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Iden Optimistic for Regulated Online Gambling in Michigan

MichiganBrandt Iden has reportedly made optimistic noises about the passage of his Lawful Internet Gaming Act despite creating a bigger rift between stakeholders.

There is little doubt that Brandt Iden is one of the hardest working proponents of regulated online gambling anywhere in the U.S. Having only just been re-elected to Michigan´s House of Representatives, Iden has already been in discussions with colleagues in the Senate about his Lawful Internet Gaming Act, and last week he shot over to Washington to contribute to the U.S. Sports Betting Summit.

It was at the Washington Summit Iden reportedly said he fully expected his proposed Lawful Internet Gaming Act to be on the governor´s desk by the end of the year. However, it was also reported that Iden has changed his views on paying integrity fees to sports bodies and is now in favour of them – a change in direction which is likely to further alienate the state´s commercial and tribal casinos.

Why Iden´s Change of Heart is an Issue

Although Iden´s change of heart is related to his proposals for sports betting, and doesn´t impact the content of his Lawful Internet Gaming Act that passed the House in June, his relationship with the state´s commercial and tribal casinos has never been one of mutual admiration. Every time Iden suggests a solution to commercial casinos´ problems, tribal interests kick off and vice versa.

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The issue of integrity fees is likely to be particularly difficult to resolve simply because the MGM Grand Detroit Casino already has a partnership with the National Basketball Association to access official NBA data. This agreement will undermine any attempt by the state to extract an integrity fee from MGM; and if the MGM is excluded from paying the integrity fee, nobody else will expect to pay it either.

The integrity fee issue is one that could easily spill over into online gambling and delay the Act´s passage through the Senate – not just during the forthcoming lame duck session, but also going into next year. Michigan has twenty-three tribal casinos spread throughout the state, and many of them will have contributed to their respective Senators´ campaign funds. If tribal interests express dissatisfaction with the way gambling proposals are going, the Senators may vote against the Act until the issue is resolved.

Issues Mounting to Dampen Optimism

The integrity fee issue is just the latest of a number of issues that could sway Senators to vote against the Lawful Internet Gambling Act. There is still no concrete resolution to the renegotiation of tribal compacts, nor the question of whether Iden´s proposed “expansion of gambling servicesviolates the state constitution. Plus there is the risk of cannibalizing the state lottery´s online casino-style games.

Furthermore, since the House of Representatives passed Iden´s proposals back in June, a study released by Pew Charitable Trusts reported that “sin taxes” are an unreliable source of long-term tax revenues and could result in structural budget deficiencies. If that were not enough to dissuade Senators from putting the state budget at risk, doubts have been cast over the accuracy of gaming revenue projections.

As I mentioned above, there is no doubt that Brandt Iden is working hard towards the regulation of online gambling in Michigan. However, to state he expects to have the Lawful Internet Gaming Act on the governor´s desk by the end of the year is extremely optimistic when you consider the mounting number of issues he has to overcome before the current legislative session ends and the Act dies.

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