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Michigan considered legalizing sports betting for several years, even before it became fashionable to do so, before taking steps forward in December 2018. While more than a dozen states have entered the discussion in recent months, lawmakers in the Wolverine State pushed legislation since 2015.
Now, the state is actively looking at legalized sports wagering.
The state’s gambling laws are laid out in the Michigan Gaming Control and Revenue Act of 1996. That Act authorized gambling in three casinos on non-tribal land in Detroit. Appetite for passage was partially driven by the construction of a new casino in Ontario, just across the river from Michigan’s largest metropolis.
The measure was narrowly approved by 51.51 percent of the state voters and enacted into law the following year. It defines many forms of permitted “gambling games,” but there was no mention of sports betting.
That changed in December 2018 when legislators included a line in a comprehensive gaming bill permitting state regulators to issue sports betting licenses to commercial and tribal casinos. That bill was vetoed by the governor though.
The state currently has an online lottery, 23 tribal casinos, three commercial casinos, and two race tracks which host pari-mutuel horse betting.
This week's recap eventually gets to the launch of online sports betting in Indiana, but not before being sidetracked by two big business deals.
A new version of the Lawful Sports Betting Act circulated by Rep. Brandt Iden would untether the sports betting and iGaming bills.
The chances of getting language to legalize sports betting or iGaming into the Michigan budget are slim according to Michigan lawmaker.
It appeared close to happening, but will have to wait. Legislators passed a bill legalizing sports betting that Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed in December 2018. Legislation will be proposed again in 2019.
The Michigan Gaming Control Board (MGCB) has oversight over most other gambling activities in the state. The MGCB would oversee the sports betting industry via a newly created internet gaming division.
Nowhere currently. Betting likely will take place via mobile and online platforms if approved.
All commercial and tribal casinos would be allowed to apply under the approved bill.
These are the three commercial casinos in Detroit:
The legal gambling age in Michigan is 21 years old for casino gambling and 18 for pari-mutuel wagering.
Yes. In fact, that might end up being the primary (and potentially sole) option for sports betting.
Rep. Robert Kosowki had introduced sports betting legislation in each of the previous two years, and he tried again in 2017. That year, Kosowski submitted three bills on the subject.
H 4260 was a copy of his 2016 bill that moved to allow casinos to offer sports betting. “I understand the federal law prohibits [sports] gambling, but I am the kind of guy that’s willing to take on the government,” Kosowski told Legal Sports Report. He continued:
All we’re doing right now is keeping illegal bookmaking happening in our state when we could regulate it. We could help people if they have problems when they gamble. They’re going to do it anyway, why not have people watching over it?
H 4261 mirrored his other 2016 bill, but this one added some additional language. Kosowski moved to allow “parlay wagering” at both casinos and third-party facilities.
The board shall develop a licensing and regulatory program to license and regulate sports betting agents in the state. The board shall develop a system that allows parlay wagers at retail locations throughout the state. The board may work with the Bureau of State Lottery to make parlay wagers through the State Lottery system or a similar system as determined by the board.
H 4529 took a different tack than the others. It sought to amend the state’s lottery laws rather than its gambling laws. Under this third bill, lottery retailers and agents would be the ones permitted to offer parlay betting.
Kosowski’s 2017 efforts did not culminate in a committee vote. However, Rep. Brandt Iden provided another possible path to legal sports betting.
Iden was hard at work on a comprehensive online gambling bill. His first version of H 4926 prohibited sports betting, but a substitute version flipped the script. Iden included provisions for legalization with this amended language:
The division may permit an internet gaming licensee to conduct internet wagering under this act on any amateur or professional sporting event or contest, if that internet wagering is not prohibited by federal law.
Late in 2017, Iden’s Lawful Internet Gaming Act became the first with sports betting language to pass through the Committee on Regulatory Reform.
Rep. Kosowski re-introduced his 2015 bill once again in 2016. This time, H 5828 included language that would permit third parties to offer sports betting, in addition to the commercial casinos.
The board may, in addition to casinos, provide for sports betting agents to accept wagers on sporting events to facilitate sports betting in this state.
Once again, Kosowski’s bill failed to make any progress in Committee.
Rep. Kosowski has been at the forefront of the efforts since the start. In 2015, he introduced the state’s first two pieces of sports betting legislation.
H 4669 moved to allow casinos to conduct sports betting. H 4670 would have extended the permissions to include wagering on simulcast horse racing, too. It also directed the gaming commission to promulgate the necessary rules for both operations. Under the existing law, casinos are not permitted to show simulcast races, let alone accept wagers on them.
The bills’ analysis contained this comment from the House Fiscal Agency:
Presumably, the acceptance of wagers on sporting events under House Bill 4669 would have a positive fiscal impact on state and local wagering tax revenues due to the increase in adjusted casino gross receipts at the three Detroit casinos. Increased adjusted gross receipts would result in increased state and local casino wagering tax revenues.
The committee projected that sports betting licensees could realize upwards of $30 million in annual revenue, with about $2 million of that going to the state. Detroit would receive even more than that. The city houses the three commercial casinos and receives tax revenue from them. There was caution, however, that any expansion of gambling would put tribal compacts in jeopardy and create additional administrative costs.
Kosowski pitched his bills as a way to provide funds for road improvements. If passed, they would have required a voter referendum to be enacted into law.
They never did advance out of committee, but the 2015 bills did start the conversation around sports betting in Michigan.