Amended Online Gambling Bill Emerges in Michigan

Earlier this year, Michigan emerged as one of the states that were considering the legalization of online gambling. S 203, sponsored by Senate Majority Floor Leader Mike Kowall, appeared on the Senate floor in March and was quickly approved by the Senate Regulatory Reform Committee.

The iGaming legislative process then came to a sudden stop. The hiatus lasted more than three months and it was not until recently that a revised S 203 was once again introduced.

Generally speaking, the legislative piece appears to be very similar to its predecessor. It still lacks in a specific regulatory framework but vests state gambling regulators with the responsibility to design a set of online gaming rules, under which the industry will be regulated.

Licensed local casinos, both commercial and tribal, would be able to apply for an iGaming license. Here it is important to note that the authorization of tribes to run online gaming operations was a sticking point in previous online gambling legalization discussions.

Michigan’s federally-recognized tribes opposed strongly the original version of S 203. Under the legislative piece, the Michigan Gaming Control Board would have been the regulator to license both commercial and tribal iGaming operations. This would have turned tribal operators into commercial ones.

And if they had not wanted to operate as commercial operators, they would have had to amend their current compacts with Michigan.

The revised S 203 would make it possible for each individual tribe self-regulate its iGaming operations. However, they will still have to amend their existing gambling compacts with the state. What is more, they will have to comply with the state-introduced responsible gambling and consumer protection measures.

Another important change in the new version of S 203 is the introduction of a language that places a year-long moratorium on commercial casinos interested to launch iGaming operations. In addition, under the bill, Michigan regulators will have to act within a 90-day period in case a tribe has filed a request to launch a gambling website.

Although Sen. Kowall has expressed optimism about the bill’s success during the current legislative session, its approval in both chambers of the Michigan Legislature by the end of the year does not seem a likely scenario. The legislative piece may gain enough support in the Senate. However, the Michigan House has long been more moderate in its opinion on online gambling, so convincing House Representatives into voting in favor of the bill might prove a challenge.

S 203 will also require a signature from Gov. Rick Snyder in order to come into effect as a law. Michigan’s highest ranking official has kept quiet on the matter so far.

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