Opinion: Michigan should legalize online gambling

Jeff Ifrah
Though brick and mortar casinos are taxed at 19%, the bills would tax online gaming at 8%.

In late December, Michigan residents came close to having a great reason to celebrate during the holiday season: state lawmakers had passed a long-awaited bill to legalize online gaming in the state, sending the bill to the Governor’s desk. The celebration was cut short, though when the bipartisan bill, which was just one step away from becoming law, was vetoed by outgoing Governor Rick Snyder just a week later.

Disappearing with the stroke of the Governor’s pen was the opportunity for a safe and legal environment for Michiganians to take part in online gaming, as well as the anticipated economic boon that would result from a new source of revenue. Thankfully, with a new year and new legislative session, the effort to regulate online gaming in Michigan is not over.

State Representative Brandt Iden, who has been championing this issue in the House, plans to once again lead the debate and move forward with a bill to legalize online gaming in the state.

Legalizing online gaming would establish a regulated and safe platform for residents to participate in a favorite American pastime that’s already happening in Michigan, but illegally. An online gaming bill would also pave the way for legal sports betting in the state. 

Whether it’s a bet made in an office pool on the Super Bowl or a wager placed on a March Madness bracket, Michigan residents continue to bet on their favorite teams, even though it’s technically illegal in the state. To safely regulate this industry and provide online entertainment in a legal environment, a law is needed.

Regulated online gaming is the only way to ensure all players and their information are secure, providing significant safeguards for consumers who chose to participate. In fact, it’s far easier to verify a player’s age and monitor spending online than it is in person.

That’s because online platforms provide real-time tracking measures, while stringent auditing and ongoing monitoring track and prevent fraudulent activity online. It’s also much easier to implement daily spend limits, as well as monitor for and identify problem gamblers, which helps prevent abuse and provide support for those who need it.

Legalizing online gaming and sports betting in Michigan will also bring a much-needed revenue boost to the state. In New Jersey, one of the first states to legalize online gaming, the local economy has benefited from millions of dollars in online gaming. iDEA Growth’s independent peer reviewed research over a three-year period, showed that the industry brought 3,374 full-time jobs and $218.9 million in wages to New Jersey employees. It also yielded $124.4 million in tax revenue to state and local governments, including $83.5 million in online gaming taxes.

Most recently, December closed 2018 as the highest month in revenue for New Jersey from online gaming at $29 million. Total gaming revenue was nearly $300 million in 2018, bringing the total to $1 billion dollars since its inception in 2013. These revenue streams support the local economy and benefit important government-funded programs in New Jersey, and this is an opportunity Michigan should not miss.

There’s also been no reported evidence to date of an increase in fraud or other dangers because of legal online gaming.

Michigan has the chance to be a leader on this issue and join other forward-thinking states who are offering legalized online gaming and sports betting for their residents. We urge state lawmakers to vote to legalize online gaming and not leave consumer protections, and money, on the table.

Jeff Ifrah is founder of iDEA Growth, an organization seeking to expand onlne interactive entertainment business.