Column: Let’s legalize internet gaming

Brandt Iden

The internet and the convenience of mobile devices are changing the way we do everything.

We stay in touch with family and friends online. We shop online. We buy tickets to sporting events and movies online.

And make no mistake about it — people across Michigan already are playing poker, black jack and other casino-style games online. When they play for money, they are doing so illegally under current state law. They also risk identity theft, problems accessing their money and other dangers playing on unsafe, unregulated sites.

As market forces and technology evolve, legalization is inevitable. It’s simply a question of how and when, just as it was when Michigan legalized in-person casino gaming decades ago. What the industry calls “igaming” already is legal in four states — Delaware, Nevada, New Jersey and Pennsylvania — and many other states are lining up behind them to do the same.

Michigan should get in the game. It would benefit the state to be on the early edge of this evolution, protecting players with responsible rules while raising new revenue to help provide essential public services.

That’s why I sponsored legislation in the Michigan House to legalize internet gaming. The bills were approved by the House Regulatory Reform Committee with strong bipartisan support on Dec. 13. I will continue to work with my legislative colleagues in hopes of making this proposal law in 2018.

This is simply an updated platform for existing gaming — not new gaming. Internet wagering would be legal only through casinos already in Michigan — the three in Detroit, and any tribal casino that would rework its agreement with the state to reflect the new technology. Games would be available on casino websites and phone apps evolving just as they have for other institutions offering shopping, banking and a host of other services.

We will be proactive and protect consumers. These websites would have strict state oversight, unlike the offshore and illegal sites now used by Michiganders. Only those 21 and older could play, and their accounts would have built-in safety features. People will be more secure knowing they’re playing on a regulated website through a known entity rather than through some unknown site with no protections against unscrupulous operators. A portion of revenue would go to help problem gamblers.

The bill calls for 10 percent of gross gaming revenues to go to the state and local communities. That potentially translates to millions of dollars benefiting roads, police and fire departments, schools and other services that make our lives better every day — without a general tax increase.

Our three Detroit casinos have generated more than $266 million in state and local wagering taxes so far in 2017. Our tribal casinos have generated millions more. Michigan could expect additional revenue counting in the millions through internet gaming without hurting business in the brick-and-mortar casinos scattered from Detroit to the Upper Peninsula.

It’s the right thing to do. And it’s the right time to do it, for the safety of Michigan consumers and the betterment of our communities.

Rep. Brandt Iden, R-Oshtemo, chairs the House Regulatory Reform Committee and represents Michigan’s 61st District.