Six states have legalized online casinos.
But, so far, only Illinois sports betting is legal online in the Prairie State. As of now, gamblers still travel to one of 11 Illinois casinos to play slots, card games and roulette.
But there is a path to change that. A blend of preparation and partners can bring IL online casinos and other states, according to industry stakeholders.
Laura Burd served as senior counsel for the Pennsylvania Control Board. That gave her a front-row seat as that state introduced online casino game rules. The state leaked gambling revenue to next-door New Jersey at the time. Pennsylvania lawmakers brought in market experts to set the new policy. The consultants arrived from New Jersey, other states and some small European markets to get the process started.
“We’d done a lot of the legwork,” she said, speaking during the iDEA Growth Power Lunch Summit webinar on Sept. 21 called: The Case for Legal iGaming in your State. “We taught ourselves and we had outlined what we wanted to do for regulations.”
Many requirements were already in place as lawmakers worked out policy language.
“When it came time to actually draft the meat and bones of doing the regulations — and circulating those around departments — we had a lot already in place and ready to go,” Burd said.
Building an online casino game coalition
Henry Williams of the Michigan Gaming Control Board (MGCB) also spoke during the webinar. He said states such as Illinois should copy his state’s laws and administrative rules when it comes to iGaming.
“I would encourage any other jurisdiction: Don’t be afraid to reach out to Michigan. Call us, come talk to us. Come see how we’re doing it. Any way that we can help, we are available. I think some people or jurisdictions try to recreate the wheel, but it’s already out there. We send staff across the United States.”
The MGCB executive director encouraged policymakers to hold an open forum. Sit down with all of the stakeholders. And, keep in mind: Everyone isn’t going to get everything they want.
“Here in Michigan, of course, we needed the commercial casinos on board, we needed the tribes on board. We needed the public to be on board, all the different lobbyists and all the different stakeholders and interest groups. And so I think it really clicked for all of us to listen to each other.”
Online casino games vs. an Illinois casino trip
Michigan state Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. told webinar viewers that online casino game companies in Michigan had to reach agreements with land-based casinos. It was the only way online casino games could work in his state.
“The city of Detroit is heavily funded by their three main casinos. And so there were concerns that iGaming would take away from the bricks-and-mortar games. We did a couple of things in order to allay those concerns. We required heavy geocaching so that casinos couldn’t just change their casinos into an iGaming parlor and avoid paying the local taxes.”
Hertel also said Michigan wrote in policy to protect Detroit from lost tax revenue. If online casino games cost Detroit gaming tax revenue, Michigan’s online casino market would cover the shortfall.
“It’s a great new source of revenue,” Hertel said. “That’s an important part of the prospect. We’re always looking for more dollars for our schools. And that was certainly something that was pushed.”
Hertel said Michigan constituents clamored specifically of sports betting. The numbers in his state tell a different story, however. Online casino games have been the “the number one way to actually get those tax dollars into our system.”
“So, I think having them go together, I think is incredibly important in that regard.”
Make legislation harder to attack
From fantasy football to five-card draw, betting is a way of life in the US. But gambling will have opponents in any jurisdiction. Hertel encouraged states like Illinois to find worthy destinations for gambling taxes.
Michigan earmarks online casino revenue for problem gambling awareness and to provide higher levels of intervention and help for people.
“We also included more money for schools, more money for localities. But the thing I’m most proud of … was a fund to pay for firefighters who get cancer in the line of duty. Firefighters are more likely to get cancer because of the chemicals that they actually come in contact with. There was a fund created, but there was no permanent fund source.”
Funding for firefighters appealed to some lawmakers who were on the fence.
“Make sure when you’re selling this, that the funding structures are going to things you can celebrate,” Hertel said.