Gambling in Michigan: Stats, Laws and Online Gambling Sites
- Casino Gambling: Legal
- Poker: Not Specified
- Horse Racing Betting: Legal
- Dog Racing Betting: Not Legal
- Lottery: Legal
- Daily Fantasy Sports: Not Specified
- Charitable Gaming: Legal
- Social Gambling: Not Legal
- Online Gambling: Not Specified
Michigan gambling law is just as weird as any American state. Detroit is home to a handful of casino-resorts, and tribal and commercial facilities blanket the rest of the state. Michigan lottery sales and jackpots are among the highest in the United States. Yet private and charitable gaming laws in the Great Lakes State are as draconian as any in America. We’re talking about a state that once banned online gambling then within a few months turned around and struck the ban from the law books.
Politically, Michigan is a difficult state to pin down. Though the state hasn’t voted for a Republican president since Reagan, conservative politics are incredibly-powerful at the municipal, county, and state government levels. Michigan often has a political duality to it – with a Democrat in the state house and a Republican legislative body. Since politics influences casino gambling law in America so strongly, it should be no surprise that they have such asymmetrical gaming regulations.
Below is a guide to the legality of various forms of gambling in Michigan. We’ve scoured the state’s Constitution, criminal code, and legal precedent to help you understand MI gaming law.
- Age Requirements
- 18, unless liquor is served, in which case the legal age is 21
- Approximate Annual Gambling Revenue
- $1.1 billion
- Approximate Annual Gambling Taxes
- $180 million
- Number of Commercial Casinos
- Number of Rancinos
- Number of Tribal Casinos
- Casino Regulatory Body
- Michigan Gaming Control Board
- Lottery National Rankings
On paper, Michigan seems like a sort of gambling Mecca. Yes, you can wager on live and OTB horse races at two different racks in the state, and both of them offer slot and video poker style games. And yes, a number of casino properties exist in the state’s borders, thanks to loopholes in the 1996 law that legalized three Detroit casinos. But the state is against all forms of private or social betting, and has been making noise about outlawing online and daily fantasy sports betting for years now. Read on for specifics on what forms of gambling are legal and illegal in Michigan.
The Legal Status of Gambling in Michigan
The most-popular state regulated gamble in Michigan is the lottery. Between participation in Michigan lottery and the state’s cut of regional lottery sales, the state earns hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue from scratch-off and raffle-style games. Michigan legalized the lottery in 1972, making it one of the first US states to do so amid a wave of pro-lottery legislation in America.
The boost in state revenue from the lottery and pressure from Native American groups combined to create a regulated tribal and commercial casino market in the 1980s, a decade before these venues became commonplace in American states. Today, the casino gambling industry contributes almost as much as the state lottery in terms of revenue, and new venues are under construction in Detroit and outside of Lansing as we put this page together.
Though Michigan is a hotspot for tribal and commercial casino gambling, it contains an odd restriction on social gambling. Private gambling of all types is illegal in Michigan. Hosting a low-stakes private poker game with friends? That’s illegal. Betting on Super Bowl squares? Also illegal. The only exemption under Michigan’s harsh anti-private gaming law is one allowing for bingo and raffles at senior care facilities and carnivals.
What’s even weirder – the restrictions on carnival and old folk’s home games are almost non-existent. The end-result is that sometimes “carnivals” pop up almost exclusively dedicated to private bingo games, and companies promoting bingo games tour elderly care facilities across the state. These games are considered legal, but a group of buddies betting on March Madness together is not.
Is Online Gambling Legal in Michigan?
Michigan has no law against online gambling. In fact, state lawmakers at one time enacted a bill which made online gambling illegal only to overturn it the next year.
In 1999, Michigan adopted Senate Bill 562, which had one purpose – to ban online gambling. The bill was introduced by members of the casino gambling lobby, including a heavy tribal representation. It added Section 750.145d to Michigan Compiled Laws, stating that it is explicitly illegal to
It was a tidy piece of legislation that did exactly what it promised to do.
Then, in 2000, a strong libertarian sentiment in the state got to work dismantling a ton of amendments to the state code made in recent years. Lawmakers overwhelmingly adopted Public Act 185, which repealed all references to the Internet in Michigan’s gambling statutes, among other things. You won’t even find the old statute in the state code with a line through it, as you often find when researching US state law. It’s as though the ban never even existed.
We’re not lawyers, and we hope you don’t interpret this article as actual legal advice. But we all agree that Michigan’s intent was clear when it struck down the ban on Internet gambling. A majority of state lawmakers decided that the ban was wrong, so they got rid of it. While the states stops short of explicitly endorsing online gambling, the fact that lawmakers’ most recent move on the issue was to decriminalize it says a lot about the state’s feelings on the issue.
Does this mean that online gambling is explicitly legal in Michigan?
Here’s a quote from section 750.314 of Michigan’s criminal code that has us thinking about the question of legality:
This statement acts as Michigan’s de facto definition of illegal gambling. Look at the words in bold – those are catch-all phrases that can be bent to include just about any gambling game. This could be stretched to include the act of placing a wager online, regardless of whether or not it’s a skill game.
By the way, that crime is only a misdemeanor if you’re caught winning $50 or less. If you got caught losing, you haven’t committed a crime, not in the eyes of the state of Michigan. If you win more than $50, you’re guilt of a serious misdemeanor and will be fined $1,000 and sentenced to jail for a year. This penalty is on the level with felony charges in other states.
