Michigan Senate panel OKs sports betting, online gambling

Posted at 9:20 AM, Dec 11, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-11 17:18:19-05

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan would legalize sports betting and internet gambling under bills approved Tuesday by a legislative panel, as lawmakers worked to send the measures to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer by week's end.

The Senate Regulatory Reform Committee voted unanimously for most of the package after making changes to the version that cleared the House in October, setting the stage for final votes on Wednesday.

“The major parts of this package, I think we have found good landing spots on," said Sen. Aric Nesbitt, a Lawton Republican who chairs the panel.

The tax on sports wager receipts after winnings are paid out would be 8.4%. The tax on internet poker and other online games would range between 20% and 28%. Most of the new revenue would go to Michigan's fund for public schools. Some, $4 million a year, would be earmarked to a state fund that compensates first responders for lost wages and medical benefits if they get cancer from fighting fires.

“The intention is to get this to the governor's desk," said Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., an East Lansing Democrat who is closely involved in negotiations. “It makes us like a lot of other states."

Gov. Whitmer released this statement:

“The governor is pleased with the progress made on gaming over the course of this year, particularly once Senator Hertel and Representative Warren were able to engage and resolve key issues to get this package across the finish line. The governor’s top priority when getting this done was to protect the School Aid Fund, and Senator Hertel and Representative Warren helped make that happen and addressed a number of other concerns she had. This is a good, bipartisan solution made possible by working together on a complex issue, and the governor looks forward to closely reviewing this package once it hits her desk.”

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2018 paved the way for all 50 states to allow sports gambling. It is underway in 13 states and has been authorized in six more, according to the American Gaming Association. Michigan would join at least four other states that allow casinos to offer online poker or other forms of internet gambling.

The broad package of bills also would regulate and tax the paid fantasy sports industry, make regulatory changes related to charity poker rooms and overhaul rules for the Detroit casinos. A provision that would repeal a prohibition on people with at least a 1% stake in a casinodonating to candidates or political committees drew criticism from at least one senator.

Sen. Ruth Johnson, a Holly Republican, said Michigan voters backed the restriction when they approved a ballot initiative authorizing the three casinos in Detroit.

“The people voted for this in 1996 under Prop E," she said.

Because the bill would change the voter-approved law, it would need the support of three-fourths of the House and Senate. The Senate later passed it 34-4. It was sent back to the House, which approved the measure last week, because changes were made.

Hertel defended allowing casino owners and others in management to make political contributions, saying corporations that own the casinos “already give through other means" — an apparent reference to super PACs. He said state law currently bars restaurants and other businesses that accept casino “comps” from donating.

“I think it's blatantly unconstitutional. I'm not sure how it's stood up in Michigan for as long as it has," Hertel said.

Sen. Jeremy Moss, a Southfield Democrat, noted that the bill also would let people with a criminal past work in Detroit casinos as long as they pose no threat to the integrity of gambling.

“When someone has paid their debt to society and is successfully rehabilitated, they should be welcomed back into the workforce with open arms and this includes within the gaming industry,” he said.