With the state’s budget stalemate over the multi-year efforts to legalize sports betting and online casino games in Michigan is back in the spotlight. Betting USA had a chance to speak with the bills’ sponsor, Rep. Brandt Iden, to get his take on where these efforts currently stand.
Iden was bullish on sports betting’s chances. Iden’s belief is a sports betting bill could be passed by the end of the year, with sports betting available as soon as the Super Bowl at Michigan casinos.
Offsetting that piece of good news were Iden’s more pessimistic feelings about online casino and poker.
Sports Betting Gets Decoupled from Online Casino
“The newest iteration of the bill is no longer tie-barred to the online gaming bill, which is a very important aspect of the piece of legislation,” Iden told Betting USA. “And it’s structured very similarly to the igaming bill, which the tribes have already signed off on.”
According to Iden, the decoupling of the two bills is by design and had to happen.
The governor wants online gambling taxes raised across the board, but the real sticking point with online casinos is the introduction of online slot machines. Because online slots closely resemble some of the online instant win games offered by the Michigan Lottery, the administration, as well as the state’s lottery, believe online slots will cannibalize lottery revenue.
“There are a lot of questions that arise from the governor’s offices related to the slots issue and the crossover of the player,” said Iden. “I continue to, to espouse the fact that that connection isn’t there and we’ve not seen that in other states with online lotteries. There is no impact. I don’t believe her premise is correct.”
According to Iden, the administration doesn’t harbor the same concerns about sports betting.
“The governor doesn’t support the package as a whole,” Iden told Betting USA, adding that he believes sports betting could be signed independently by the governor.
“I have heard comments from the administration that they believe sports betting doesn’t necessarily impact their lottery and online lottery player profile, to the same extent that online casino gaming does,” Iden said.
That said, there are still some wrinkles that the legislature and governor’s office will need to iron out before legal sports betting is a reality in Michigan
Sports Betting Compromise Still Needs to Be Reached
Iden sees the end of the budget stalemate as a positive step for sports betting talks to resume.
Iden noted that despite pressure from the Governor’s office, the tax rates in the new bill is unchanged, at least for now.
Iden indicated he’s waiting for the governor to engage first.
“I’ve always been prepared to do that [increase the tax rates] at some stage,” Iden said. “If the governor doesn’t engage on the issue, I will move them up on my own, and hopefully move the bill forward.”
“Now that the budget process completed, I believe the governor will reengage on this issue. They went quiet for a month there, when we were dealing with the budget.
“This, unfortunately, couldn’t be part of the budget process, but, now that we’re done with the budget, I believe she’ll bring her attention back to some key policy issues. Sports betting being one of them.”
Can the Bill Pass Before the End of the Year?
Still, Iden is hopeful sports betting can get done before the end of the year.
“Hopefully I can pass this with her support, and out of committee and the House by the end of October,” Iden said. “It would be certainly my goal to get this to her desk before the end of the year.”
According to Iden, that would allow operators to be up and running as soon as the Super Bowl or the NCAA Tournament in March.
That timeline isn’t as aggressive as it appears.
According to Iden, the consensus is sports betting is a matter of when, not if in Michigan, with proponents like himself, “trying to move that timeline up as quickly as we can.”
He also noted that regulators have already started promulgating rules, saying, “They’re ready.”