Legal Poker & Betting in Michigan

An Overview of the Gaming Laws in the State Of Michigan

More than any other factor, a combination of Native Tribes and a Canadian casino have shaped the gambling laws in Michigan. The tribes started offering high-stakes bingo parlors in the 1980’s and today control more than 19 casinos. It was the Windsor casino in Canadian territory directly across the river from Detroit that kick-started the regulation boom of after the 1996 referendum. Too much revenue was leaking to this popular resort, and Michigan responded by creating a framework in which some big casino resorts would be built on their side of the river in Detroit. This article looks in depth at the gambling laws in the State of Michigan.

First below you will find a quick-fire history of all the major events in gambling for this State. Next a game-by-game walk through of what is legal and what is not. After that there is an excerpt from the statutes and detailed legal timeline for Michigan – before a summary and look into the possible future scenarios at the end.

Michigan Gambling Laws – A Brief History

While industry was booming, gambling was relatively quiet for much of the history of Michigan. Horse racing was the only popular gambling pastime via pari-mutuel pooled bets, right up until 1972 when this was joined by both charity gambling and a lottery.

It was the Native Indian tribes who really kick started things by offering high-stakes bingo halls in the 1980’s. These proved massively popular and triggered the negotiation of compacts with the State for class 2 gaming, which also included electronic bingo / lottery type games. There were some legal fights between the tribes and the States during this period, though nothing compared to the bigger cases that would come later.

1996 was the key date in Michigan gambling history, a referendum saw expansion of land based casinos approve by a small majority, and within a year a bill was put into place to open 3 big casinos in downtown Detroit. The hope was that these would stop residents of this then wealthy city going across the river to gamble in Canada, in 1999, the first of these casinos opened.

Now the Tribes wanted a bigger slice of the action, and to up their offering of class 2 games to the table games and slots covered by class 3 gaming. They won this battle, eventually beating the State in the US Supreme Court. There are now more than 19 tribal casinos on the lands of 12 tribes.

The only notable date after the referendum came in 1999, when there was briefly some legislation banning using computers or the internet to gamble. This was removed the same year. Nowadays, Michigan is very quiet on the subject of online poker or gambling. The biggest hope is that the decline in revenues from industry suffered over recent years will leave a big enough hole in the State budget to consider pushing this through.

What Types Of Gambling Are Currently Legal?

Casino Games: Yes, with more the tribal casinos and 3 land-based in downtown Detroit, Michigan residents have a great choice of games. The Windsor Casino which is across the river from Detroit in Ontario, Canada, is another hugely popular destination.

Online Casinos: No, there is currently no specific law mentioning the internet (after one was amended after briefly appearing in 1999). Like in most States the assumption is that the general ‘everything is illegal unless we specifically regulate it’ law covers internet gambling.

Live Poker: Yes, plenty of choice as many casinos have poker rooms. Social poker games are accounted for in one statute, though banned under others. The consensus opinion is that small stakes home-games where nobody is making a profit are fine.

Online Poker: No, all is very quiet on this subject. It is not thought that Michigan will be an early adopter of regulated online poker games.

Sports Betting: Pari-mutuel wagering on horses is allowed in this State and has been since 1933.

Lottery Betting: Yes, there is a popular State lottery plus access to inter-State jackpot games.

Bingo Games: Yes, there is a carve-out for charitable gaming which includes bingo, keno and raffle type operations for good causes.

Michigan Gambling Laws – Timeline and Key Statutes

What stands out from the ‘Michigan Gaming Control And Revenue Act’ is just how often they like to get really specific on escalating punishment schedules for those who step out of line. This somehow seems contrary for a State that has lots of gambling opportunities for their residents. Under the law, it is the making money aspect of gambling and the ownership and use of gambling devices which are considered illegal.

Here is the part about winning at gambling:

“750.314 Winning at gambling.

Any person who by playing at cards, dice, or any other game, or by 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, wins or obtains any sum of money or any goods, or any article of value whatever, is guilty of a misdemeanor… “


Interestingly, you are in a lot more trouble if you win $50 or more than a sum below that – this might not have been adjusted for inflation for some time. It does explain the apparent toleration of social type poker games. Taking things one step further, you are completely exempt from the law if you lose your money!

Below is the timeline of legal events which have shaped the Michigan gambling landscape:

1933: Pari-mutuel horse racing bets first legalized. Nowadays, you can enjoy simulcast betting on races from other racetracks and races from other States too.

1972: The lottery begins this is a popular lottery and the proceeds do to good causes.

1972: The bingo act carves out Charitable gambling under license.

1980’s: Indian Tribes start offering high-stakes Bingo games on their own land. This was challenged by the State in the US Supreme Court in 1987, and the Tribal interests won out. The Federal Regulatory Gaming Act followed in 1988, giving the Native Tribes more rights to build casinos on their land.

1993: Governor Engler signed compacts with seven tribes to allow class 2 games on their land subject to oversight and revenue sharing. This was for electronic gaming, and not the class 3 table games.

1994: The Windsor Casino opened over the river from Detroit in the Canadian territory of Ontario. This was a huge draw for Detroit residents, and seeing all that potential revenue disappearing was the catalyst for a big re-think of the Michigan gambling laws.

1996: A ballot was held at the same time as a general election asking for a vote on expanding the casino laws under a strict set of criteria. This passed with a narrow margin (51.5% to 48.5%). This was signed into law, along with the creation of a Gaming Control Board in 1997.

1998: Four more tribes sign compacts with the State and are granted licenses.

1999: First Detroit land based casino opens. An ambitious plan to create a dedicated riverside development for 3 hotel / casino resorts never reached fruition. This triggered a legal bid by the Tribes to upgrade to class 3 (table, slots) games – which they won.

There have been various legal challenges by tribes and minor changes to taxation and the distribution of gambling tax revenues – however the ’96 changes were the last major update on gambling within the Michigan statutes.

Michigan Gambling Laws – Summary and a Look to the Future

Harsh penalties for those gambling illegally in this State are nicely balanced with a range of types of gaming and venues to enjoy it in. The tribes have driven the gambling progress in Michigan for many years, and as we enter the era of regulation of online gambling, let us hope that they nudge the State in that direction too.

Useful Resources:

Gambling Law US

History Overview

Another Interesting History

Good Article On Indian Gaming

Horse racing law

1996 Act