Why Pro-Gambling Bills Are Becoming More of a Sure Bet at the State Capitol

Michigan lawmakers and residents alike seem to be embracing the idea of the “sin tax.”

Photo of a poker table at a casino.

Updated Dec. 20, 11:00 am ET: Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has officially signed the bills legalizing sports betting and internet gambling in Michigan, according to several reports.

Online gambling and sports betting could soon be legal in Michigan. 

The state Legislature has sent bills to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s desk that would allow existing casinos to offer gaming over the internet, including black jack, poker, and slots games. The legislation would also legalize sports betting under certain conditions. 

Click on the player above to hear MichMash hosts Jake Neher and Cheyna Roth talk about why gambling is becoming more of a sure bet at the state Capitol.

If Whitmer signs the bills, it will be the culmination of a long debate over online gaming and sports betting. Proponents say it will help boost the economy and generate revenue — especially in Detroit where the city’s casinos will be significant beneficiaries of the move. They also point to the fact that this will generate revenue for the state’s School Aid Fund. Opponents worry about whether this could increase problem gambling in Michigan. The bills do set aside $1 million a year to help combat this problem.

These bills, as well as others still in the works, would also try to boost the state’s horse racing industry. Lawmakers hope to allow betting on horse races that have already taken place. That measure’s primary purpose is to help the Sports Creek Raceway in Swartz Creek reopen, but it’s a move that lawmakers have debated for years to try to keep many of the state’s struggling race tracks open.

The Sports Creek Raceway is in bill sponsor Sen. Jim Ananich’s (D-Flint) district.

“Horse racing infuses a lot of money into the economy,” he says. “There’s grooming of horses, there’s the feeding and caretaking of animals. Plus, I have a track in my district, so I’m just being parochial here, trying to make sure that the folks that bought it can flourish again.”

Ananich also points to that word mentioned earlier: revenue

As Michigan struggles to find revenue for some of the state’s top priorities (think: roads) Michigan lawmakers and voters alike seem more and more likely to embrace new ways to collect revenue without raising existing taxes.

Expanding gambling falls into the same category, in many ways, as legalizing recreational marijuana. These so-called “sin taxes,” a term used in the past to dissuade behavior considered unhealthy or immoral, are also ways to capitalize on previously illegal activities by regulating and taxing them. 

These new sources of revenue will by no means make a dent in the state’s structural funding problems, but they are ways to sweeten the deal for proponents of legalizing these activities. And it appears that the promise of new revenue is something that is pushing more bills across the finish line in Lansing as legislators refuse to deal with the state’s fundamental budgeting woes. 


  • Cheyna Roth
    Cheyna has interned with Michigan Radio and freelanced for WKAR public radio in Lansing. She's also done some online freelancing and worked on documentary films.
  • Jake Neher
    Jake Neher is senior producer for Detroit Today and host of MichMash for 101.9 WDET. He previously reported on the Michigan Legislature for the Michigan Public Radio Network.