Michigan Rep. Brandt Iden Hopes Sports Betting Rollout Could Be ‘Model’ for Other States

Despite the pandemic’s challenges, Michigan State Representative Brandt Iden has remained busy crafting sports legislation.

He sponsored a bill that would increase the amount of money college athletes could earn from their likenesses. That could be a positive force in Michigan’s permissive betting environment, but Iden believes his legislation has important limits.

Iden also said he has high hopes for Michigan’s sports betting industry. In fact, he believes Michigan could influence sports betting legislation across the country.

Part II of our two-part interview starts below. See Part I here.

Rep. Iden’s College Athlete Legislation

Rep. Iden sponsored a bill that would allow college athletes to make money from endorsement deals and sell their likenesses. His bill passed the House at the end of May by an overwhelming majority. We asked Rep. Iden whether he thought this would assuage fears about match-fixing or point-shaving scandals.

“I mean, certainly allowing these athletes to make more money will prevent them from wanting to engage in any sort of nefarious activities,” said Iden. “Really, at the end of the day, sports betting does not make anyone more or less vulnerable, right? I mean, we’ve seen for years that in low paying things like professional tennis, there’s been point fixing before.”

While some states restrict college betting, Michigan allows all bets on college games. Opponents may have concerns about financially vulnerable college students being tempted to:

  • Purposefully miss a goal to miss a point spread to fulfill a prop bet
  • Game betting lines with long odds to profit unfairly

If college athletes are properly compensated, luring them with financial schemes will probably be less effective. It’s also lent credence to his faith in players’ and leagues’ personal responsibility.

The Role Of Personal Responsibility In Sports Leagues

“You know, the leagues really have to control this themselves,” Iden said. “I don’t care if it’s the NFL, the USGA, Major League Baseball, you name it, the league is responsible. Whether it’s the NCAA, that organization is responsible for policing those athletes and making sure that those athletes are not point-shaving, they’re not point fixing.”

The NCAA’s and NFL’s sports betting policies are on his side. The NCAA prohibits sports betting among athletes and coaching staff. The MLB can make players ineligible for a year if they wager on baseball. The NFL goes further and doesn’t allow players to visit sportsbooks at all during the NFL season. That way, no one can use insider information to unfairly profit from a sportsbook. These restrictions keep gaming fair and ensure that bettors are only betting with knowledge available to them.

Whether Iden’s trust in athletic organizations is well-founded will be revealed with time. However, he can fiercely defend the wide range of bets on college games in Michigan’s sports betting industry.

“You know, if people want to engage in illegal activity, there’s no bill that I can ever write that would prevent them from doing that, and I don’t care what it is,” said Iden.

It’s a good thing major sports leagues and college organizations have anti-gambling rules in place. Michigan probably wouldn’t be able to have such permissive sports betting guidelines without them.

Why College Athletics Is Important To Michigan Sports Betting

Because the NCAA has sports betting rules in place, the Michigan Legislature felt college athletics could be included. However, Michigan’s ethical considerations were weighed against practical ones, too.

“By the way,” said Iden, “There was no way I was ever gonna support a sports betting bill without college athletics in it. I mean, obviously, with the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, we’re Big Ten. And we’ve got people that love to bet on Big Ten.”

“And if I didn’t include that in the legislation, it would just push those people right back to the illegal market again, and in fact, that would put us in a worse position than where we started. The intent here is to regulate the illegal market, bring this out of the shadows, put these bookies out of business, and make sure people are using regulated sites where they can get paid and they can be protected.”

Leaving a major basketball school out of Michigan’s sportsbooks would’ve cost the sports betting industry a massive business opportunity. However, college athletes must be aware of the risks that choosing to engage in sports betting poses. It could cost them positions on prominent teams and potentially land them in prison. Rep. Iden admitted he couldn’t eliminate crime with his bill. However, he could provide safe, legal alternatives to illegal sports betting operations.

Michigan’s Sports Betting Industry Outlook

Iden’s interest in sports betting began with internet betting in neighboring states. To bring that industry to Michigan, he needed to make Michigan’s betting environment stand out.

“The one unique piece about the Michigan legislation–I think the most unique–is the fact that we were able to bring together 23 tribal casinos, three commercial casinos, and a very robust state lottery to all support the bill,” Iden said.

Balancing all these interests was a knife’s edge that took four years to perfect. However, Rep. Iden believes that other states struggling to balance these interests can use Michigan as a guide.

“The Michigan bill is a bill that I think five years from now…I think other states are gonna look back and say, ‘look, if Michigan could thread the needle with commercial casinos and tribal casinos, and 10 million plus people in the state–other states can do it too.’ So, my goal would be that the Michigan bill becomes model legislation in these other states three, four, five years out.”

Iden also believes that Michigan will be uniquely attractive to sports betting operators. “I think for sports betting operators, they look at [Michigan] and say, ‘we can have retail, we can partner with any tribal casino, and operate anywhere in the state,’” said Iden.

It’ll be interesting to revisit Michigan’s sports betting industry after the pandemic to see how attractive this versatility was to sports betting operators. Iden is confident, but Michigan’s performance will have to prove him right.

The Future Of Michigan Sports Betting

Michigan’s sports betting industry requires athletes and sports leagues to play their part in keeping sports betting honest. It’s particularly important for college athletic organizations to monitor their Michigan athletes to keep college betting honest.

However, sports betting in Michigan has a promising future, and it could even become a model for other states. Iden already made a difference in Michigan, but now that he’s at the end of his third term, he seems to be setting his sights abroad. Any influence he may have in states that legalize internet and sports betting in the future wouldn’t be surprising.

Whether or not Iden remains in politics, he’s cemented his legacy in internet gaming and sports betting. And if he’s right about Michigan’s model legislation, that legacy could reverberate far beyond the Great Lakes.

About the Author

Christopher Gerlacher

Christopher Gerlacher is a writer tucked into the foothills of Colorado Springs, Colorado.