Michigan Charity Poker Ongoing, But Controversial

September 4th, 2014 | by Kaycee James
Michigan charity poker events under fire

Michigan’s “millionaire parties,” the latest trend in charity poker, are currently governed by controversial emergency rules. (Image: Michelle Tessier/MLive.com)

Michigan charity poker should probably be the form of gambling that produces the least amount of backlash of all the state’s regulated gambling. After all, poker is often the exception to laws on casino games, and if it’s all in the name of a good cause, it’s hard for most people to get too riled up about a poker tournament or a few low-stakes cash games.

But in Michigan, charity poker is at the center of a major controversy. Legalized by the 1972 Bingo Act, the charity games were supposed to have pretty strict limits on what was allowed. That’s why when investigators from the Michigan Gaming Control Board found that records were being falsified, revenues were being used illegally, and some games were violating the $15,000 chip sales limits, they tried to completely overhaul the rules on how charity poker rooms could operate.

Emergency Rules Put in Place After Court Blocks Laws

Those rules were ultimately blocked by the Michigan Court of Claims, but Governor Rich Snyder worked with the board to put into place some emergency rules that would govern how the charity poker landscape would look until a more permanent fix could be worked out.

Those emergency rules allowed the licensing of what are known as “millionaire parties,” or authorized poker tournaments. And in just over a month, the gaming board has already issued 187 millionaire party licenses that cover more than 600 days worth of events throughout the state.

“We expect that number to continue to grow as charities and suppliers become more familiar with the emergency rules,” the gaming board wrote on their website.

Charitable Gaming Association Fights New Rules

But while some charities and suppliers appear to be making due under the new regulations, others aren’t happy with the emergency rules that have been put into place. The Michigan Charitable Gaming Association, along with charities and suppliers, have filed a lawsuit in an attempt to stop the gaming board from continuing to enforce the emergency rules.

According to the lawsuit, the Court of Claims rulings that blocked the proposed regulations from being put into place were made because the new laws would have heavily restricted or even completely eliminated many aspects of charity gaming in the state. Lawyers representing the plaintiffs now say that the new emergency rules basically have the same effect as the laws that had already been enjoined.

They pointed out several similarities between the emergency rules and the laws that were previously blocked. For instance, they say that Emergency Rule 1, which only allows gaming control board executive director Rick Kalm to authorize two millionaire party events per location on a given day, is exactly the same as an administrative rule blocked by the court. Weekly limits and daily caps on expenses are also very similar or identical to those in the laws that were blocked.

But Kalm says that the rules are a public safety issue due to the “large-scale gambling” taking place at the unlicensed poker rooms. He also expressed concerns that the legal maneuvers may be confusing charities that aren’t sure if they can host events.

“We are trying to continue to license events regardless of the special interests…who seem to be driving the litigation,” Kalm told the Lansing State Journal.

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