The Michigan gaming control board said it plans to crack down this year on unregulated gaming machines, a problem that it is certain will get even bigger in the future if is not addressed.
It’s seeking help from businesses and the public.
And, the board said, because it doesn’t have many investigators to actually investigate and enforce the problem, it’s getting a hand from the state liquor commission and attorney general.
In short, the control board is asking establishments — bars, restaurants, gas stations, and convenience stores — not to purchase or lease the gambling machines, and if they already own them, to unplug them.
For the most part, except for lottery units, the machines are only allowed in casinos.
And if you are a gambler, the board is asking you simply don’t play them.
Not only are they illegal, but, the gambling board said, there’s no way to know if you are getting ripped off, and if you are, the control board can’t investigate. And even if they aren’t cheating you, they are cheating the state because they aren’t paying taxes.
Consequences for having an unauthorized machine include loss of liquor license, loss of lottery license, misdemeanor and felony charges. and fines. So far, the board said, it has seized 1,033 machines and $248,518 in cash.
Moreover, the state-issued businesses 246 felony and misdemeanor charges.
Still, the board also acknowledged to the Free Press it doesn’t know how widespread the problem actually is.
It has no estimate on the number of illegal machines in the state, how much they are earning — or how much state revenue is being lost from them because they aren’t paying taxes.
The number of public tips on illegal machines is relatively small: 86 in 2018, 92 in 2019, and 78 in 2020, the latest year the data is available. And the board has few — it wouldn’t disclose the actual number — investigators to enforce the law.
But it is concerned that the number of machines will grow and lead to more crime.
“Illegal gambling can lead to other, more serious crimes that compromise safety in Michigan communities,” Henry Williams, the board’s executive director said. “Citizens who use these unregulated machines also have little recourse.”
To help, the Michigan Liquor Control Commission — which has many more investigators — also is getting in on the act.
Both agencies said they hope better knowledge about illegal gambling combined with an awareness of the consequences will curb illegal gambling.
The commission chair, Pat Gagliardi, said liquor licensees who allow illegal gambling and who fail to remove gambling devices used for illegal gaming from their businesses also can face violations.
“Illegal gambling is considered a serious violation by the commission,” Gagliardi added. “The penalties from a violation can include fines, suspension or revocation of a liquor license.”
The attorney general said she is ready to help, too.
“With additional education, we hope business owners will do the right thing and not offer illegal gaming in their establishments,” Williams said. “However we are prepared to enforce Michigan law and take action against those who violate it.”
A tip line has been set up to anonymously report illegal machines: 888-314-2682.
Contact Frank Witsil: 313-222-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org.