Michigan Lawmaker Amending Gambling Bill

Michigan State Senator Mike Kowall (l.) is amending Senate Bill 203, which would allow tribes to apply for online casino licenses and share up to 10 percent of the revenue with the state. Tribes claimed the legislation gave commercial casinos an unfair advantage, but commercial casinos claim the bill gives the advantage to tribes.

In Michigan, legislators continue to make changes to Senate Bill 203 as they attempt to integrate current state and federal laws with Native American tribal law regarding online casino operations. The changes could delay the bill’s start date by months, said Senate Majority Leader Mike Kowall, who sponsored the legislation.

Originally SB 203 allowed tribes to apply for online casino licenses, which would be commercially operated and taxed, and be subject to state regulation. Recently, Kowall added an amendment stating Michigan’s 12 casino-owning tribes may operate online casinos only if existing gambling compacts are amended. As a result, tribes would regulate their online like they do their land-based casinos. If the tribes comply with this part of the bill, they would have to agree to share up to 10 percent of casino revenue with the state.

Kowall said the changes to the legislation are being made at the request of the tribes, who felt the bill challenged their sovereignty and gave commercial casino operators an unfair advantage. Several tribes previously opposed to the bill are said to support it now. Detroit’s three commercial casinos, however, have said the tribes would have a competitive advantage under the bill.

The measure still needs to address legal issues such as anti-tax provisions and whether tribes can accept bets from beyond reservation borders. Some tribal members claim the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act does not permit taxes.

Opponents also have said the bill also could be in violation of both the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act and the Wire Act. In that case, the U.S. Department of Justice could get involved.