Increased lobbying efforts in Lansing by Detroit’s three casinos preceded a middle-of-the-night vote to push pro-gambling bills through the Legislature in December, followed by an ongoing effort in recent weeks by legislators to advocate for the casinos’ agenda.
According to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network (MCFN), a nonpartisan watchdog group, key lawmakers have also demonstrated favor with the gaming industry by attending a January junket at a New Orleans casino organized by the New Jersey-based National Council of Legislators from Gaming States. Participants received a $900 travel reimbursement.
During the unprecedented flurry of activity in the December 2018 lame-duck session in Lansing, Republican legislative leaders apparently misled lawmakers about the intent of some bills, which would have loosened regulations on the Detroit casinos.
“The situation shows how little is sometimes known publicly about policy decisions made in Lansing,” Mauger wrote on the MCFN website earlier today. “The trips to New Orleans didn’t have to be disclosed — MCFN found out about them through sources with knowledge of the trips. The casinos have reported few specifics about their intensifying lobbying. And some lawmakers have acknowledged knowing little about the gaming bills they voted on at the end of 2018.”
Then-Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed the gaming package because it would have introduced a dramatic change for Michigan by expanding online gambling. Members of the GOP-controlled House and Senate had overwhelmingly approved the interwoven bills, with final approval coming in the House at about 3:30 a.m. on Dec. 21, the final day of the 2018 session.
It’s questionable how many lawmakers read the bills before voting on them. Some told MCFN the package had been promoted in the halls of the Capitol as “very technical” – meaning, essentially, that they were without controversial provisions.
In reality, one 95-page bill would have made it easier for small businesses to get a piece of the action by working as vendors for the Greektown, Motor City or MGM Grand casinos. The legislation would expand the number of casino-related documents that would be labeled confidential and not subject to public disclosure. What’s more, legislators were told that the measure would advance “social justice” – a veiled reference to a provision that would allow some with a felony criminal record to gain casino or casino-supplier licenses from the state.
At one point prior to the vote, the legislation temporarily included a change in regulations that would not allow the state Gaming Control Board to disclose the names of government officeholders with financial interests in casino operations or applicants for licenses.
A similar package of bills introduced earlier this year in the House following the Snyder veto would allow those with a financial interest in casinos to make political donations to state officials and candidates.
Iden told MCFN that the state’s casino law written 21 years ago contains some unnecessarily strict regulations.
“We wrote this act thinking that everybody involved in gaming was a criminal,” he said.
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