After months of legislative gridlock, the Michigan House of Representatives recently approved an assortment of bills which would collectively legalize and regulate retail sports betting and online / mobile gambling (casino, poker, and sports). In votes held on October 30, the House voted 63-45 in favor of the Lawful Sports Betting Act.
Meanwhile, the Michigan House passed the Lawful Internet Gaming Act by a similar 62-46 margin.
Both bills are sponsored by state Rep. Brandt Iden (R-61), a longtime champion of gambling expansion in the Wolverine State who also serves as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.
Chief Sponsor Succeeds Again After Last Year’s Surprise Veto
In a statement issued by his office, Brandt Iden praised colleagues for coming together on a bipartisan basis to pass his latest attempt to legalize the iGaming industry:
Iden said: “Thousands of Michigan residents are already wagering on sports or playing casino-style games online – but they are either traveling to other states to play legally, or staying home to wager illegally on risky sites with no consumer protections or benefits to our state.
We are making great progress on this plan to move sports betting and gaming into a safer, regulated, and modern environment – but we are falling behind other states and we must move forward.
The longer we delay, the longer we put our citizens at risk, and the longer we miss out on economic benefits and needed revenue for schools and public services.”
Iden successfully guided an iGaming bill through the full Legislature last year, only to watch outgoing Governor Rick Snyder wield his executive veto power to kill the package in one of his final acts in office. At the time, Snyder expressed reservations regarding the potential for iGaming to “cannibalize” gambling revenue currently generated by the state lottery.
The current bills now head to the Michigan Senate, where influential member Curtis Hertel Jr. (D-23) expects colleagues to approve and send the legislation to the desk of new Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
Governor Back at Negotiating Table to Lawmakers’ Relief
In an interview with Legal Sports Report, Curtis Hertel Jr. – son of the late Curtis Hertel, a longtime member of the Michigan House who previously employed Whitmer as a staffer during his tenure as Speaker – expressed confidence that the Governor would sign off:
Hertel said: “She has expressed concerns, and I don’t think any of it is beyond fixable.
I certainly appreciate her engagement, unlike the last governor who basically didn’t engage and then vetoed the bills anyway.
I think Chairman Iden did a great job getting it this far and getting the stakeholders to agree.
My job is to work with the stakeholders and governor to get further agreement. I’m absolutely confident we can get this done.”
Gretchen Whitmer Concerned with Sports Betting Tax Rates
Party affiliation may play a pivotal role in the upcoming debate, as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, refused to negotiate with Iden as he guided the bills through the House. Like her predecessor, Whitmer has cited concerns over the various tax rates which would be applied to sportsbook and iGaming operator revenue.
During the House debate, Whitmer’s office cited analysis from the Michigan State Treasury which called for a tiered taxation structure beginning at 8% and rising to 40% depending on an iGaming operator’s revenue totals.
In comments made to the Associated Press (AP), Brandt Iden confirmed that the bills recently approved in the House did include higher taxes, but not at the onerous rates requested by Whitmer:
Iden stated: “The tax rate went north. We got her more than half of what she asked for on both.
The money was directed to the school aid fund. My directive, from what I had always heard, was ‘protect the school aid fund.’
I believe that these bills did that. So it’s very confusing to me when the governor says they’re not in support.”
Despite the rancor between Iden’s Republican cohorts and Whitmer’s office, Curtis Hertel Jr. told Legal Sports Report that the Governor has returned to the negotiating table now that the bills have reached the Senate:
Hertel added: “We’re making progress. We’re going to make sure these bills get done, signed and that people have access to all this by the beginning of next year.
Our goal is certainly to have sports betting before the Super Bowl, not that the Lions will be in it.”