Michigan’s new online gambling bill passed its first legislative hurdle on Wednesday, receiving an affirmative vote in the Senate Regulatory Reform Committee. Authored by Sen. Mike Kowall, S 0203 calls for the legalization and regulation of Internet gaming options as a player protection measure and a new revenue source.
Wednesday’s positive movement did not come as a surprise, as the most of the bill’s sponsors were members of the committee it was heard and voted in. A very similar legislation was introduced by Sen. Kowall last year. The effort reached the full Senate floor but was never voted on.
Aside from state lawmakers, the Wednesday hearing was also attended by PokerStars representatives, members of the Poker Players Alliance, as well as online gambling opponents from the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling.
A key point in S 0203 is its definition as a measure that aims to combat unauthorized online gambling, protect local players, and provide additional tax revenue by legalizing and regulating iGaming. Internet gambling proponents have pointed to the fact that local players have long been forced to turn to the black market due to the lack of regulated service, thus exposing themselves to predatory offshore operators.
Arguments have been advanced that the creation of a regulated environment for those same players will protect them from illicit operations. What is more, the state will be able to keep online gambling revenue within its borders.
Although it seems that Sen. Kowall’s effort has gained certain legislative support, it is important that it is backed by local casinos, as well. Regulatory Reform Committee Chair Sen. Tory Rocca said during the Wednesday hearing that almost all local tribal gambling venues are opposed to the online gambling bill.
Here it is important to note that, under S 0203, local tribes will be able to offer online gambling options, if those are legalized. The lack of tribal support may turn into one of the biggest stumbling blocks for the proposed legislation.
MGM Grand Detroit, a commercial casino in the state’s largest city, has decided to maintain neutral stance for now.
After the Wednesday vote, it is now up to the Senate to take further action or to leave the effort die in the Legislature as it did last year. However, given the momentum iGaming bills have gained in several other states, New York and Pennsylvania being the brightest examples, Michigan legislators may feel more comfortable with advancing the measure this year.