Michigan is home to a thriving gambling industry with 23 tribal casinos, 3 casinos in Detroit and four parimutuel horse racing tracks. Land-based casinos in Michigan are regulated by the Michigan Gaming Control Board although most of the board’s power is limited to overseeing Detroit’s casinos. The Michigan Gaming Control Board only oversees certain aspects of tribal gaming related to state compacts and taxation.
The state also permits three forms of online betting: horse and greyhound racing, fantasy sports and skill games. There are no plans at this time for Michigan to enter the world of online poker and casino games. Currently, residents of the state who wish to play online poker or casino games are limited to playing at unregulated offshore casinos that operate contrary to the law.
Best Michigan Betting Sites
Horse and Greyhound Betting:
Games of Skill:
For a period of time, Michigan had laws on the books that made it a crime to use the internet to play at unlicensed gaming sites. The language that applied to online gambling was repealed by Public Act 185 of the year 2000. This means that today there are no laws that make it a crime to participate in unlawful offshore gambling.
Despite the fact that you face no legal risks for participating in offshore gambling, it’s still best to stick with the few legal betting sites in Michigan. Offshore casinos are hosted in countries with lax gaming laws and zero enforcement under US authorities. Thus, there are no guarantees that you’ll get a fair game or even be paid if you play at sites not specifically authorized to do business in Michigan.
The laws for participation in gambling may be lax, but Michigan does enact harsh punishments for those who organize unlawful gambling games. If you’re not authorized to run your own game, you could land yourself in a significant heap of trouble for doing so.
Section 432.218 of Michigan’s statutes make it a felony with up to 10 years imprisonment and up to a $100,000 fine for organizing an unlicensed gambling game:
“(1) A person is guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment for not more than 10 years or a fine of not more than $100,000.00, or both, and shall be barred from receiving or maintaining a license for doing any of the following:
(a) Conducting a gambling operation where wagering is used or to be used without a license issued by the board.
(b) Conducting a gambling operation where wagering is permitted other than in the manner specified in section 9.”
This is one of the harshest penalties in the nation for unlawful gambling so stay far away from anything that could be construed as “conducting a gambling operation.” If you have any questions about the legality of an event you’d like to host, make sure you visit an attorney first.
Legal Betting Sites
There are some places you play online in Michigan that are 100% legal under all state and federal laws. These sites are legal thanks to various exemptions granted to them under federal legislation. All of the following sites are hosted in the United States and adhere to the law of the land.
Horse racing betting is available at any of Michigan’s four live racetracks plus the gambling sites listed below. The state has so far authorized three major betting websites to host wagers for residents of the state. Each of these is a respected name in the industry and can be considered a safe place to bet real money online.
The three horse racing websites authorized in Michigan are BetAmerica, TVG and WatchandWager. You can visit any of those sites to place real money horse wagers online any time of the day or night.
You can also visit any of the following live racetracks to watch races and place your bets in person:
- Northville Downs: www.northvilledowns.com
- Hazel Park Raceway: www.hazelparkraceway.com
- Sports Creek Raceway: www.sportscreek.com
Michigan’s live racing tracks also provide simulcasting services that allow you to wager on races that take place at other tracks around the country. If you’d rather bet from the comfort of home, check out any of the online racing websites linked above. Those cover races at hundreds of tracks in the US and other horse racing nations.
Daily fantasy sports are permitted in Michigan even though the legal status of the activity has never been affirmed by legislation. Sports fans received a scare in 2015 when a legalization bill failed to pass and then the Michigan Gaming Control Board executive director said it was his opinion that daily fantasy sports run contrary to state laws. Fortunately, the Gaming Control Board has no legal authority to enforce gaming law and the attorney general never got around to issuing an opinion.
As such, the status quo remains in effect in Michigan to this day. There was some concern that daily fantasy sites would exit Michigan, but they continued to operate in the state and have had no trouble to this day.
It is legal to bet on contests of skill in the US as long as you are considered one of the competitors and have direct control over winning and losing. It is also legal to bet on games of skill online as long as those games are truly based on skill.
