Pennsylvania and Michigan Push Toward Internet Gaming Legalization
Legalizing online gambling has been a major challenge for states since the passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006. Many states have tried to pass legislation in the meantime, but few have successfully done so. There is no shortage of opposition to such measures, and not many lawmakers are willing to take the issue head-on.
Most iGaming bills introduced by lawmakers so far in 2017 have failed. That said, there’s still a chance that both Pennsylvania and Michigan could get something passed before the calendar flips to 2018.
The push to legalize internet gambling in Pennsylvania is nothing new. A variety of lawmakers have unsuccessfully tried to get something done for at least five years now. However, the issue has been slowly gaining momentum over the last two years. Last fall, the state Senate had the chance to vote on a huge gambling bill that included provisions regarding internet gaming.
Unfortunately, the Senate failed to vote on the bill before the legislative session ended last year. The issue was brought back up earlier this year, but it has already faced roadblocks.
However, a budget problem may have revived the motion’s chances at proceeding. Lawmakers are seeking about $2.2 billion to close a huge budget gap, and the legalization of internet gambling could be a way to help get that done.
Earlier this year, the Pennsylvania Senate introduced a bill that includes online gambling as a potential additional source of revenue. The bill was passed to the House of Representatives, but the House’s GOP caucus subsequently drew up a different state budget plan that did not resemble the Senate’s plan in the least. The House’s bill included no provisions about internet gambling regulation or legalization.
The Senate quickly voted down the House’s plan, and they have recently been drawing up a new budget proposal behind closed doors. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf has stated previously that he would support the regulation of internet gambling if it would be a valuable source of revenue for the state.
The Senate and House have struggled to come to an agreement regarding the installation of lottery terminals at bars and truck stops. The Senate has supported the idea in the past, but the House has been against it. Pennsylvania recently saw its credit rating downgraded, which could help push desperate lawmakers to come up with a plan sooner than later.
Michigan doesn’t have a long history of talking about legalizing iGaming, though the subject was broached for the first time in 2016. It didn’t gain much strength, but Senator Mike Kowall introduced a new bill earlier this year that discussed the legalization of internet gambling.
Kowall’s bill included provisions on legalizing online casino games and poker inside Michigan’s borders. The bill also provided the chance for tribal casinos to launch their own exclusive iGaming operations. There was a catch, though. The tribes would have had to agree to waive their sovereign immunity in order to do so.
Kowall’s bill also included a 10 percent tax rate on revenue from internet gaming services in the state. Unfortunately, the bill also didn’t have much by way of specifics regarding how the operations would be regulated and overseen. The Michigan Gaming Control Board would be given a year to come up with said specifics.
Kowall’s bill passed in the Senate Regulatory Reform Committee quickly, but it hasn’t budged since. Earlier in September, Rep. Brandt Iden introduced a separate bill that would legalize internet casino and poker games. However, it also didn’t include regulatory framework. The bill would also grant Michigan the chance to negotiate agreements with other states in which internet gambling is legal.
Iden’s bill includes a 15 percent tax on operators, up from Kowall’s 10 percent. Iden’s bill also says that Indian tribes may offer their own online operations only if they have previously come to a deal with the state of Michigan under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988.
Iden’s bill has not yet been voted upon by the House Committee, but it’s evident that the state is gaining steam on the issue. It may not get passed until 2018, but Michigan is moving in the right direction.
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