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Michigan tackled the question of online poker with legislation in 1999, but it was repealed in 2000 and the law makers have been silent ever since. Basically, the state doesn't seem too interested in limiting online poker players at the moment.
As of 2015, online poker in Michigan is not clearly legal. However, no one has ever been charged with playing Internet poker in Michigan and there is no reason to believe that the authorities have any interest in policing online poker sites.
Michigan doesn't have much record of its gambling history prior to the 20th century. The first major event that put Michigan on the gambling map was in the 1930s, as legislation to allow horse racing wagers was signed into law by Governor William Comstock. The first pari-mutuel race then took place on 1933. From that point, no other form of gaming was addressed until 1972, at which point the voters of Michigan chose to implement a state lottery. The lottery has been a huge success since its creation in 1972. By the 1980s, Indian tribes had begun to pursue their rights to operate gambling facilities. Compacts were signed, and a decade later, there were already seven tribes operating 17 casinos.
Q. With all of the casinos in Michigan, why aren't there more poker tournaments there?
A. Many of the larger tournament series, such as the World Series of Poker Circuit and World Poker Tour, have yet to venture onto Indian reservations due to the complications of state and federal compacts. The MGM Detroit seems like another prime location, but it is part of the MGM family, which is a competitor of Caesars (owner of the WSOP) and has yet to work with the WPT.
Q. Doesn't MGM have a lobbying group to help pass Michigan online poker site legislation?
A. MGM has been actively lobbying Congress on the federal level for interests that will benefit its casinos. While the company may support something on the state level in Michigan, where they have an interest in their own Detroit property, the company's lobbying funds are currently tied up on the federal level. Future plans for MGM are not made known to the public.
Q. Will poker players take a stand and demand legal online poker sites in Michigan?
A. Most of the efforts of players and organizations like the Poker Players Alliance are not focused on states like Michigan that have shown no interest in pursuing online poker sites in Michigan. Poker players have yet to gain much support from legislators, so it is difficult to pursue anything further at this time.
Q. If surrounding states legalize online poker, will Michigan reconsider it?
A. That is a distinct possibility. If states like Illinois and Iowa continue to explore the online gambling possibilities, there is the chance that legal Michigan online poker sites or even more extensive gambling could be a topic addressed by legislators. If surrounding states begin to lure their casino customers away, it might be enough incentive to change their minds.
Legislators had been pursuing non-Indian-run casinos since the 1970s but didn't find appropriate support until 1996, when voters elected to enact the Michigan Gaming Control & Revenue Act to oversee the establishment of three private casinos in Detroit. Much of the support was spurred by a Canadian casino opening in 1994 directly across the river and luring Michigan residents to spend their money in Canada instead of their own state. Casinos were then in action by 1999 and overseen by the Michigan Gaming Control Board, members of which were appointed by the governor. Other progress in the 1990s and beyond in the gambling industry included the allowance for charitable gambling.
Poker has been a gray area for Michigan, though it is allowed in all of the casinos throughout the state. As for social poker and home games, one section of Michigan law prohibits any "cards, dice, or any other game" or "betting or putting up money on cards, or by any other means or device in the nature of betting on cards, or betting of any kind." However, a 1995 law notes specifically that the category of gambling games does not include games played with cards in private homes. Online poker in Michigan has an even shorter and murkier history.
In 1999, Michigan passed a law to outlaw the ability to use the Internet for gambling, though types of gambling weren't specified and the law was amended the following year to remove the word "gambling" from the wording. United States Representative John Conyers hails from Michigan and has been a public supporter of federal online poker and gambling legalization efforts, and he has no influence to push for such a bill in the state legislature. Most recently, legal Michigan online poker sites took a hit when authorities decided in 2012 to crack down on Internet cafes. While they didn't offer online poker, their online sweepstakes and other forms of gambling could be a sign that the state is not quite ready to legalize any type of Internet gambling, including poker. Legislators have also vowed to keep Michigan from selling lottery tickets online. To contact your legislator in Michigan, click here: MichiganVotes.org.
Gambling revenue makes up a great deal of the state's revenue, as the lottery alone has accumulated more than $48 billion in ticket sales, which translated into more than $16 billion in state revenue. The three land-based casinos also generate money for Michigan, to the tune of more than $300 million annually. Said monies go to state projects from youth programs to infrastructure. Additional millions could be added through the legislation of online poker in Michigan.
There are currently 24 casinos in Michigan, the majority of them run by Indian tribes. The most popular is Soaring Eagle in Mount Pleasant, as it has been featured as a stop on the Heartland Poker Tour. Larger poker tournament series have not yet ventured into Michigan, but millions of visitors still patronize the casinos, the most well-known of which is the MGM Grand Detroit.