If Michigan is to regulate online gambling, Governor Gretchen Whitmer has to sign off on the legislation, and those prospects don’t look so rosy at the moment.
The people of Michigan have been enjoying certain forms of legalized gambling since the early 1930s. Pari-mutuel betting on horseracing, casino gambling, and the state lottery are the most common forms of legalized gambling in Michigan, and the revenues from license fees and taxes add a lot of money to state finances. Online poker could also be a major contributor to state finances, but – at the current time – legislators have failed year-after-year to regulate this popular pastime.
Are There Any Poker Sites Accepting Players From Michigan?
Yes! If you live in Michigan then you have several choices for playing poker online. Although the choices are not as numerous as they were before UIGEA in 2006 and Black Friday in 2011, there are quite a few well-established online poker sites that accept players from Michigan. Although they have small player databases than when the online poker boom was at its height, you can still win a lot of money at these poker sites.
Is it Legal to Play Online Poker in Michigan?
The legality of online poker in Michigan is a grey area. This is a common occurrence in most states. A few states have regulated online gambling, and one state has made it illegal to gamble online, but the majority of the states have not passed any legislation referring to playing poker online. We have researched the laws in Michigan and there is nothing that would prohibit a player from playing online poker provided the operator is located outside the state.
The majority of Michigan´s gambling-related laws appear in Chapter 432 of the Michigan Code . These laws mostly refer to the lottery, games of bingo and brick and mortar casinos. Interestingly, a Bill was passed in 1999 that made it illegal to use the Internet to circumnavigate provisions of the state´s anti-gambling laws, but this was repealed in 2000 by an Act designed to prevent illegal online activity (Internet fraud, child grooming via social media, etc.).
Elsewhere in the Michigan Code you will find some out-of-date laws related to gambling. For example:
- Chapter 750 §309 makes it illegal for any person to frequent any place where gambling is permitted. This law dates back to 1931 and has never been repealed – making it illegal for anyone to visit a regulated brick-and-mortar casino!
- Chapter 750 §314 creates a misdemeanor offence for anybody who wins up to $50.00 from gambling and stipulates a year´s imprisonment for anybody who wins more than $50.00. Conversely, gamblers who lose money can claim it back after three months.
- Finally in the crazy section, anybody who wears a disguise or hides their identity while committing a crime can be sent down for up to 93 days. Better be careful if you wear shades, a hoodie or a baseball caps at the state´s casinos – especially if you win!
We often end each section about gambling laws by stating we are not legal experts and you should contact a lawyer if you are concerned about playing online poker in Michigan. However, it appears that all the relevant laws apply to operators of gambling activities within the state´s borders. Therefore, provided you are playing at an online poker site hosted by an out-of-state operator, there should be no problem.
Michigan Gambling History
The United States has a long history of gambling. In most states, the first legalized gambling was pari-mutuel horse racing, and Michigan is no exception to this rule. The Racing Act of 1933 passed in 1933 to authorize and regulate pari-mutuel horse racing. Betting at the horse races is still a very active event in Michigan.
The horse races were a very profitable adventure for Michigan, but the residents of Michigan wanted more gambling options. In 1972, the voters of Michigan approved a state lottery by a 2 to 1 margin. They made it clear to the state that they were open to and long for more gambling.
The lottery continued to grow throughout the years and started offering more and more ways for people to gamble. Michigan joined Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Virginia in 1996 to offer a multi-state lottery game called “The Big Game.” This was a success and benefitted all the states due to increased revenue from lottery sales.
In 2003, the lottery added even more ways for players to gamble by authorizing the sale of Club Keno and Pull Tabs at bars and restaurants. Of course, the establishments that sold these items had to obtain a license, but this proved to add even more revenue. In 2007, Michigan contributed a record $748.9 million to the School Aid Fund from lottery sales.
Michigan signed a compact with the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe in 1993 to allow the tribe to build a casino. The casino opened in 2004. Several more compacts were signed with tribes that same year, and the state signed more compacts in 1998. There are a total of 11 compacts in Michigan allowing the Indian Tribes to have casinos. These tribes have opened 19 casinos.
In 1996, Michigan voters approved a proposal to authorize 3 casinos to be built in Detroit. Greek Town, MGM, and Motor City casinos are now operating in Detroit and governed by the Michigan Gaming Control Board.
Michigan also has charitable gambling for nonprofit organizations that was approved in 1972. These charitable gaming events included bingo, millionaire parties, raffles, and game tickets. There are many charitable bingo halls throughout the state of Michigan. Anyone wishing to have a charitable gaming event must go through the gaming board and receive proper licensing. 
Recent Developments in Michigan´s Gaming & Poker Laws
Over the past few years, attempts have been made to regulate online gambling in Michigan. In April 2016, Senator Mike Kewell introduced a “Lawful Internet Gambling Act”, which failed to gain enough traction to become law. Unperturbed, Kewell tried again in 2017, but his cautious optimism was on life support by the summer and almost vanished in a puff of smoke, before being resurrected by House Representative Brandt Iden in December 2017.
During 2018, Iden achieved a remarkable amount by resolving issues between Detroit´s commercial casinos and the state´s tribal gambling interests. He also convinced legislators that by offering an “expansion of gambling services” via the Internet, his version of the Lawful Internet Gambling Act did not violate the clause in Michigan´s constitution requiring a statewide vote before any legislation expanding gambling could be enacted.
Iden´s version of the bill passed both the House and the Senate during the lame duck session in December 2018, but was vetoed by Governor Rick Snyder – who cited concerns about Internet gambling cannibalizing the state lottery and revenues for the School Aid Fund. He also hinted in his veto letter  that the state was ill-equipped to cope with a potential increase in problem gambling resultant from the expansion of gambling services.
Michigan Poker News
A dispute about whether slot games should be included in the state´s iGaming proposals has halted progress towards regulated online gambling in Michigan.
In an op-ed published in the Detroit News, former NJ Gov. Chris Christie has told Michigan´s legislators to “follow our example” for regulated online gambling.
A reworking of Michigan´s Lawful Internet Gaming Act will be required to address concerns about a perceived decrease in revenue for the state´s School Aid Fund.
A committee hearing in Michigan to consider online gambling regulation has lawmakers and onlookers flush with positivity on the prospects of approval.
Will Michigan Regulate Online Poker in the Future?
My money would be on “yes”, although exactly when is unknown. Although legislators could shuffle around the proposed revenues from regulating and taxing online gambling to address Governor Snyder´s concerns about cannibalization and addressing the needs of problem gamblers, there is still the risk of a legal challenge if legislation is passed without voter approval.