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Thursday, January 19, 2017
Michigan Introduces Sports Betting Bill; Third State This Year

New Jersey's quest to overturn the federal ban on state-sanctioned sports betting had largely been a solo effort for the past four-and-one-half years. States that were interested in having legal sports betting within their borders (and there were many) were largely content to remain on the sidelines and let New Jersey carry the water--and, of course, all of the legal fees--on the issue and, hopefully, one day reap the dividends of a New Jersey victory. That eventuality may still come to pass, especially as it appears that the Supreme Court is inching towards taking a look at PASPA.

But several states are no longer content to wait it out, and have recently advanced legislation to legalize sports betting. Earlier this month, South Carolina and New York lawmakers introduced bills that would legalize sports betting through an amendment to that state's constitution (which would be accomplished through a voter referendum), although one influential New York lawmaker, Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow (the Chair of the Assembly Racing and Wagering Committee), maintains that a constitutional amendment is not necessary in New York and plans on introducing his own bill (sans constitutional amendment) later this month.

The latest state to crash the party is Michigan. On Wednesday, State Rep. Robert Kosowksi (D-Westland) introduced House Bill No. 406, which seeks to amend the Michigan Gaming Control and Revenue Act to allow the holder of any state-issued casino license "to accept wagers on sporting events." The bill also seeks to empower the state gaming control board to promulgate rules to regulate the conduct of sports betting." (A link to the bill can be found here). The bill seeks to legalize sports betting in Michigan through a vote of "qualified electors of this state at the next general election after the effective date of this amendatory act." In other words, a voter referendum, similar to the South Carolina and New York measures. But with a slight variation. The Michigan bill proposes two referenda: a statewide vote and a vote by electors in the township or city where the sports betting would take place. Under the bill, which was referred yesterday to the Committee on Regulatory Reform, the proposed constitutional amendment to allow sports betting in Michigan would take effect "10 days after the date of the official declaration of the [statewide and local] vote." 

The reason why Michigan lawmakers would propose a voter referendum--rather than just legalize it themselves through a straight-up legislative enactment--is because of the state constitutional prohibition against gambling, which would require an amendment to the state constitution to create exceptions to that prohibition, such as for sports gambling. That's one of the reasons why iGaming faces such a uphill battle in Michigan. But there may be more of an appetite for legal sports betting in Michigan. The stronger opposition is more likely to come from forces outside the state, such as the four major professional sports leagues (NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL) and the NCAA, which would assuredly bring a federal court lawsuit--invoking PASPA--to block the implementation of any state-sanctioned sports betting scheme.

Regardless of whether this new measure is ultimately approved by the state legislature (and by Michigan voters), we are finally seeing aggressive action from statehouses on the issue of sports betting. The New Year is only 19 days old, and we already have three new bills to legalize sports betting, with more likely on the way soon. This will be a fascinating development to watch unfold, especially against the backdrop of New Jersey's efforts to overturn PASPA in court (the Supreme Court), the Donald Trump "wild card," and the American Gaming Association's ongoing lobbying efforts before Congress. 2017 is shaping up to be a dynamic year on the sports betting legalization front, with multiple points of entry and plenty of intrigue and drama.


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