Despite Hearing, Michigan Tribe Taking A Wait-And-See Approach To Sports Betting

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One of Michigan’s top tribal gaming groups is not tabling its cards on the sports betting issue in the wake of a hearing this past Friday.

The Gaming Commission for the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians met on Nov. 30 in New Buffalo to engage in an “appraisal” of “U.S. sports betting.” The Commission looked at the “proper regulatory and integrity framework,” as well as state-level efforts in Lansing. Tribal gaming is regulated by the federal government, but Michigan does get a piece of tribal casino revenue.

According to a spokesperson for the commission, nothing was formally decided at the hearing. Similar to a hearing in Kansas this week, the meeting was informational in nature. The year is winding to a close, so it’s wise to lay some of the groundwork before things heat up in 2019. The District of Columbia is the exception, as the the jurisdiction appears in a hurry to tackle sports betting before Christmas.

The Pokagon gaming regulators aren’t yet indicating whether they are interested in sportsbooks, even though it would surely provide an uptick to their gaming revenues.

“The Pokagon Band will continue to monitor national progress on sports wagering and prepare to implement the regulatory infrastructure when or if the Tribe decides to engage in such activity,” the spokesperson told MiBets. It’s worth noting that the group is paying closer attention to national developments than those in Michigan.

Could another under-the-radar, New Mexico-style launch be in the works?

Sports betting states with tribal gaming

Of the seven states nationwide that have seen the launch of single-game sports wagering since PASPA’s demise in May, only New Mexico and Mississippi have tribal gaming with sports betting. New Mexico has 28 tribal casinos and five racinos, while Mississippi has just three tribal casinos and 28 commercial facilities, according to figures from the American Gaming Association. Michigan’s tribal casinos outnumber the commercial casinos in Detroit 8:1.

It’s worth noting that New Mexico sports betting is happening in the absence of a new law, as the Santa Ana Star Casino launched under its tribal gaming compact. Michigan has 24 tribal casinos, with 12 separate compacts with the tribal groups for Class III gaming. Sports betting is considered Class III gaming under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988.

New York, Minnesota and Connecticut have large tribal gaming presences and will look at sports wagering in 2019. Florida last month saw the voter approval of a constitutional amendment that could limit sports betting to just the tribal casinos.

There’s plenty to shakeout in 2019 in states with a complex multitude of stakeholders, especially in the case of Michigan where online/mobile betting will more than likely be relatively quick to follow after brick-and-mortar betting kicks off. The launches could potentially occur together. No tribe currently offers online/mobile sports betting from its lands.

As New Jersey has already shown, online/mobile is the future of sports wagering, so Michigan tribes would be at a disadvantage if the Detroit casinos have statewide mobile products and they were confined to on-site sportsbooks and mobile confined to tribal lands.

Online casino, sports betting likely to become one bill in Michigan

This year, the state will more than likely fail once again at authorizing online casino gambling, setting the stage for a single gambling expansion bill to come forward in 2019 that wouldn’t only partially approve sports betting.

Michigan Rep. Brandt Iden, who is at this moment still pushing an active online gaming bill that would include preliminary sports betting approval, has said that legislation needs to satisfy the tribal gaming groups in Michigan. Iden’s online casino proposal cleared the House in June, but it has stalled in the Senate.

On the other hand, he has also indicated that online casino and sports betting wouldn’t need 100% support among the state’s stakeholders. In other words, the votes might be there in the legislature even without the backing of the state’s tribal gaming interests.

In 2017, the tribes collectively remitted $57.3 million based on their gaming revenues. The state’s take was down 4.3% year-over-year from $59.9 million. The Pokagon Band operates three casinos and led the way last year with $20.2 million in revenue sharing. A state report said that figure represented 6-8% of net gaming win.

The Gaming Commission for the Bay Mills Indian Community, one of the oldest tribal gaming operators in Michigan, told MiBets late last month that it too hasn’t ironed out its sports betting position.

Iden is flirting with the highly-controversial “integrity fees” for his forthcoming sports betting push in 2019. It’s unclear how that would jive with the tribal gaming compacts between the state and the tribal groups. No state has yet to mandate royalties that sportsbook operators would have to fork over to the sports leagues.

Iden told US Bets that he wants his legislation to be a “model” for other states. It remains to be seen if the tribes aren’t interested in being part of that plan.

But, hey, at least Michigan isn’t California.

Brian Pempus

Brian served as a senior reporter and online content manager for Card Player Magazine for nearly a decade before joining USBets in October 2018. He is currently focused on legal and regulated sports betting and online gaming. He's an avid jiu-jitsu practitioner in his free time.

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