Michigan Makes One Last Push For Legalized Online Gambling in 2018

Representative Brandt Iden

Michigan already has a mature gambling industry with tribal casinos legalized in 1993, followed by Detroit casinos in 1997, and online lottery games in 2014. Now the Wolverine State is looking to add legal sports betting and online gambling to its gambling mix, with Senatorial approval needed in order to see online poker and other games legalized within its borders.

Online Gambling Benefits

Representative Brandt Iden has been one of Michigan’s most vociferous advocates, and in September, 2017 he first outlined his bill known as H.4926, more commonly referred to as the Lawful Internet Gaming Act. While his efforts had to be temporarily put on hold during the mid-terms, Iden is now making a last minute push to have online gambling legalized in Michigan before Christmas.

If successful, the Lawful Internet Gaming Act would allow legal online gambling to take place at the state’s three commercial casinos in Detroit, as well as the twenty six tribal casinos across the state. As a popular online gambling black market already exists in Michigan, lawmakers backing the bill have pointed out that the piece of legislation would not only allow better protection for its residents, but also generate much needed tax revenue for the state’s budget.

Final Push Of 2018

So far, H.4926 passed in the House by a vote of 60-40, and is now awaiting a similar endorsement in the Senate. Meanwhile, outgoing State Senator Mike Kowall is due to leave his position in just a few weeks. However, he has been an ardent supporter of Iden’s bill, suggesting that he will help provide the legal momentum necessary for one final dash in the state’s highest legislative body this year.

Should the bill receive a senate majority, it will subsequently need to be signed off by the governor before passing into law. If it fails to pass during this legislative session, though, it will need to be re-introduced.

Not Everyone Onboard

Despite legal online gambling enjoying a great deal of support in Michigan, not everyone is behind the proposal. One of its biggest detractors, for instance, is the Michigan Association on Problem Gambling (MAPG), which estimates that the number of people with gambling related problem would rise significantly from its current figure of 100,000 in the event of legalized online gambling. As Michael Burke, the president of Michigan Association on Problem Gambling, explains:

“The proximity study showed that when you open a new casino, that problems associated with compulsive gambling will double in a 50 mile radius. Well imagine what happens when we change that 50 mile radius to six inches, because that’s how close and readily available your cell phone will be.”

Michael Burke is no stranger to the potential harm that gambling addiction can wreak on a person’s life, either. After all, the former lawyer was an alcoholic and gambling addict who gambled away $1.6 million of his clients’ funds, according to HelpNet, resulting in a three years prison sentence which started in 2001. He has since written a book entitled “Never Enough: One Lawyer’s True Story of How He Gambled His Career Away,” but will not receive any of its royalties until all his victims have been paid back.

Sports Betting Provision

The Lawful Internet Gaming Act would also make sports betting legal in Michigan. By becoming the first Midwest state to offer legal sports betting, it stands to reap early rewards by drawing gamblers away from neighboring states who could then place their wagers before crossing back across the stateline.

One point of contention concerning the bill, however, is the possible inclusion of an integrity fee provision. The idea of allocating a large slice of sports betting revenue to major sports leagues has not proved a popular concept in any of the other state that have thus far introduced legalized sports betting. While sportsbooks stand to have their margins significantly dinted by such an inclusion, the bill’s sponsor, Iden, is seriously contemplating the measure.