Like Snyder, Whitmer opposes online gambling legislation

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Legislation to legalize online gambling in Michigan that former Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed last year could meet a similar fate under current Gov. Gretchen Whitmer without fiscal changes.

The package of bills, which hinges on passage of House Bill 4311 sponsored by state Rep. Brandt Iden (R-Portage), would make Michigan just the seventh state to allow any form of online gambling.

Gretchen Whitmer (left) and Rick Snyder (right)

Iden told the Advance he’s working closely with the Whitmer administration to address their concerns and ensure that the state’s School Aid Fund, which funds Michigan’s K-12 schools, is held harmless by the legislation.

A report from the nonpartisan House Fiscal Agency (HFA) notes that “in general, the bills likely would result in a net reduction in revenues for state and local governments, including the City of Detroit.” The agency says that’s because there are differing tax rates between online gambling and brick-and-mortar casinos, as well as differences in how gaming revenues get distributed to local units of government when they’re generated online.

The HFA notes that determining the overall fiscal impact for state and local coffers is difficult due to fluctuations in gaming revenues.

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Those unknown fiscal impacts have Whitmer siding with her predecessor, at least for now.

“As written, the fiscal implication is concerning; however, we are open to further discussion regarding this legislation,” Whitmer spokeswoman Tiffany Brown wrote in an email to the Advance.

Iden’s bill, as well as legislation tied to it — House Bills 4308, 4309, 4312 and 4323 — has a wide variety of supporters and detractors. Casinos and other groups tied to online gambling have expressed support for the legislation, while several school groups, the state Budget Office and the Department of Treasury are opposed.

The package also has some bipartisan lawmaker support, as HB 4312 and HB 4323 are sponsored by state Reps. Wendell Byrd (D-Detroit) and LaTanya Garrett (D-Detroit), respectively.

Brandt Iden

Iden told the Advance on Tuesday that he’s pushing forward with the bills and hopes to vote them out of the House Ways and Means Committee — which he chairs — sometime in June.

“We’re definitely working with the administration … we’re listening to their concerns and we’re going to be working with Treasury to try and come to a landing spot,” Iden said.

He said that the Whitmer administration is concerned about schools losing revenue, adding, “I disagree with the premise [and] have since Day One when the [Snyder] administration argued the same thing.”

Still, Iden acknowledged that in order to win Whitmer’s support “we’ve got to work to be able to hold the School Aid Fund harmless. That’s the key.”

Nick Manes
Nick Manes covers West Michigan, business and labor, health care and the safety net. He previously spent six years as a reporter at MiBiz covering commercial real estate, economic development and all manner of public policy at the local and state levels. His byline also has appeared in Route Fifty and The Daily Beast. When not reporting around the state or furiously tweeting, he enjoys spending time with his girlfriend, Krista, biking around his hometown of Grand Rapids and torturing himself rooting for the Detroit Lions.

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