Wednesday, February 25, 2004

After another unfruitful attempt to go play cards at Soaring Eagle in Mt. Pleasant (the lists were longer than last time, on a religious holiday, to boot!), I gave a lot of thought to how to go about ensuring that more cardrooms are opened. If Soaring Eagle operated in a competitive environment, they'd get more tables even if they had to drive to Las Vegas to get them (as Gil put it). We assume that it is illegal for us to open a cardroom, but don't know the law. So, I did some research.

Michigan Penal Code

Poker is not specifically mentioned, but it seems that it is still covered under the Michigan Penal Code. Sections 750.301 through 750.315 cover gambling, specifically stating that operating a cardroom is a misdemeanor. Section 303(1) seems to apply:

Except as otherwise provided in this section, a person who for hire, gain, or reward, keeps or maintains a gaming room, gaming table, game of skill or chance, or game partly of skill and partly of chance, used for gaming, or who permits a gaming room, or gaming table, or game to be kept, maintained, or played on premises occupied or controlled by the person, is guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment for not more than 2 years, or a fine of not more than $1,000.00. A person who aids, assists, or abets in the keeping or maintaining of a gaming room, gaming table, or game, is guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment for not more than 2 years, or a fine of not more than $1,000.00.

However, there are casinos in Michigan. How do they operate?

The Indian Casinos

The Indian casinos operate under (mostly) Federal law, although my research through Title 25, sections 2703 and 2710 of U.S.Code tells me that they only need a compact with the state to operate "class III" gaming -- they can operate "class I" and "class II" on their grounds without such a compact. Poker might squeak through as class II gaming under 2703(7)(A)(ii) which covers

card games that -
(I) are explicitly authorized by the laws of the State, or
(II) are not explicitly prohibited by the laws of the State and are played at any location in the State,
but only if such card games are played in conformity with those laws and regulations (if any) of the State regarding hours or periods of operation of such card games or limitations on wagers or pot sizes in such card games.

If my understanding of Indian gaming is correct, that means that (for example) the Gun Lake tribe could open a cardroom even if Michigan tells them to take a flying leap (which could happen). In fact, I just sent the tribe an Email asking them if their interpretation corresponds with mine, and got the following response (very quickly!) from John L. Shagonaby, the Executive Director of the tribe:

Yes, we will pursue Class II which includes poker if the Class III is not immediately approved. We may try to include poker in the class III also. I'm a big fan of WPT.

The Detroit Casinos

The three Detroit casinos have their own section of the law, an act put into place by voter initiative in 1996. This is what gives me hope, because it explicitly makes gambling legal. Michigan Compiled Law 432.203(1): "Casino gaming is authorized to the extent that it is conducted in accordance with this act." They don't include the exemptions that are authorized under the penal code (fair games, lotteries, low-stakes card games by senior homes) as casino gambling, to avoid clashing with the existing law.

However, Section 6 makes my immediate thought -- applying for a casino license and then suing when I don't get one -- more problematic. First, the city where I place the casino (I'm using the word "casino" to mean cardroom, here) has to approve casinos generally. Grand Rapids might, just maybe, if I were more politically connected, but there is no way any of the suburbs or outlying areas would.

This is, of course, if the law weren't written to exclude cities that aren't Detroit from getting a license. Section 202(l): " 'City' means a local unit of government other than a county which meets all of the following criteria: (i) Has a population of at least 800,000 at the time a license is issued. [Detroit has nearly a million people; Grand Rapids is the second largest city and has fewer than 200,000.] (ii) Is located within 100 miles of any other state or country in which gaming was permitted on December 5, 1996. [Probably a null requirement; every bordering state, including Ontario (which is what they really mean), has some form of gambling.] (iii) Had a majority of voters who expressed approval of casino gaming in the city. [Only Detroit has put it to the voters.]" But the interesting thing is that they define only Detroit as even a city, so through the whole rest of the act, when they say "city," they mean Detroit.

It might be possible to sue over this restrictive definition. My earlier reading of the Casino Gambling law was that there were three licenses, period, but that's not the case; there can be three licenses per city. But only Detroit is a city, apparently.

Home Games

It appears that home games might even be illegal. The provision making gambling illegal is pretty broad, and would seem to include poker. Michigan Compiled Law 350.301:

Any person or his or her agent or employee who, directly or indirectly, takes, receives, or accepts from any person any money or valuable thing with the agreement, understanding or allegation that any money or valuable thing will be paid or delivered to any person where the payment or delivery is alleged to be or will be contingent upon the result of any race, contest, or game or upon the happening of any event not known by the parties to be certain, is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than 1 year or a fine of not more than $1,000.00.

There are exceptions in later sections for low-stakes card games in senior citizen homes, fair games, and lotteries, but poker, apparently, is not for the masses.


It appears that the only solution to my problem, lack of cardrooms, is legislative: Cardrooms have to be exempted from the penal code, probably through an act similar to the Casino act. However, my local legislators are all Republicans. I generally side with Republicans, too, but the reason West Michigan is so conservative is that religion has a strong hold on the populace here. This means that a legislator who supports something so sinful as gambling would be committing political suicide. Even my congressman is on record opposing the Gun Lake casino -- which won't even be in his district.

And so I'm stuck travelling two hours or more each way to visit a public cardroom. The state is operating a monopoly (also not getting as much tax money as it could), and I get to suffer for it. It makes moving to Vegas more attractive, even though I need a few big scores before I get there.