Christie tells Michigan: “Follow Our Example”

MichiganIn an op-ed published in the Detroit News, former NJ Gov. Chris Christie has told Michigan´s legislators to “follow our example” for regulated online gambling.

Remember Chris Christie? The former Governor of New Jersey was the original figurehead of the legal challenge against PASPA that opened the door for regulated sports betting in the United States (although he had left office by the time of the Supreme Court decision). For his efforts, he was recently rewarded with an induction into the Betting Hall of Fame. Why not? Everybody has a HOF these days.

His record when it comes to online gambling is not so glowing. Christie vetoed the state´s original online gambling bill in 2011, conditionally vetoed a second bill in 2013, and – when he did eventually give online gambling the green light – was responsible for delaying PokerStars return to the United States. Nonetheless he stills considers himself a champion for online gambling according to an op-ed written by himself and published in the Detroit News.

What´s Christie Doing in Detroit?

In the op-ed, Christie shares his wisdom about online gambling with the paper´s 100,000+ readership and claims the state of Michigan would be wise to follow the example of the Garden State – where gamblers have no reason to take their action to offshore operators because the state has fostered a competitive marketplace. He conveniently ignores the pitiful state of the regulated online poker market.

Christie goes on to deliver the point of the op-ed – that the regulation of online gambling will not harm Michigan´s lottery because it didn´t do so in New Jersey. So, that´s what he´s doing in Detroit – being rolled out by proponents of regulated online gambling in Michigan to convince Gov. Gretchen Whitmer her concerns about cannibalization of the State Lottery (which funds the School Aid Fund) are unjustified. Clearly somebody didn´t tell Christie the backstory of regulated online gambling in Michigan.

For Former Gov. Christie´s Benefit

The “[geolink href=””]issue de jour[/geolink]” in Michigan is that by regulating online gambling, people will play the commercial operators´ slot games rather than slot games on the Michigan lottery´s website. That´s pretty much guaranteed because the Michigan lottery slot games have appalling payout percentages. Consequently, the State Lottery will lose millions of dollars in revenue – revenue that funds the School Aid Fund.

The current proposals to regulate online gambling in Michigan don´t account for the loss of revenue (although it was flagged in a Fiscal Impact Study in 2017), so Gov. Whitmer has told the legislature to recalculate the distribution of tax revenues. Consequently, Rep. Brandt Iden – the champion for online gambling in Michigan – is in talks with Detroit´s brick-and-mortar casino to see if they will accept a bump in tax rates. (The answer will be “yes”, because the casinos can give players fewer promotions instead).

So, for former Gov. Christie´s benefit, just because NJ´s lottery was not cannibalized by the regulation of online gambling, it doesn´t mean the same is going to happen in Michigan. In fact, if there was an example of where regulated online gambling would most likely result in cannibalization, this is it. Hopefully you (former Gov. Christie) got well paid for your op-ed, because you don´t come out of it looking very smart.

Meanwhile, No News about the Constitutional Issue

There´s been no word yet on whether Gov. Whitmer has concerns about the proposed expansion of gambling violating Michigan´s constitution, or whether she feels Rep. Brandt Iden´s “expansion of gambling opportunities” can evade a state-wide ballot. Judging by the current spate of [geolink href=””]legal challenges to gambling expansion bills[/geolink], it seems unlikely Michigan will escape without a legal battle. If this is the case, I hope proponents of regulated online gambling in Michigan get somebody smarter than former Gov. Christie to represent them.

Jacqueline Packett
Jacqueline Packett