Questions Arise When Wife of Michigan iPoker Bill Sponsor Is Shown to be Working for Amaya Lobbying Firm

Posted on: May 16, 2016, 04:32h. 

Last updated on: May 16, 2016, 04:49h.

Michigan iPoker has been on track to become a reality ever since State Senator Mike Kowall (R-15th) presented SB 889 to the state’s senate two months ago. But now, a new wrinkle has turned up that could cast a cloud on that potential passage.

Eileen and Mike Kowall conflict of interest Michigan iPoker
Michigan iPoker in jeopardy? Eileen and Mike Kowall served together as elected lawmakers on the Michigan legislature, but is Mrs. Kowell’s current lobbying career too close to her husband’s online gambling ambitions? (Image: dbusiness.com)

That’s because Kowell’s wife Eileen works for the lobbying firm that represents online gaming giant Amaya in the state, causing a potential for a conflict of interest. But the senator has denied that his wife’s employment at MGS Consultants poses any issues at all.

Eileen Kowall, a former state representative who left the House in 2014 due to term limits, was hired as one of five MGS lobbyists in 2015. The firm has looked after Amaya’s interests in Michigan since 2007, and its lobbyists, including Eileen Kowall, were present at the bill’s recent legislative hearing, where three Amaya representatives testified.

This is a particularly sore point in Michigan, because the state recently came in last in a national study that ranked states on ethics and transparency in politics.

“It seems like a pretty troubling set of circumstances,” Melanie McElroy, executive director of Common Cause Michigan, a non-partisan advocacy group that campaigns for honest, accountable government, told the Detroit Free Press.

“It’s troubling Senator Kowall would sponsor legislation that would enrich MGS, a consulting firm that employs his wife,” she said. “[It] reinforces in the public’s mind the idea that lawmakers aren’t there to represent the people, but they’re doing the bidding of special interests.”

Amaya Not a Direct Client

While Senator Kowall acknowledged that MGS would benefit financially should his bill pass, he emphasized that his wife would not, and denied any conflict of interest because, he said, he had been working on the legislation long before she joined MGS.

“She’s got nothing to do with it, it’s not one of her clients,” Kowall said.

But Jeremiah Mankopf, managing partner of MGS, refused to tell the Free Press whether Eileen Kowall had worked on the Amaya campaign or not, stating that he didn’t understand the question.

Mankopf added that Eileen Kowall had attended the bill’s hearing at the Michigan Senate Regulatory Reform Committee early this month because “our entire office did,” and said that her husband’s impending online gambling legislation was not a factor in her hiring. Her main remit is education issues, he said.

International Liquidity

Kowall’s SB 889 was introduced to the Michigan Senate in mid-March. If passed, it would authorize and regulate online poker and casino gaming in the state. It includes provisions that would allow scope for international liquidity sharing as well.  

The bill is due to undergo a few minor technical amendments before it receives another hearing in the next few weeks.