Many people (myself included) consider poker to be a game of skill but the law does not so you won’t find poker at a skill gaming site. What you’ll find instead are heads-up games such as Scrabble, Spades and Bejeweled. Your goal in these games is to use your skills to outplay your opponent and win the bet.
WorldWinner.com is the largest skill gaming website today, but it’s still a fairly small site compared to any of those mentioned above. The site imposes strict deposit and wagering limits and uses somewhat dated software. Overall, WorldWinner is a decent place to play real money skill games but it’s not the type of place where you can go to win life-changing amounts of money.
Online Poker and Casino Gambling
Online poker and casino games are not currently permitted in Michigan, but several bills have been introduced in recent years to change that. Most recently, four bills introduced in the early months of 2017 look to turn Michigan into the next pro-online gambling state. Three of those bills amend existing law to decriminalize online gambling while the fourth proposes regulatory measures such as licensing fees and operating guidelines.
Senate Bill 203 is the main bill to watch now for online gambling in Michigan. This bill seeks to establish the “Lawful Internet Gaming Act” and permit existing casino operators to take their casino and poker games online. SB 203 calls for a $200,000 licensing fee and $100,000 renewal fee for online gaming sites as well as a 10% tax on gross revenues and a variety of consumer protection regulations.
SB 203 serves as a promising start, but it does face obstacles. First, the bill has little support among the state’s existing casino operators. Secondly, lawmakers would have to tread very carefully to satisfy the state’s gaming tribes and commercial operators at the same time. You can read more about this bill and its odds of success in our post here.
That bill appeared all but dead up through the early months of 2017. However, the bill resurfaced once again in March of 2017. The updated version of the bill has made two concessions to tribal gaming interests in the hopes of making the bill more palatable for all interested parties.
One of those concessions is imposing a 12-month moratorium on commercial casinos launching their own casino sites in order to give the tribes time to prepare their own regulations and launch plans. Additionally, the bill gives tribal gaming interests more say in how they regulate online gambling. Tribes will still be subject to some state regulations such as minimum age of participation, but the tribes will have more leeway in coming up with other regulations.
A bill introduced the year before also tried but failed to legalize online poker and casinos in Michigan. Senate Bill 889 (full text here) sought to legalize online poker and casino games, create a division of internet gaming and issue up to 8 licenses for operators to offer real money poker games and casino gambling on the internet.
This post published in 2016 provides more detail. In summary, SB 889 would have given Michiganders 21 or older the ability to play legal online poker and casino games with licensed operators. Furthermore, the bill included a provision that would allow Michigan to enter online gaming compacts with other states and foreign jurisdictions, provided those compacts did not violate federal law or the laws of the other jurisdiction.
That part about gaming compacts was especially important for online poker because it avoided the problems that follow when states ring-fence their players off from the rest of the world. Restricting players to only playing with other people from the same state puts a severe damper on how many tables actually run at any given time. Online poker needs a large player base to keep the games running.
SB 889 successfully made it through its first vote in June of 2016. The Senate Regulatory Reform Committee approved the bill by an 8-1 vote. That moved the bill one step closer to a full Senate vote but was never able to gain the traction it needed before the 2016 legislative session came to a close.
Sports Betting in Michigan
Online sports betting is still a long ways off in Michigan (or any other state for that matter), but lawmakers in the state have made recent pushes to legalize sports betting in the real world. State Representative Robert Kosowski has introduced legislation in 2015 and 2017 in an effort to change the state’s stance on sports betting.
HB 4060 wants to amend Michigan law to allow sports betting provided the measure also passes a referendum. However, even if this bill were to pass in Michigan, it would also have to challenge the federal ban on sports betting. Getting the bill passed in the first place and successfully challenging the federal prohibition are tall orders for this bill. The odds of it being passed and actually bringing sports betting to Michigan remain low until something changes at the federal level.
This bill could get some help if New Jersey successfully challenges the federal ban. That case is still pending, so this remains a wait-and-see situation. In any case, the fact that this bill exists shows that the push for legalizing sports betting is gaining momentum. And if sports betting is ever legalized in the real world, it would bring online sports betting one step closer to reality.