Do unicorns exist? Is Christmas magic real? I say yes, definitely on the latter, but not so sure on the former. Until now… I now believe in policy unicorns, i.e., an extraordinarily rare and good event almost unheard of in politics and policy. Michigan policymakers can pull off a trifecta-of-a-policy-unicorn – fund essential programs, promote economic growth, and not raise taxes. Outgoing Gov. Rick Snyder can prove that policy unicorns are real by signing legislation legalizing online gaming in the Wolverine State.
Last week, the State Senate by a strong bipartisan vote approved a plan that would enable Michigan to join a growing roster of states that have legalized online gaming. The bill will create jobs and economic opportunity for thousands of Michigan residents.
New Jersey, for instance, the first state to legalize online and sports gaming for their residents, has created 3,000 jobs and stuffed almost a quarter of a billion dollars in tax revenue into the state’s coffers. The new revenue is not driven by tax increases, but through voluntary involvement of those who choose to participate, and thusly fund state programs like police and education.
Despite the support of both parties, a lobbying campaign funded by one of the world’s richest men, billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson, is pressing Gov. Snyder to veto the measure. This would be a mistake and nothing more than capitulation to crony capitalism.
Mr. Adelson is the owner of the Sands Casino enterprise. Adelson has spent millions trying to defeat the growth of online gaming in the states and at the federal level. He fears competition will hurt his bottom line.
Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey have legalized online gaming and nearly a dozen more states are considering following suit. Seeing this trend, Sheldon Adelson tried – unsuccessfully –to build an online gaming business. Since failing to capitalize on the market, his company, Las Vegas Sands, has been bothered that online gaming represents a competitive threat to the profitability of brick-and-mortar casinos. With more states looking to legalizing online gaming, the threat appears to be growing. So Adelson has been pushing his friends in government to ban his competitors. He even launched the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling and hired lobbyists to write legislation.
In addition to lobbying Gov. Snyder, the Adelson-backed Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling, is pressing the Department of Justice to change a near decade-old policy that allows states to do what Michigan just did.
Believe it or not, there was a federal prohibition on the ability of states to legalize online gaming until 2011. That changed when a number of states demanded the federal government allow state legislatures to exercise their Tenth Amendment rights on the issue. There is not much the Obama administration did that was laudable, but in this case they were exactly right.
Since the 2011 DOJ decision, a handful of states legalized online gaming and another half-dozen began to sell lottery tickets online. That could soon change again.
New reports suggest that Adelson’s campaign has found a sympathetic ear at the Trump Department of Justice. It has been reported that there is a possibility that the DOJ could reverse course and choose to deny states the ability to govern themselves on this matter.
Not only would that kill jobs and damage state budgets, more critically, it would be an example of crony capitalism. The type that President Trump promised to eliminate.
Adelson fears the competition from states legalizing online gaming, and he believes it is suicidal for casino interests not to seek a ban. Sites in Michigan, or any state, could become serious rivals to brink-and-mortar casinos in Las Vegas. Adelson’s crony power-play is about shielding his business from competition – the epitome of cronyism.
Gov. Snyder should ignore the pleas of the cronies and sign the legislation. Let’s see if policy unicorns really exist.
Jerry Rogers is the founder of Capitol Allies, and the co-host of The LangerCast on the RELM Network. Twitter: @CapitolAllies.