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Online Gambling in Michigan: an Expert Guide

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Gambling in Michigan

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Our Guide to Online Gambling in Michigan

Michigan gambling laws are a mixed bag. On the one hand, Michigan has a lot of tribal casinos and a few famous land-based casinos. Michigan also allows poker nights called Millionaires Parties, lottery gambling, and “bona fide” contests. On the other hand, social gaming is illegal, while local law enforcement has been known to prosecute players (not just organizers) of illegal poker events.

For those reasons, Michigan residents who plan on gambling need to read about Michigan gambling laws closely. The state’s laws are evolving quickly, with late-breaking news that pertains to the online gambling, sports betting, and daily fantasy sports industries.

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Michigan Online Gambling Law FAQS

Michigan Gambling Laws

Michigan gambling laws have at least a half-dozen crimes which include penalties for organizers of illegal gaming rings, including racketeering charges. Michigan also has generations-old laws which call for the prosecution of players who engage in illegal land-based gaming. As late as 2010, law enforcement in Grand Rapids, Michigan prosecuted players at an illegal poker tournament held in a local hotel. That makes Michigan among the strictest states when it comes to gambling laws.

Section 432.202(2)(v)

“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.

Online players should understand that Michigan authorities are more likely to prosecute gamblers than law enforcement in most states. You can’t apply the Grand Rapids prosecutions across the state, of course, but those who engage in unlicensed gambling should keep in mind they might be at risk of prosecution. That being said, no online gambler in Michigan has ever been prosecuted for those activities.

In either case, the laws could change in the next couple of years. A dedicated proponent of online poker, online casinos, and sports betting (Brandt Iden) has championed House Bill 4926 since 2016. Iden’s bill is gaining traction in the Michigan legislature, so players might not have to worry about sanctions in the near future.

DOES MICHIGAN HAVE LAND-BASED CASINOS?

Yes. Michigan has 19 tribal casinos owned by 13 different Native American tribes. Michigan also has three commercial casinos, including MGM Detroit and the venerable Greektown Casino.

Greektown recently was named Jack Casino Detroit when it was owned by Detroit native, Dan Gilbert (Quicken Loans, Cleveland Cavaliers), but Gilbert sold the casino amid speculation he wants to buy the Detroit Tigers. Penn National Gaming now owns Greektown Casino.

Michigan’s tribal casinos are owned by a wide variety of Indian groups, including the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians, the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan, and the Ojibwa tribe which is found throughout the Midwest.

DOES MICHIGAN HAVE ANY LEGAL BETTING TRACKS / SHOPS?

No. Michigan does not have legal horsetracks, racebooks, or betting shops. Pari-mutuel wagering is not allowed in Michigan.

The state is surrounded by the Great Lakes. While horse riding was important everywhere in Colonial America and the midwestern frontier, boat travel was even more important. Horse racing never caught on in Michigan like it did in states further south.

DOES MICHIGAN ALLOW OFF-TRACK BETTING?

No. Michigan also does not have off-track betting locations. No form of pari-mutuel betting is allowed in Michigan.

DOES MICHIGAN ALLOW CHARITABLE GAMBLING?

Yes, Michigan allows charitable gambling. The state has a variety of bingo halls that generate revenues for churches, police departments, fire departments, veterans’ groups, and other nonprofit organization.

It also has Millionaires Parties, which are a form of poker night with raffles and casino games. To host a Millionaire Party, a group has to be licensed by the Michigan Gaming Control Board.

The Millionaire Party phenomenon peaked in 2012, when they gained full legitimacy. Since then, concerned citizens have warned that the system is being abused. Groups that might be “for profit” have gained accreditation, so the legislature is considering laws to tighten regulations and limit the licensing possibilities under MGCB control.

IS SOCIAL GAMING ALLOWED IN MICHIGAN?

Michigan is one of the US states which has failed to exempt social gaming from anti-gambling laws. That means social gaming on sites like Zynga, Big Fish Games, and PlayMGM are illegal at present. Michigan does allow betting on “bona fide” games.

IS BONA FIDE GAMING ALLOWED IN MICHIGAN?

“Bona fide” gaming is used in over a dozen US states as a workaround to betting on oneself. If a player bets on a “contest for the determination of skill, speed, strength or endurance or the bona fide owners of animals or vehicles entered in such a contest”, it is considered a bona fide contest.

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