We couldn’t find one example of a Michigan citizen being charged with any crime related to the placing of an online wager. We found plenty of examples of gaming enforcement, mostly related to low-level street crime or the operation of an illegal gambling business. We think it’s unlikely that the state will start to use this obscure loophole to arrest online gamblers, when they haven’t done so ever before.
Where Can I Gamble in Michigan?
Online Gambling Options in Michigan
Until some big changes to Michigan law are made, it isn’t technically illegal to place a wager at an offshore casino, sportsbook, or other betting site. Some Michigan lawmakers have made noise about regulating, restricting, or outlawing Web-based bets for the better part of two decades, though nothing has ever come of it.
This makes sense if you think about things from the perspective of Michigan law. The law itself is flighty, honoring citizens’ rights to some forms of betting while totally restricting others. That said, there’s no history of Michigan law enforcement arresting or charging anyone with a crime related to placing an online bet. That may change in the future, but for now, your online gambling options in Michigan are the same as anyone in any part of the United States.
History of Michigan Gambling Laws
Further Reading On Michigan Gambling Law
This is the homepage of the Michigan Gaming Control Board. They regulate and enforce the regulations for gaming in the state. You can find everything from a list of licensed casinos in the state to specifics on the Michigan tribal casino agreement. A useful FAQ page is available in the menu on the left side of the page, though it refers mostly to casino gambling issues. You may also find the contact information (mostly for government agencies) useful like we did. It’s the most comprehensive list of contact details for Michigan’s gaming authorities.
This is a really cool feature put out by the top newspaper in the state. It’s a map that lays out the location and contact details for all commercial, tribal, and racino venues in the state. If we were planning a gambling trip through the Great Lakes State, this would be an invaluable resource.
This link goes to the Michigan legislature’s page dedicated to the Gaming Control Revenue Act of 1996. That might seem like a really droll subject for a link, but as far as we’re concerned, this act contains the meat and potatoes of the state’s casino law, including aspects of the treaty it has with various tribal groups that provide casino games. We’re dorks about stuff like this, but we think you’ll enjoy it if you’re into American gaming law. The page also links to other Michigan law resources.
Michigan Gambling FAQ
What are the payback requirements for slot machines in Michigan?
By law, all slot and video poker machines (and any other type of gaming machine) must be designed to pay back no less than 80% and no more than 100% of all wagers placed into it over its lifetime. That wording is intentional and it’s important. All payback percentage figures are theoretical, and they’re based on lifetime and not short-term performance. Michigan law enforces this design over the lifetime of the machine, since that’s how designers produce games. Michigan’s Gaming Control Board enforces this law, but goes out of its way to explain that “… players won’t necessarily experience these payback percentages.” Your own actual experience may be lower or higher.
Doesn’t SB 562 make it illegal to gamble online in Michigan?
Passed in 1999, SB 562 did address the issue of online gambling, and was one of the first pieces of state law to do so. However, Public Act 185 repealed the entirety of SB 562 the very next year, to not much fanfare. We think the reason many Michiganders aren’t aware of the fact that 562 was repealed is that the news made a big deal of the state being one of the first to ban Internet-based betting, while Public Act 185 wasn’t publicized very much. Public Act 185 had to do with restructuring the state’s approach to the use of the Internet for criminal matters, and striking all language related to Internet gambling was part of the compromise package for this legislation. The question of online gambling’s legality in Michigan remains unanswered.
Are the crane games and other amusements at Michigan county fairs considered gambling?
It may seem strange to you, but we get this question pretty regularly. The same is true for any US state with harsh anti-gaming laws, and in Michigan’s case, the harsh laws are applied to private gambling, even Super Bowl Squares or March Madness pools. Naturally, people suspect that the state of Michigan might crack down on simple carnival games. The fact is, these games are explicitly legal provided they follow certain conditions. State law says that “… amusement machine(s) activated by the insertion of a coin” and governed mainly by skill are legal. The law even allows the player to win a “… prize, toy, novelty, or an edible item” so long as its wholesale value is no more than $3.75. By state law, every such machine operating in the state must be labeled with a sticker that reads “this device is not regulated by the State of Michigan.”
Are any social games or card games legal in Michigan?
State law is very explicit on this matter – only senior citizens are allowed to play micro stakes card games, and then only under very specific circumstances. State law authorizes “… recreational card playing conducted at a senior citizen housing facility not licensed by the liquor control commission by a senior citizens club or a group of residents of a senior citizen housing facility that consists of at least 15 members who are 60 years of age or older.” But that’s not the end of the regulations. The game must be played only for amusement and not for fund-raising. Only bona fide members of a social club or facility are allowed to play. All games must be conducted between 9 AM and midnight. No single bet can exceed $0.25, and you can’t win more than $5 per hand. No one can be compensated for operating, managing, hosting, or participating in these games, in order to ensure they’re truly social.
If you’re a gambler and you live in Michigan, you’re probably content with what the state allows you to do. You can play blackjack, poker, or slots at a tribal or commercial casino. You can wager on horse and dog racing – pari-mutuel wagering has been a part of Michigan’s heritage since 1933, longer than any other state except Kentucky. Where you might run afoul of the law is participating in office pools or private poker games. Both of these activities are technically illegal.
Michigan may be on the verge of big changes to state gaming regulations. Competition with the gambling hotspot that is Windsor, Ontario is driving changes designed to keep Michigander’s bankrolls in the state. Lawmakers are proposing everything from state-regulated sports betting (in the style of Delaware’s football parlay tickets sold through the state lotto system) to state-sponsored online poker sites. So long as Windsor is sucking gaming dollars out of Michigan’s pocketbook, you should expect a constant threat of change to state gaming laws.