A man has been sentenced for running a private poker club in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
Joshua T. Thatcher, 42, was sentenced to a year probation for operating 906 Poker Social in Marquette, which sits way ups there on Lake Superior. Thatcher plead guilty to one felony count of Gambling Operations in early December, and was sentenced Jan. 19.
Out in the open
Thatcher, who is known as the PLO Professor on YouTube, opened a six-table room in a building across from an auto collision shop on April 1, 2021. It was as out in the open as the bakery right up the street, complete with signage and posters of playing cards hanging in the windows.
The grand opening was covered locally on radio stations, TV news, and papers, who called Thatcher a former professional poker player.
Thatcher told the outlets he was on the right side of the law because he operated 906 Poker Social as a club. Players paid a membership fee, and when they were playing, a $10 hourly rate. No rake was taken. It’s similar to how the rooms in Texas skirt the law, at least in some places.
“The most common response as people walk in and they look around they go, ‘This place is legit!’ We’re not in the basement, we’re not in the barn, we’re not out in the garage. We’re in a commercial building, we have security cameras in every single table, security cameras watching the front door, security cameras covering the room. And on top of that, we have a security guard and we have trained professional dealers. I don’t put up with any type of non-professional at my tables.”
Being transparent and providing good security did nothing to help Thatcher. It took only three months for Michigan officials to complete an investigation and shutter Thatcher’s poker room on July 8, 2021.
The joint investigation was done by the Michigan Department of Attorney General and Michigan Gaming Control Board Criminal Investigation section.
Thatcher was charged in May 2022 and faced five other felony counts, including two counts of using computers to commit a crime, and a high misdemeanor count of permitting a gambling house for gain. These were dismissed after guilty plea.
“Unregulated gambling operations do not offer Michigan residents the same protections provided through legal, regulated gambling,” said Henry Williams, executive director, Michigan Gaming Control Board in a statement. “The Michigan Gaming Control Board’s mission is to ensure fair and honest gaming in Michigan, and we partner with the Michigan Department of Attorney General to investigate and eliminate illegal gaming activities across the state.”
Along with probation, Thatcher forfeited everything in the building that had to do with operating his room, including the tables and more than $13K in cash.
The big rub here is that Michigan has an enormous poker and gambling culture. Casinos dot the state like freckles on a teenager, and its online market has quickly become one of the largest in the country since it launched two years ago.
But until the law is specifically changed and rules and regulations written, small poker rooms like former 909 Poker Social will always be targets for lawyers, bureaucrats, and law-folk.