Christmas Week The Absolute Earliest Online Gambling Will Be Available In Michigan

It's been a long road, but online sports betting and casino games might be ready to roll by Christmas week in Michigan.
Christmas tree

First, the good news: If things break exactly right on the legislative front, Santa Claus might be leaving his thoughts on six-team parlays under the Christmas trees (and next to the menorahs) of Michigan residents this holiday season.

The bad news? That’s the earliest Michiganders can hope to be able to place sports wagers or play casino games online. 

And at least one legislator – Rep. Brandt Iden, who spearheaded the push to bring sports betting to Michigan – would lay even odds it will get done by the time Santa comes to town, and negative odds it happens by the time the ball drops on New Year’s Eve.

“I’m very confident,” Iden said. “I’ve had productive conversations with the chair of the committee, there’s been a lot of push from stakeholders and other operators to get this done, and we obviously want to capture Super Bowl and playoff revenue, and some college football bowl revenue as well.”

How the sausage gets made

Backing up to the “chair of the committee.” That would be Sen. Peter Lucido, and the committee in question is known as JCAR – the Joint Committee on Legislative Rules.

The legislative process for online gaming went something like this: The legislature passed the law, and then the Michigan Gaming Control Board (MGCB) fine-tuned the legislation to the nitty-gritty. At that point, it got kicked over to JCAR.

JCAR’s role is to fine-tune the nitty-gritty, making sure everything checks out. So once JCAR – a 10-member, bipartisan group consisting of five state senate members and five state representatives – got the rules, they get 15 session days to make a decision, which can take one of three forms: 1) They can “waive” the rules through by vote, meaning everything is good to go, or, 2) They can make changes to the rules, in which case it would get sent back to the MGCB for a second round of fine-tuning, and then it would be sent back to JCAR, where the 15-session day rule would start anew, or 3) Do nothing, and once the 15 session days expire, the rules become – to put it simply – the rules.

JCAR has had the rules for three session days, the MGCB sent a letter on Oct. 26 asking for the waiver, and, as of this writing, Sen. Lucido has yet to put the matter on the schedule. 

The next legislative session is scheduled for Dec. 1, and so that’s the absolute earliest Lucido could put it on the schedule and JCAR could make a decision. And even if they waive it through that day …

We estimate it will take about three weeks to launch after the rules are filed,” said Mary Kay Bean, the spokesperson for the MGCB. The agency sent every operator and platform provider a pre-launch checklist to complete and submit by next week. We will have a better idea [on launch dates] once the checklists are returned. If JCAR meets by the first week of December and waives the rules, the MGCB should be able to authorize launch this year. Some of the required steps for launching can’t occur until after the rules go into effect. If the rules aren’t in effect until after early December, we probably are looking at a 2021 launch.”

Hence, late December 2020 at best.

Iden very confident in 2020 launch

Iden, though, steadfastly believes that’s more or less the way things are going to play out.

“Another thing that’s important to note is the chair of the committee, Sen. Lucido, recently won the election for Macomb County prosecutor. He is leaving office at the end of year,” Iden said. “It adds incentive for him to clear his committee calendar and take care of issues before he leaves. I really think we’re in a good spot to get this done in December. He could, in theory, call a meeting as soon as Dec. 1, and then hopefully we’d have operators licensed by the end of the month. The rules have been thoroughly vetted, all the stakeholders have had input, there’s been a public hearing process. It leads me to believe we’re in a good spot and we’ll get this quickly approved.”

So approval is option #1. Option #2 is JCAR finds issues, and sends it back to the MGCB. That would be less than ideal, obviously. And option #3 – wait for the 15 days to run out – is impossible, as there aren’t 15 legislative days left in the calendar year. Which means if JCAR doesn’t meet, vote, and waive the rules, the whole process will start over in 2021. The rules would have to be re-presented to JCAR, and they would have a new 15 legislative days to mull it over.

And if they take the full amount of time?

“Then we’re looking at late February at the earliest, maybe early March,” said Iden.


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