Michigan Still Has Quite A Ways To Go Before Offering Sports Betting

The legislative calendar and tribal opposition looks to be holding up Michigan from offering sports betting in 2018.
Michigan Sports Betting Far From Finish Line

Despite being a state with an extremely popular lottery and a strong casino industry, Michigan has traditionally been slow to expand into new gaming verticals.

Now that the Supreme Court has overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, many different state legislatures are moving forward with their own laws to allow wagering on sporting events. Few states want to be left out of a potential new source of significant revenues, so what is the current status of sports betting in Michigan?

Has there been any progress?

Sadly, there has been surprisingly little.

A number of proposals for expanding the state’s existing gambling options to the internet have been proposed in the last year, some of which have included language that would help clear the way to also allow sports betting in addition to online casinos. In this regard many have hoped that the pursuit of sports betting legislation will help end the delays in attaining iGaming as well.

Of these, the most promising has been House Bill 4926 by Representative Brant Iden. This bill has since been combined with other efforts into Michigan’s Lawful Internet Gaming Act, and has been passed in the state House but still awaits its day in the state Senate. Unfortunately it remains somewhat lacking in widespread support, so more amendments and negotiations will likely be needed before it can be passed and enacted.

LIGA would not allow sports betting on its own, but lays a foundation on which another future sports wagering bill can later be built.

What is the holdup?

The biggest impediment to forward progress has unfortunately been the calendar itself, as the state government session has been in recess for the season. Limited meetings planned the rest of the summer will likely be insufficient to work through any of the obstacles to current proposals, so no breakthroughs are expected any time soon.

Of those current obstacles, the largest seems to be opposition from tribal casino owners. Michigan has three major commercial casinos in the Detroit area, and the remaining casinos in the state are all operated by individual tribes.

While interested in the new opportunities, these tribes have been reluctant to support online gaming or sports wagering under the current legal environment. There is legitimate fear that current laws as written will put them at a disadvantage. Since each tribe has their own legal compact with the state, these will need to be renegotiated individually to add additional terms for such a significant change as a completely new type of betting.

Iden’s proposal had been modified to earn the support of the tribes, but many seem to feel it does an insufficient job of addressing their concerns. While there are provisions for renegotiations in the revised bill, the process is not yet concrete enough. Additionally, as tribal operations are affected by federal laws there remains a chance that any state agreement could prove legally insufficient.

When and where will Michigan eventually allow sports wagering?

The Where

The current trend among states moving forward with sports betting has largely been to permit licenses to existing casinos and horse racing tracks to start, with plans to allow online sportsbooks through internet-based casinos later on (when and where available).

In the case of Michigan that is a bit more complicated, as the racing industry has steadily dwindled in recent years. As of this spring Northville Downs became the only racetrack still in operation, and shortly after announced the impending sale of their own land (with only vague plans shared and rumors of possible new locations).

With no forward progress on developing iGaming websites yet, that would leave only brick-and-mortar casinos as ideal locations for sports wagering operations at first. While Detroit’s casinos would almost certainly pursue the option, that’s only three locations in fairly close proximity to each other. This brings the issue again around to requiring the support of the tribal operators, which again means working out a clear solution as to how to renegotiate their compacts with the state under acceptable terms.

The When

While there was a limited state Senate meeting on July 25th and one planned for the House on August 15th, they both appear to be tight schedules with no opportunity focus on either online gaming or sports betting.

Officially the legislature should be back in full operation by September 5th. Even then it is expected that the elected officials will be tied up with issues that pertain more heavily toward the outcome of the upcoming elections in November.

In the best case scenario, Rep Iden believes that with the help of state Senator  Mike Kowall they will be able to get a completed bill to the Governor by the end of the year.

If that should not happen, any progress on the current proposals will die and new bills will need to be submitted for 2019.


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