Michigan mulls bills to remove political contribution ban by casinos

Since 1996, thanks to the Michigan Gaming Control and Revenue Act, casinos and casino employees have been barred from making donations to political campaigns. The idea was to prevent coercion and try to keep a sense of transparency surrounding legislative decisions that would impact the state’s gambling operations. A new bill making its way through the legislative channels could reverse that prohibition and has already found support in Michigan’s House of Representatives.

The House passed bill 4307 on December 4, sponsored by Representative Brandt Iden. It is part of a larger gambling expansion plan that would pave the way for legalized sports wagers, daily fantasy sports and online gaming. That plan was already approved by the House two months ago, and Iden split the political contributions bill out since it needs a greater amount of support by Michigan’s Congress. Since the initiative had been approved by voters, two-thirds of the state’s lawmakers have to approve the repeal.

The bill also seeks to allow certain individuals with criminal convictions to be able to hold a casino license. For those convicted of felonies, they would have to wait ten years after the conviction to apply for a license; in the case of a misdemeanor, the waiting period is only five years. Additionally, background checks could be eliminated for some licensees.

HB 4307 could also benefit the Michigan Gaming Control Board (MGCB). It stipulates that the members of the board would be paid $1,000 for MGCB meeting they attend, while the chair would be paid $1,250. That would equate to $6000 and $7,500 each year, given that the board typically meets six times a year.

State Representative Bill Sowerby isn’t convinced these changes are in the best interest of Michigan and believes that approval of the bill could have negative ramifications for the state’s gaming industry. He told The Detroit News, “Millionaire and billionaire casino owners will now be allowed to give money to state legislators. Even worse, casino owners will no longer have to disclose to the public their past felony crime convictions, their financial failures — including bankruptcies — or their failures to pay their taxes.”

Several states prohibit political contributions by casinos and their employees, while others are more relaxed on the position. It doesn’t come as a surprise that Nevada allows the practice, but other states, like Pennsylvania and New Jersey, forbid it. Across the board, because of federal laws, corporations are barred from making contributions to federal election campaigns, but can donate to political action committees that support those campaigns.