Representative Brandt Iden – Chairman of the House Regulatory Reform Committee – has published new draft proposals to regulate online gambling in Michigan, but realistically only has six weeks to convince the state´s legislature they are not an expansion of gambling before the House breaks for its summer recess.
The people of Michigan have been enjoying legalized gambling since the early 1930s. Gambling is common 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. The majority of major online poker sites stopped accepting players from the United States after Black Friday in 2011, but there are several smaller sites that continue to accept players from the U.S. Even though they have smaller player bases, 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that made it illegal to use the Internet to circumnavigate provisions of the state´s anti-gambling laws, but this was repealed in 2000 by an Act designed to prevent illegal online activity (Internet fraud, child grooming via social media, etc.).
Elsewhere in the Michigan Code you will find some out-of-date laws related to gambling.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 This law dates back to 1931 and has never been repealed – making it illegal for anyone to visit a regulated brick-and-mortar casino!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.
Despite redrafting the original “Lawful Internet Gambling Act”, Iden hasn´t managed to overcome tribal concerns, constitutional concerns and financial concerns that the regulation of online gambling in Michigan will cannibalize the State School Fund (which you can read about in this news item). Proponents of regulated gambling feel passage of the revised “Lawful Internet Gambling Act” is still possible in 2018 – but in an election year I am not so sure.
Michigan Poker News
Efforts to regulate online gambling in Michigan happen in little flurries of activity and then we hear nothing for months. Around each flurry of activity, proponents and opponents of online gambling get their propaganda machines into full gear, and it looks as if they are revving their engines to do it again.
Will Michigan Regulate Online Poker in the Future?
My money would be on “yes”, although exactly when is unknown. I feel legislators will have to solicit public opinion via a statewide ballot to avoid a legal challenge against an unauthorized expansion of gambling. Then, assuming the bill gets enough public support, compacts with each tribal gaming interest will have to be renegotiated before regulated online gambling in Michigan becomes a reality.
A U.S. Supreme Court verdict repealing PASPA may accelerate the timeline, but I believe the state still has several issues to resolve before regulated online poker in Michigan becomes a reality.