their servers inside their respective casinos, a necessary element to put the bill in compliance with the Michigan constitution. This was determined to be crucial to overcome objections by Sheldon Adelson’s Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling, which submitted a brief to the committee.
With that and some tax structure changes to the bill, Online Poker Report noted that the three major commercial casinos in Michigan indicated they supported H.4926. They also noted that Iden ended the hearing by admitting that this is the “first step in the process” but will work with all parties in both halves of the legislature to make the legislation passable.
As legislators now finish their last pieces of business before the official holiday break, Iden’s intention is to build on internet gambling momentum in January. He will schedule meetings with stakeholders in January and February in the hopes of obtaining a House vote within the first quarter of 2018.
Last note on this thread: #MI House Speaker's office told my colleague @reporternickg that Speaker has no plans to schedule #iGaming bill HB4926 for a vote before adjournment later today. The MI Legislature will reconvene in January for the 2nd year of its 2-year session.
— Chris Krafcik (@CKrafcik) December 14, 2017
Is Tribal Support Possible?
If ten years of online poker talks in California is any indication, there may not be enough support among tribal leaders to fully support online gambling. The issue is a sensitive one, as any infringement upon the rights of tribal gaming and its opportunity to compete in the statewide gambling market will not be accepted. Tribes worked for years to secure the compacts under which they now operate their casinos, and they are likely to fight any online gambling regime that does not treat Native Americans fairly.
Iden admits that he is working with tribal leaders to find ways to amend the bill to their liking. However, now that he has the support of the three top commercial casinos in the state, he may move forward with or without positive meetings with tribal leaders. He told Online Poker Report, “What’s going to be acceptable to some tribes isn’t going to be acceptable to all. I’m willing to work to get common-ground language with as many as I can, and others will continue to be in opposition. You can’t always get every stakeholder’s support.”
While this may not be a winning method of passing the bills through the House and Senate, it may indicate that Iden and Kowall are aware of the tribal concerns and will work to include changes to accommodate all involved.
— Poker Alliance (@ppapoker) December 15, 2017
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