Although Michigan may not be on the universal radar as a mecca for casino gambling, it has a very large, widespread gaming industry that encompasses much of the Great Lakes State. There are more than two dozen licensed gaming facilities within its borders. Now that individual states have been given the right to regulate online poker and other forms of casino gambling, many residents are questioning the manifestation of online poker laws in Michigan.
Legality of Online Poker Michigan
Gambling is a huge money-maker for this state. Since pushing for legalized casino gaming in 1996, Michigan has seen 24 state licensed and tribal casinos popping up across all areas of the map, with another planned to open this year in Dowagiac. Toss in a 40 year old state run lottery and pari-mutuel betting tracks that date back to the 1930’s, and Michigan’s tax coffers have been consistently flowing with gambling driven revenue for nearly a century.
Because Michigan has so many gambling opportunities available to its residents, the laws regarding different forms of wagering , and the subsequent penalties for breaking those laws, are fairly explicit. In fact, in 1999, Michigan adopted SB 562, a bill that prohibited certain activities over the internet, including gambling, but that portion of its text was repealed in 2000.
Since the term “internet” or “online” never appears in relation to its gaming laws, the only way to determine whether online poker is legal in Michigan is to decipher the laws that refer to gambling in general and see how they stack up where the internet is concerned. Let’s examine the state’s legislative documentation. We’ll focus only on laws that pertain to gambling and could impact the legality of online poker in Michigan. Afterwards, we will also take a moment to assess the future of online poker regulation in the state.
Michigan Compiled Statutes – Casino Gambling
The following is a list of experts from Michigan’s Compiled Statues as they relate to gambling. Note that certain portions of the text may have been abridged to maintain fluency and relevancy, but without altering the meaning of its context.
Gambling game: means any game played with cards, dice, equipment or a machine, including any mechanical, electromechanical or electronic device which shall include computers and cashless wagering systems, for money, credit, or any representative of value, including, but not limited to, faro, monte, roulette, keno, bingo, fan tan, twenty one, blackjack, seven and a half, klondike, craps, poker, chuck a luck, Chinese chuck a luck (dai shu), wheel of fortune, chemin de fer, baccarat, pai gow, beat the banker, panguingui, slot machine, any banking or percentage game, or any other game or device approved by the board, but does not include games played with cards in private homes or residences in which no person makes money for operating the game, except as a player.
(1) A person is guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment for not more than 10 years or a fine of not more than $100,000.00, or both, and shall be barred from receiving or maintaining a license for doing any of the following:
(a) Conducting a gambling operation where wagering is used or to be used without a license issued by the board.
Any person who by playing… or by betting… on cards, or by any other means or device in the nature of betting on cards, or betting of any kind, wins or obtains any [thing of value] whatever, is guilty of a misdemeanor if the [value is] not more than $50.00. If the [value is] more than $50.00, the person is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than 1 year or a fine of not more than $1,000.00.
Any person who shall lose any… thing of value, by playing or betting on cards, dice or by any other device in the nature of such playing or betting, and shall pay or deliver the same or any part thereof to the winner, and shall not, within 3 months after such loss, without covin or collusion, prosecute with effect for such money or goods, the winner to whom such money or goods shall have been so paid or delivered, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine not exceeding 3 times the value of such money or goods. Such loser may sue for and recover such money in an action for money had and received to the use of the plaintiff; and such goods, article or valuable thing in an action of replevin, or the value thereof in an action on the case.
What does it all mean? Is online poker illegal in Michigan?
Take a close look at the definition of “gambling game”. I’ll cut out all of the unnecessary verbiage. It clearly states “any game played with cards… including any… device which shall include computers… for… any representative of value, including… poker…” Therefore poker is considered gambling. And by the laws of prohibited conduct in 432.218, any gambling operation that is conducted “without a license issued by the board” is illegal.
When you put it all together, it’s not hard to figure out. Yes, online poker is illegal in Michigan, and punishable by law should one be caught doing it.
Is Michigan working to regulate online poker?
Representative John Conyers of Michigan has long been a supporter of online poker. He issued a study of the internet gaming industry in 2002 and again in 2003, but both measures failed. The fact is that Michigan has been collecting taxes on a vast in-state, land-based gambling industry for years, and despite the fact that this state – like most – is in dire need of more government income, there have been no proposals to regulate online poker in Michigan. While we don’t expect the Great Lakes State to dive into the online gambling market in the very near future, due to its positive outlook on gambling in general, we have high hopes that it will join the race once online poker spreads throughout the US under the control of federal regulatory guidelines.