Michigan Shows Online Gaming Support in Committee Hearing
Last week, two members of the Michigan state legislature introduced bills to legalize internet gaming. It was not a huge surprise to see the proposals emerge, as nearly identical legislation passed through both houses in late 2018. The only reason it is not part of Michigan law today is that the outgoing governor vetoed the bill.
This year, some new lawmakers are in place, along with a new governor. It was unclear how the same legislation would fare.
As the new bills were put before their first committee on Tuesday, March 12, the result was positive. In fact, it was so encouraging that the legalization of online poker and casino games may be on a faster track in Michigan than expected.
Iden and Hurtel Bring Bills
The two new bills were identical, one for the Michigan House and the other for the state’s Senate. Longtime online gaming advocate Representative Brandt Iden put forth HB.4311 in the House, and Senator Curtis Hertel Jr. introduced SB.186.
Each bill was referred to as the 2019 Lawful Internet Gaming Act, each seeking to offer licenses to operators at a $200K initial cost and $100K annual renewal fee. And gross internet gaming revenue was set to be taxed at 8%.
The legislation details were virtually the same as those in the bills that passed in 2018, so there was a set amount of support baked in to the process this year. But there was also a learning curve for new legislators and those who might be able to support the legislation if properly educated on the subject of internet gaming. Iden was ready for that challenge.
Hearing Holds Hope
On March 12, the House Regulatory Reform Committee held a meeting on a list of gambling-related bills, ones that dealt with topics ranging from daily fantasy sports contests to horse racing and bingo. And Iden’s HB.4311 was right in the middle of the mix.
According to Steve Ruddock of Online Poker Report, Iden focused on several important points when touting HB.4311, most significant of which was that the same bill passed the House and Senate by strong margins in 2018. He also described the mission of keeping Michigan competitive in the gaming industry, producing new tax revenue from online gaming, and protecting consumers from offshore, unregulated, and untaxed sites.
The bill also received vocal support from the three major Detroit casinos (MGM, Motor City, and Greektown). They have monitored the effects of online gambling in New Jersey and seen the positive impact on the cumulative gambling industry. Greektown Casino Vice President Marvin Beatty noted, “This is a tool that doesn’t impact what already exists but enhances the opportunity for Michigan to do better.”
Representatives from all three Detroit casinos are testifying in favor of the bill. Casino support was fleeting for most of last year (until the very end when the bill passed). So this is a very good sign.
— Steve Ruddock (@SteveRuddock) March 12, 2019
Former Poker Alliance Executive Director John Pappas testified in representation of GeoComply as to the accuracy of and protections implicit in geolocation technology.
Good day in Lansing. Today’s hearing went well and there were a number of strong witnesses who discussed how #iGaming can be responsibly regulated. Glad to do my part on behalf of @GeoComply. https://t.co/SethY31wFm
— John A Pappas (@yanni_dc) March 12, 2019
Iden Stands Confident
Ruddock also spoke with Iden, who expressed optimism about the 2019 bill: “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.”
As someone who was in the room, I agree with this assessment. Not even a year ago most of these same lawmakers voted for iGaming. Today, they were given even more reason to support.
— John A Pappas (@yanni_dc) March 12, 2019
When newly-elected Governor Gretchen Whitmer took office, her stance was unclear about online gaming and any potential support for the legislation that was vetoed by her predecessor. But Iden told Online Poker Report that he has held several “positive” conversations with her about it, and he seems confident that she will sign a properly-vetted bill.
The Detroit News reported that HB.4311 could come before the House Regulatory Reform Committee again as early as next week.