Online Poker Supporter Iden Wins Again in Michigan
Very few states made progress with regard to legalizing online poker and other forms of gambling this year. New York fizzled, and Illinois has been positive in its efforts but fruitless. But Michigan has been a different beast in 2018.
The bill to regulate online gaming in Michigan is still open, having passed the House of Representatives in June. But its champion, Michigan State Representative Brandt Iden, faced a tough race in the mid-term election for his seat, and it was not certain if he would retain that seat. Meanwhile, State Senator Mike Kowall, who was the other half of the team working on internet gaming in the legislature, termed out and was unable to run for another term.
Iden did pull through and win his race on November 6. And though Kowall will leave when the year is over, Iden remains available to spearhead his bill to an ally in the Senate and on through to passage.
There is no guarantee for Michigan and online poker, but Iden’s seat at the table remains its best chance.
In another West Michigan nail-biter, Republican state Rep. Brandt Iden narrowly defeats Democrat Alberta Griffin in the 61st Districthttps://t.co/7ufn7SH1hb@BradDevero @MLive @Kzoo_Gazette pic.twitter.com/VEzxAb4fsf
— Mickey Ciokajlo (@mciokajlo) November 7, 2018
Iden vs. Griffin
Republican Brandt Iden won his first election to the state legislature in 2014, taking his seat in 2015. He won the first time by more than five points, and he did the same by a slightly slimmer margin in 2016. In 2018, he did not face a primary challenger and ran on his record, which focused on education, combatting opioid abuse, and improving infrastructure for his district.
61st House District race shaping up to be a close one tonight, with Democrat Alberta Griffin holding a narrow lead over incumbent Republican Brandt Iden https://t.co/84gZQRTs01
— Mark Tower (@MLiveMarkTower) November 7, 2018
His opponent in the 2018 mid-term election was Alberta Griffin. The Democrat ran as a businesswoman, instructor, and experience with Head Start, WIC, and as Public Health Coordinator for her local county. Griffin came very close to beating Iden, even leading in early, unofficial votes on November 6.
For some time, the race was too close to call, but in the end, Iden eked out a victory.
Brandt Iden = 51.4% (24,009 votes)
Alberta Griffin = 48.6% (22,725 votes)
Online Poker Champion
For those hoping to see online poker and other forms of online gaming legalized in Michigan, Iden’s win was a very positive result.
Iden had been working to pass a bill for online gambling since September 2017, and he maintained an optimistic stance that prompted numerous backroom discussions with all players involved. He was even able to amend his bill to meet nearly all of the Native American casino factions’ demands, which put HB.4926 on a positive path at the beginning of 2018.
On June 12, 2018, the bill passed in the House by a roll call vote of 68-40. It happened just days before the end of the summer legislative session, and it put the bill on the agenda to hit the Senate committees in the fall months. Further, Iden told the local media that it was going to be “at the top of the agenda” when the legislature returned. “Michigan should be at the forefront” of the issue, he said.
It is unclear what happened in the fall months, outside of Iden having to put more effort into his campaign than he may have anticipated. But nothing happened with HB.4926 on the record, though there may have been behind-the-scenes discussions about how to move it forward before the end of the year. It is unclear where the bill stands in early November.
Seeking Senate Support
As mentioned, Kowall was the big supporter of online gaming on the Senate side. He hadn’t found the kind of success shown by Iden, however, despite many months of talks with tribal leaders and others with a stake in the gaming industry.
The last official update form Kowall about his bill, SB.203, was in the summer of 2017, when Kowall’s office and the Poker Players Alliance both confirmed that the bill was alive and being rewritten. Nothing seemed to have happened on the surface since that point, but Iden moved forward confidently on the House side.
Kowall has only weeks left to work before vacating his office. Republican Jim Runestad ran to take his seat against Julia Pulver, and Runestad won by several points on November 6. Runestad’s record as a member of the Michigan House includes a vote for Iden’s bill in June, but it is yet to be determined if he will take up Kowall’s efforts with online gaming or pass the torch to another member of the Senate.
Team Runestad was out in full force today meeting with voters in Novi. I especially enjoyed my time canvassing with our current 15th district State Senator Mike Kowall! Thanks for your help today, Senator! pic.twitter.com/4WQVx3BxMv
— Jim Runestad (@RunWithRunestad) September 18, 2018
Gubernatorial Danger Averted
While the role of the governor in the online gaming movement is important, it hasn’t been seen as critical until the most recent election.
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette had been known to support efforts to pass the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA) to ban online gambling at the federal level, and he signed his name to letters to the Department of Justice regarding a desire to overturn the 2011 DOJ decision about the Wire Act. He was notoriously skeptical of all gambling related to the internet, having argued against online lottery ticket sales and even ordering all internet sweepstakes cafes to close.
— Paul Egan (@paulegan4) November 3, 2018
In 2018, Schuette ran for the governor’s seat as the Republican candidate against Democrat Gretchen Whitmer, but Schuette never garnered enough momentum to be a strong contender. The final results showed Schuette with only 44% of the vote, while Whitmer ran away with 53% of it for the win.
Whitmer’s stance on internet gambling is not known yet, but Schuette would have been a full-throated opponent to the bills being pursued in the state legislature. Crisis averted.
Let’s get to work! https://t.co/lkKjHlUpEy
— Gretchen Whitmer (@gretchenwhitmer) November 7, 2018