Tribal Concern Dominates Michigan Online Gaming Talks

Tribal Concern Dominates Michigan Online Gaming Talks
Poison pill of bill = federal government intervention

Key Michigan lawmakers have been in talks with the state’s Native American tribal leaders since the introduction of bills to legalize and regulate online poker and casino games. And though the discussions have led to many compromises that make the industry appealing to tribes and land-based casino operators alike, the tribes have one concern that may stop the entire process.

State Representative Brandt Iden is not only aware of the concern, he talked about it with Online Poker Report and called it the poison pill. One issue that is out of the state’s control could be the one that holds up the online gaming bill.

Pending Proposal

Iden has been serious about passing online gambling legislation since he first introduced his Lawful Internet Gaming Act in 2017. HB.4926 was a companion bill to the proposal from State Senator Mike Kowall. Iden first predicted passage in 2017, but there were too many negotiations required among the various special interests, including the tribes that operate gambling establishments in Michigan.

After months of talks, a new draft of the bill was revealed in May, and Iden again expressed confidence, this time that the bill would pass by the end of the legislative session on June 21.

Admitting then that there were still a few items to be worked out, Iden noted that tribal interests were being incorporated into the bill, including a compact provision to authorize the revisions of gaming compacts with the state of Michigan.

The process seemed to be on the right track, as Iden garnered more support for HB.4926.

Poison Pill

As talks have continued with tribal leaders, it has become clear that one problem remains.

Iden explained that the tribes have indicated that one section of the new draft is the stopping point, the poison pill. It states that if the federal government changes its laws to prohibit tribal casinos from offering online gambling, commercial casinos may continue to do so. The tribes want a provision inserted into the bill to stop all casinos from offering online gambling if Native American tribes are somehow stopped.

Iden believes there is little chance that this could happen, and if it did, Michigan would have little influence over it as tribes ultimately answer to the federal government. “The reality of it is,” Iden told OPR, “there isn’t a lot I can put in there to ease that concern.”

The provision was inserted in the draft at the request of the non-tribal casinos in Michigan, and its removal may spark protest from those entities and stop all progress for the legislation. But tribal leaders are threatening to stop the bill if the section remains.

Ticking Clock

There isn’t much time remaining for Iden to devise a solution or placate one of the parties involved. The current legislative session ends on June 21, which leaves only three weeks to pass the bill through the Michigan House. And it should be done sooner if there is any hope of passing the companion Senate bill as well.

It is unclear if the singular online poker lobbying group in the United States, the Poker Players Alliance, is still pushing its members to contact Michigan lawmakers to express support. The PPA hasn’t encouraged any movement via its social media posts since the beginning of May.

As it seems that OPR has a direct line to Iden, it will be interesting to see if any more news emerges from the online gambling champion in the coming days and weeks. While online poker and casino games still have a chance for consideration later in the year via a special session in the legislature, the best chance is before June 21.


About Jennifer Newell

Jennifer began writing about poker while working at the World Poker Tour in the mid-2000s. Since then, her freelance writing career has taken her from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and back to her hometown of St. Louis, where she now lives with her two dogs. She continues to follow the poker world as she also launches a new subscription box company and finishes her first novel. Jennifer has written for numerous publications including and has followed the US poker and gaming market closely for the last 15 years. Follow Jen on Twitter

Disclaimer: The information on this site is my interpretation of the laws as made available online. It is in no way meant to serve as legal advice or instruction. We recommend that you seek legal advice from a licensed attorney for further or official guidance.

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