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Michigan Senate Regulatory Reform Committee passes online gambling bill

8 Mar 2017

By Abby Messick
Michigan state capitol.

Michigan state capitol. (photo by Brian Charles Watson)

Michigan's Senate Regulatory Reform Committee today held a hearing to discuss the latest in online gambling legislation.

Senate Bill 203 – The Lawful Internet Gaming Act – sponsored by Sen. Mike Kowall, was introduced on 1 March 2017 and builds on last year's sessions.

Despite concerns over potential issues with tribal compacts, the bill passed the committee with a 7-1 vote and will be sent to the Senate for further consideration.

Sen. Mike Kowall laid out the specifics of the bill, which covers bases such as consumer protection and thwarting illegal online gambling. The bill also provided two ways for tribes to participate – if the tribe currently operates an in-state casino, it is required to submit a limited waiver of tribal sovereignty for online gambling; or a tribe can enter into a compact with the state wherein online gambling is considered to be under a separate contract.

Sen. Kowall predicted this may cause some friction in court. (Later on in the hearing, however, an Amaya representative made a case against tribal concerns. For now, this issue remains to be seen.)

Additionally, Bill Jackson, representing The Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling, brought up the fact that in the Michigan constitution there is a section that requires a vote on gambling in every city and township. He remarked that this would create "a patchwork" of cities, where some areas allow online gambling and others don't. He also cited the cost of these elections as prohibitive.

And, reminiscent of yesterday's hearing in Pennsylvania, Jackson said that online gambling – even the internet at large – is "not a safe place for Michigan families and not a safe place for our children."

John Pappas, Executive Director of the Poker Players Alliance, delivered a very thoughtful response.

"A lot of [Jackson's] comments illustrate exactly why regulation needs to happen today. We know a good bill when we see it. . . . We believe this bill is appropriate to protect consumers," he said, going on to detail the fact that the longer this legislation remains unpassed, the more people fall victim to illegal gambling sites and dubious business practices.

"Unfortunately for players, they can get scammed. And they have been scammed. It's not the fault of the player. It's the fault of the state for not appropriately authorizing it so that there are safe and regulated options for players to play on," said Pappas. "It's intellectually dishonest to claim that [online gambling] can't be regulated when we know it can be regulated."

Support was strong, however, with several Amaya personnel advocating for legalization and Innovation Group providing a promising projection of potential revenue.

The meeting struck an overall positive tone, with emphasis on consumer protections.
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