Michigan Poker Laws & Bills

Online poker is not specified as legal or illegal per Michigan laws. Michigan legalized pari-mutuel betting on horse racing at licensed tracks in 1933. That remained the only permitted gambling in the state until 1972, when the lottery and some charitable gaming were legalized. Nearly 20 years later, keno was added to the list of legal games. Recreational card games at senior housing facilities, league bowling, and bingo also followed.

When the federal government passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in 1988, it was a boon for the dozen federally-recognized tribes in Michigan. They set about creating compacts with the state, seven of which were completed in 1993 to allow for the operation of casinos on tribal lands. The full-fledged casinos began opening in 1994. Today, there are 12 tribes that operate nearly two dozen casinos – Bay Mills Indian Community, Grand Traverse Band, Gun Lake Tribe, Hannahville Tribe, Keweenaw Bay Band, Lac Vieux Desert Band, Little River Band, Pokagon Band, Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, Little Traverse Bay Band, Nottawaseppi Huron Potawatomi, and Sault Ste. Marie Tribe.

And in 1996, Michigan voters approved a proposal to authorize up to three fully-operational casinos in the Detroit area. That Michigan Gaming Control & Revenue Act became effective in December 1996 and led to the opening of three casinos – including one operated by MGM Grand – several years later.

Latest Developments Regarding Online Poker in Michigan

At the beginning of 2015, the Michigan Lottery initiated its online ticket sales, and it proved to be a big success. That led to Michigan State Senator Mike Kowall taking an interest in bringing legalized online poker to the state, and he brought his first bill into action in the spring of 2016. The Lawful Internet Gaming Act, also known as SB.889, was immediately referred to the Committee on Regulatory Reform.

The bill was voted through to the Senate floor, but it failed to gain enough support to pass the Senate and move forward in 2016.

Kowall then tried again in 2017, this time with several co-sponsors and a total of four bills, none of them containing specifics but all related to gaming. Eventually, it was S.203 that was pushed as the internet gaming bill that had been updated from his previous year’s bill. The bill required that any online gaming operators include poker in their list of games.

The Senate Regulatory Reform Committee quickly passed the bill by a strong 7-1 vote, but the legislation found a snag with a report from the Michigan Senate Fiscal Agency. The report raised concerns about tribal sovereignty, which was already an issue that prompted Kowall to revise his first bill. More revisions to address tribal concerns brought another version of S.203 later in the summer, but it failed to gain traction as well.

By September, there was a companion bill in the House. State Representative Brandt Iden submitted H.4926 to the House Regulatory Reform Committee and scheduled a hearing. His Lawful Internet Gaming Act had three co-sponsors and differed only slightly from Kowall’s bill with some concessions or tribes. That hearing was an informational one only, but it encouraged Iden to push hard for passage by the end of 2017.

That floor vote did not happen in 2017, despite Iden’s best intentions. Kowall, on the other side of the legislature, was still talking with tribes, casinos, and other stakeholders to write a new version of S.203 that would have more support.

Before the end of 2017, the House Regulatory Reform Committee did pass Iden’s bill by 12-3 in December, but the legislation did not have time to go before the entire House for a vote.

As 2018 got underway, both Kowal and Iden were working with tribal leaders to improve the bills’ chances. The three non-tribal land-based casinos in the state support online poker and casino games that would be connected to their casinos, but the tribes have yet to find legislation that they will collectively support. They intend to put forth new legislation in the spring of 2018. Both are very determined to find a compromise and legalize online gaming to stay in competition with neighboring states and benefit from the type of additional revenue that New Jersey has shown in its new industry.

The efforts of the two lawmakers in 2017 put Michigan at the top of the list of possible states to legalize online poker in 2018. Not only has Michigan been open to many forms of gambling to date, the state wants to remain ahead of its neighbors with adopting the new technology. And with Kowall and Iden working together to garner support across the whole of the legislature, there is a good chance that Michigan will pass a new law in 2018 or 2019.

Michigan Laws Pertinent to Online Poker

Chapter 432 of the Michigan code cites the various laws that have legalized forms of gambling, such as the 1972 McCauley-Traxler-Law-Bowman-McNeely Lottery Act and the Traxler-McCauley-Law-Bowman Bingo Act of 1972. It also gives details about the Michigan Gaming Control and Revenue Act of 1996 that provided for the “licensing, regulation, and control of casino gaming operations, manufacturers and distributors of gaming devices and gaming related equipment and supplies, and persons who participate in gaming,” as well as pertinent regulatory details, licensing, ethics, taxes, and penalties.

Definitions in the Michigan Gaming Control and Revenue Act include gaming, listed as “to deal, operate, carry on, conduct, maintain, or expose or offer for play any gambling game or gambling operation.”

And gambling game is defined as

“any game played with cards, dice, equipment or a machine, including any mechanical, electromechanical or electronic device which shall include computers or cashless wagering systems, for money, credit, or any representative of value.”

The games listed include poker but exclude

“games played with cards in private homes or residences in which no person makes money for operating the game, except as a player.”

One section could be referring to online gaming, but it is not clear and does not mention the internet, only electronic funds transfer terminals. This has three interesting tenets:

  • A person who holds a casino license shall not install, own, or operate or allow another person to install, own, or operate an electronic funds transfer terminal on the premises of the casino.
  • A person who holds a casino license shall not install, own, or operate or allow another person to install, own, or operate on the premises of the casino a game that is played with a device that allows a player to operate the game by transferring funds electronically from a credit or debit card.
  • Electronic funds transfer terminal means an information processing device used for the purpose of executing deposit account transactions between financial institutions and their customers by either the direct transmission of electronic impulses or the recording of electronic impulses for delayed processing. The fact that a device is used for other purposes does not prevent it from being an electronic funds transfer terminal.

Chapter 750 is the Michigan penal code, and Chapter XLIV is the gambling section. Section 310 of that chapter discusses social media internet games. The use of “social media” makes it unclear if it relates to free-play online games or all online gaming. Regardless, it states,

“The chapter does not prohibit a social media internet game from rewarding a player, as a result of chance or uncertain event, with either 1 or more free plays or an extended period of playing time.”

Social media internet games are then defined as games “offered over the internet or on a telephone or other mobile device” but does not include fantasy sports.

Disclaimer:  This is not written by an attorney and is not or should not be construed as legal advice. Please consult an attorney for help interpreting these laws as they pertain to any given situation.

Frequently Asked Questions

Question:  Can I play online poker in Michigan before the bill is passed?

Answer:  Yes. There are several poker sites that cater to Michigan residents, such as Bovada and BetOnline. The sites we recommend on this page have been player favorites across the United States for years and given players the games and tournaments they want when many other sites abandoned the market.

Question:  Can players influence the lawmakers?

Answer:  It never hurts to reach out to Michigan lawmakers by email or on social media to express the desire to have regulated online poker options. The main problem in Michigan now is that Native American tribes are fearful of being left behind in the process, as other casinos already have relationships with potential online poker and casino game operators. The negotiations will continue behind the scenes, but it will help if more lawmakers support the bills.

Question:  How many poker sites will there be if they legalize online gaming?

Answer:  It will vary. It makes sense that all three major casinos will partner with online poker operators, but if tribes participate as well, there may be even more options for players in Michigan. The more sites that are available, the better the promotions and bonuses will be, as they will all be competing for player business. It remains to be seen how many sites will launch, once the bills are finalized and passed.

Michigan Gaming Resources