Tribes Continue To Be A Sticking Point In MI Online Casino Bill

Written By Kim Yuhl on June 7, 2018Last Updated on September 13, 2022
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In early May, Michigan Rep. Brandt Iden thought he had the votes to pass his bill legalizing online gambling and sports betting.

It turned out he was wrong.

There were issues with how existing tribal compacts would be affected. There were also questions about the constitutionality of passing the online gaming bill without a constitutional amendment.

One month later and Iden is still trying to gather the votes to pass the bill before the end of the legislative session on June 21.

Where Iden was able to answer some of the questions brought forth by his colleagues, others have arisen, and it has the potential to put the bill’s passage in jeopardy.

The remaining issue that “poisons” the bill

To gain support from the three major Detroit casinos, Iden added Section 16 to his bill H 4926. The section authorizes online poker, casino gaming and sports betting.

The section also includes is a clause that says commercial casinos would be allowed to continue their online gaming operations even if federal law changes to prevent tribes from offering online gambling outside of the reservation.

Iden refers to this section as the “poison pill.”

The tribes are asking that commercial casinos cease operations if they are forced to do the same.

The commercial casinos asked for the stipulation because they don’t want to put their investment in online gaming at risk because of a decision that doesn’t pertain to them.

Tribal casinos want assurances the state can’t provide

Indian tribes are considered sovereign nations. As such, they do not fall under the jurisdiction of the state. Their compacts are negotiated individually with the governor under the watch of the Department of Interior.

It is understandable that the tribal casinos want the same treatment and regulations as the commercial casinos. It is just not the state’s role to make that happen. Iden is trying to soften the language, but there is only so much that is within his control.

In an interview, Iden said:

The reality of it is, there isn’t a lot I can put in there to ease that concern. There isn’t a statute I can put in place to resolve your problem if you’re a sovereign nation that answers to the federal government.”

We’ve come 90 percent of the way with the tribes on this legislation. I don’t know if we’re going to be able to get them the rest of the way there, but in the end, we’re going to have online gaming in the state of Michigan, and I believe all parties will be able to take part in that. At the end of the day, it will be a win-win for Michigan and our casinos, both corporate and tribal.

There is still hope for an online gaming bill in Michigan

The Supreme Court recently overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) and created an environment where states have the authority to legalize sports betting.

This significant development has helped spur interest in online sports betting and online gaming bills in several states. Michigan, being one of them.

Iden has faced challenges in securing enough support for the bill among his colleagues. The new online gaming climate in the U.S. has helped the cause.

“We’ve got a little wind at our backs now with the decision,” Iden said. “I knew it was coming, but it came a little sooner than anticipated, which is good. It definitely added to the conversation. A lot of colleagues have been asking really good questions about the bill. I think it can only help us get this up for a vote and out of the House.”

Iden is still trying to get the bill to the floor for a vote before the legislature’s summer break. If the bill passes, it still faces a challenge in the Senate.

Iden is counting on Senator Mike Kowall to assist in the other chamber. Both Iden and Kowall are committed to passing an online gaming bill before the end of the year. For now, though, they both have their work cut out for them.

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Kim Yuhl

Kim Yuhl is a freelance writer and blogger who writes about poker culture and the online gambling industry. A part-time member of the poker media since 2013, Kim recently sold her marketing business to write full-time while traveling around the world. You can learn more about her work and travels at

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