Michigan Online Casinos
Online casino gambling in Michigan is currently in a state of drama. In December 2018, the State of Michigan voted in favor of legalized online gambling, only for Governor Rick Snyder to veto the vote on his last day in office. Supporters of online casinos in Michigan hope that the new Governor, Gretchen Whitmer, will help legalize online gaming soon.
Are Online Casinos Legal in Michigan?
Despite this setback, all is not lost! A closer look at online gambling in Michigan reveals that it isn’t completely illegal: The Michigan Lottery site offers over 50 online cash games, offering prizes of up to $500,000. Players on this site have to be 18+, US citizens, Michigan residents and physically present in Michigan when gambling. The reason that this site is legal and others aren’t is simply that in 2013, when the long-running Michigan Lottery announced it would begin selling tickets online, Michigan State tried and failed to pass legislation banning the move. This left the Lottery free to develop its online gaming brand.
It’s also worth noting that although the state banned gambling using computers and the internet in 1999, the ban was also lifted later that same year. However, that’s not the same as online gambling being legalized. The nationwide Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006 muddied the water further by making it illegal for online casinos to accept money from customers… but not for customers to place bets!
The best approach to take with online casino gambling in Michigan is that it’s illegal until Governor Whitmer and the state specifically rule otherwise.
Despite having permitted forms of gambling for over 80 years, there’s nothing new in the struggle for legal gambling and casinos in Michigan.
Horse-racing was first legalized in the state in 1933. The Michigan Lottery followed a mere 39 years later in 1972, along with the legalization of charitable gambling. This means that gambling in Michigan that is organized to raise money for a registered charity is permitted.
Tribal Gambling in Michigan
Conflict arose in the early 1980s when, in order to help boost the economies of their reservations, Native Americans began organizing bingo games in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. In January 1984 Fred Dakota, a member of the Keweenaw Bay Tribe, upped the ante when he opened The Pines Casino – really just a blackjack table in his garage. Despite the small scale, by that summer another tribe, the Bay Mills Indian Band, were opening the first tribal-sanctioned casino. Within the next three years six more tribal-run casinos had been opened.
During this period, the Keweenaw Bay Tribe had refused to register as a charity in order to legalize their gambling and so was taken to court by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. This suit was followed by several others against various Michigan casino-owning tribes. In court, the tribes claimed that they had constitutional status as sovereign nations and so were immune not only to Michigan, but also U.S. gambling laws.
Eventually, a similar suit filed out on the West Coast helped solve the issue for Michigan. In 1987, a case of the State of California versus the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Ultimately, the court ruled in favour of the tribe. They agreed that the economic benefits of tribal gambling outweighed the benefits for states in banning it.
The case pushed Congress into action: in 1988 President Reagan signed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). IGRA gave states guidelines by which they could govern tribal gambling and casinos in their borders. The upshot of this for the State of Michigan was that it led to the signing of a Tribal-State Gaming Compact. Under the Compact, tribes have to pay the state 8% of their net wins on electronic games of chance and a further percentage to local government.
State-governed Casinos In Michigan
In 1996 a public vote was held on whether to allow non-tribal casinos in Michigan. By the tightest of margins – 51.51% to 48.49% – Michigan voted in favour of casino gaming. This led to the creation of the Michigan Gaming Control Board to regulate legalized non-Native American gambling in the state.
Despite having been being legal for over twenty years, there are currently only 3 non-tribal casinos in Michigan: Greektown Casino Hotel, MGM Grand Detroit and MotorCity Casino Hotel, all of which are in Detroit. This is opposed to the 16 Native American casinos in the state. One reason may be that non-Native casinos in Michigan have to pay the state a larger percentage – 10.9% – of their net wins.
There are two different boards that regulate gaming in Michigan. The MGCB (as mentioned above) regulate non-Native casinos, the Lottery and all other legalized gambling in the state. However, because Native American tribes are sovereign nations, the MGCB has no authority over tribal gambling.
Native American casinos are regulated by the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC), although the MGCB are responsible for auditing their compliance with their Compact agreements.
Help for Problem Gambling
There are currently two Michigan-based options for those who feel they have developed a gambling problem:
The Michigan Association on Problem Gambling (MAPG) is a charity based in Portage. As well as offering resources to those affected by compulsive gambling, the MAPG – whilst taking a neutral stance on legal gambling – provides training and resources to the industry and Michigan community to educate and raise awareness about problem gambling.
The MGCB also offer practical support for gambling addiction. Their website offers contact details for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) who can offer support and initiate consultations with professional counselors.
The MGCB and Detroit casinos also offer a voluntary Disassociated Persons Program. This program allows individuals who feel they have an issue with compulsive gambling to self-exclude from commercial casinos in Detroit.