The gaming industry is still coming to grips with a last-minute veto by former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, but the page has now turned to Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who was inaugurated on New Year’s Day. The end of the Snyder era was cause for a large celebration in the Wolverine State.
Whitmer, a former Michigan State Senator, takes over amid a tough political climate thanks to a divided legislature. Republicans maintained control over the Michigan Senate and House, despite losing some seats. Fortunately for proponents of the expansion of legal gaming, online betting was able to receive support from both political parties during the late passage of a package of gambling modernization bills just days before Christmas.
The predominant bill in the package was the Michigan Lawful Internet Gaming Act, which would have paved the way for sports betting in Michigan but wouldn’t have fully legalized it.
‘Nerd’ vs. experienced legislator
Unlike Snyder, a self-described “tough nerd,” Whitmer assumes office as an experienced politician. While Snyder seems to have lacked the competence to help steer the legislature into delivering a bill he could sign (he wasted a lot of taxpayer-fund work in vetoing the legislation), Whitmer shouldn’t have any trouble doing that. It’s highly unlikely that the legislature will deliver effectively identical legislation to Whitmer, as it’s very possible that she could want a higher tax rate on internet wagering (the vetoed bill called for an 8% state tax). The divided legislature could also set the stage for her playing hardball on online casino/sports betting in order to get a concession from Republicans on some other issue.
Whitmer’s personal political experience with gaming appears relatively limited. In 2004, Whitmer was part of a House committee that analyzed a proposal to give voters control over gambling expansion in Michigan. Despite her work there, Whitmer didn’t cast a “key vote” on any gambling issue during her time in the state legislature, according to the website Votesmart.org.
Whitmer’s sports betting position unknown
Whitmer is on the record agreeing with the idea of legal sports betting in Michigan, made possible by the mid-May Supreme Court ruling that overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992. However, a closer look at that support reveals that her public position is actually ambiguous.
We obviously don’t know what she says about sports betting behind closed doors.
“With the recent Supreme Court decision, should we allow sports betting in Michigan?” asked a moderator.
Whitmer chuckled, and said, “yes,” without adding further comment.
“Simple enough,” replied the moderator.
The other Democratic candidates also replied affirmatively, but, unlike Whitmer, they gave some additional thoughts on the subject.
For what it’s worth, Whitmer did have her primary victory party at the MotorCity Casino in Detroit. So, she definitely isn’t shy about at least giving the appearance of supporting the state’s casino gambling industry. As of September, MotorCity was the only Detroit casino to publicly support the Lawful Internet Gaming Act.
It’s worth noting that Michigan Rep. Brandt Iden, the Republican sponsor of the internet gaming bill, has told Mi Bets that he believes Whitmer to be a supporter of sports betting.
Regardless of her true position on sportsbooks, online or brick-and-mortar, Whitmer has the skills to compromise on the issue, something that went over Snyder’s head.
Top legislative priorities for Whitmer
Education is an issue that is intertwined with gambling expansion in Michigan.
In vetoing the Lawful Internet Gaming Act, Snyder cited a concern that the legislation as written could reduce revenues directed to the Michigan School Aid Fund. The legislation would have directed 5% of iGaming tax revenue to the fund. It’s safe to assume that Whitmer will take a careful look at that as well.
Snyder said the legislation could take a bite at out of the state’s online lottery program, which sends more than a quarter of its revenue to the School Aid Fund.
If Whitmer seeks a higher internet gaming or sports betting tax, it is likely she will be motivated by bolstering that fund specifically.
According to Whitmer’s website, she is seeking a “reliable state funding source” for early childhood education. Perhaps gambling expansion will be eyed for that.