Michigan Marches One Step Closer To Mobile Gambling With Notice Of September Public Hearing

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The Mitten’s long-awaited roll-out of online sports betting and casino gaming drew just a bit closer this week, as the Michigan Gaming Control Board announced the date for a public hearing on draft rules overseeing mobile gambling in the Wolverine State.

The Sept. 23 hearing begins at 1 p.m. and will be conducted remotely through Microsoft Teams due to ongoing concerns over the possible spread of COVID-19. Members of the public who can’t attend the virtual hearing may send questions and comments regarding the proposed rules via email or by letter, according to the public notice released by the MGCB.

With the opportunity for public comment, state regulators appear to be rounding into the final stretch of the rulemaking process required to put into effect the twin laws passed by the Michigan Legislature last December to legalize internet sports betting and casino gaming. “The MGCB has done a great job with putting the draft rules together, and after almost five years of hard work, I look forward to the implementation of online gaming,” said Rep. Brandt Iden (R-Kalamazoo), who spearheaded Lansing’s effort to approve legal sports gambling and legal online gaming.

After the public hearing, the draft rules are expected to become final regulations, which will then undergo review by the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules before the state can certify the adoption of the rules and launch legal online betting on sports and casino games. According to a rulemaking process summary published in late January, these final steps could take up to 80 days from the date of the hearing, which means mobile gaming should begin in Michigan in mid-December. That timeframe matches the MGCB’s projections that legal internet gambling would be available by late 2020 or early 2021.

Public hearing process expected to be smooth

Michigan’s draft rules appear noncontroversial and similar to those in states where mobile betting has already gone live. “[The rules] process is moving along with very few hitches,” said MGCB Executive Director Richard Kalm in a public board meeting earlier this month.

“I do not anticipate any significant issues during the public hearing process and believe we should be up and running before the end of the year,” Iden said.

The public hearing notice published this week outlined the objectives of the proposed rules, the full text of which can be read here:

(a) setting forth responsible gaming measures;

(b) providing for integrity monitoring;

(c) providing the Board with oversight capabilities;

(d) providing protections for authorized participants when setting up an account or placing an internet wager;

(e) setting qualifications, standards, and procedures for approval and licensure of operators, suppliers, and occupational licensees;

(f) setting technical and security standards; and

(g) setting internal control standards for operators and platform providers. These measures are designed to protect the public interest in secure, responsible, fair, and legal system of internet gaming and internet sport betting while at the same time promoting a regulatory environment that is the least burdensome alternative for those required to comply.

In addition to the rulemaking procedures, the MGCB is working to examine and approve license applications for online gambling suppliers, operators, and vendors. Suppliers, digital gaming platforms like DraftKings, FanDuel, and BetMGM, among others, were permitted to submit applications on May 15. Operators — the commercial and tribal casinos that partner with suppliers — and vendors — third-party providers of support services like affiliate marketing and payment processing — could begin applying on June 30. During the MGCB’s Aug. 11 meeting, Kalm said that so far the state had accepted applications from 11 suppliers, 15 vendors, and eight vendors.

Crowded field awaits launch

When Michiganders finally get the chance to sign up for mobile sports betting and casino iGaming accounts, they’ll have no shortage of options to choose from or lines to compare from competing sportsbooks. So far, 13 separate platforms have announced their intentions to enter Michigan’s online gambling market, including major U.S. brands like DraftKings and FanDuel and international betting giants like London-based William Hill and Australian leader PointsBet.

That opening-day bonanza can’t come soon enough for Michigan’s state government and sovereign tribal territories, whose budget outlooks have been severely impacted by the COVID-19 economic shutdown and an accompanying drop in tax revenue. The pandemic forced Detroit’s three commercial casinos to close on March 16, and they weren’t allowed to reopen until the first week of August. Through the first seven months of 2020, the city of Detroit had collected just $35.6 million in wagering taxes from the casinos, down from $101.7 million over the same period last year. The state’s take through July was $24.2 million, down from $69.2 million in 2019. Tribal casinos in Michigan began reopening in late May, but the tribal nations’ finances absorbed their own devastating blows.

Mobile gaming, when it launches, will provide vital new revenue streams for wounded municipal budgets throughout Michigan, as well as a safe and convenient alternative for sports bettors and casino gamblers who don’t feel comfortable visiting brick-and-mortar casinos during an ongoing pandemic.

“As a big NFL bettor, I am really excited about this season,” Iden said, sounding, for a moment, more like a sports fan than a legislator. “With the lack of sports throughout the year and the disappointing decision of the Big Ten to sit on the sidelines this fall, I anticipate a very prosperous NFL season for Michigan.”

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Rafe Bartholomew

Rafe has worked as an editor and writer at Harper's Magazine, Grantland, Eater, and The Athletic. He is a co-author of the New York Times Bestselling book Basketball: A Love Story and the author of two other books, Pacific Rims and Two and Two.

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