Skill Games Expansion Bill Advances as Michigan Regulators Continue Crackdown

On Tuesday, three Michiganders are scheduled to be sentenced in Genesee County after pleading guilty to running illegal gambling operations.

To explain those and other recent arrests, the Michigan Gaming Control Board (MGCB) sent reporters information about the confiscated skill games.

On Wednesday, the Michigan Senate passed a bill that may weaken the state’s skill games law that allowed those arrests. Also on Wednesday, House members sent SB 1065 to the Committee on Regulatory Reform. If the House approves the bill and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signs it, it will become law.

MGCB’s already gone on the record as opposing the bill.

MGCB Executive Director Henry Williams said in the board’s Sept. 15 announcement:

The Michigan Gaming Control Board works closely with police agencies and the Attorney General’s office to find and eliminate illegal gambling operations and the unwanted crime they bring.

The MGCB announcement primarily concerned “a joint investigation” by the Michigan Department of Attorney General and the MGCB. Then the Michigan Attorney General’s Office filed criminal charges on July 15, 2021. The state confiscated “35 slot-style gaming computers” from Jackpott’s of Sterling Heights and Motorcity Jackpott’s.

The current law doesn’t allow skill game players to receive cash prizes. They can win non-cash prizes with a wholesale value of $3.75. The proposed Michigan skill games bill not only increases the wholesale value of the award to $500, but it also says players can leave the retailer with the gift card.

Skill Games Opponent Cordish Warned Operators

Meanwhile, on Sept. 22 in Atlantic City, a retail casino leader took the stage at the East Coast Gaming Congress and NexGen Gaming Forum (ECGC) and said more needs to be done to stop skill game crime.

David Cordish, chairman of the Baltimore-based real estate and retail casino organization Cordish Companies, said the machines are everywhere. He said more needs to be done to stop the spread of skill games.

Cordish told the crowd of US online casino and retail casino leaders, including Michigan online casino leader BetMGM:

It’s predatory. They have no process for stopping minors [from playing.]

While his casinos are predominantly in Maryland and Pennsylvania, Cordish said he wasn’t speaking out of self-interest, because the slot-style “skill machines” threaten retail casinos “everywhere.”

Cordish added:

You’d be surprised at the incredible political power.

Skill Games Are Everywhere

Skill game companies claim the machines are legal. In states beyond Michigan, skill games generally occupy a gray area.

As Cordish said, they’re everywhere.

In Pennsylvania, for instance, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) office is on the fifth floor of the Strawberry Square Commonwealth Tower. Visitors to the Harrisburg office building tell that the unregulated games are in a store on the first floor.

The leader of the American Gaming Association (AGA) says it’s gotten so bad that corner stores tend to have the skill games.

AGA President and CEO William C. Miller Jr. wrote this in a letter dated April 13:

There continues to be a growing number of companies that design, manufacture, sell, or operate machines that mimic regulated gambling devices, using drums or reels with insignia or other symbols that players “spin” to win prizes, including money. The manufacturers of such machines argue that their games are “skill-based” or operate in other “gray areas” of the law, thereby exempting them from regulation. However, these machines function similarly to traditional slot machines, and in fact, many consumers do not know the difference between regulated gambling devices and these so-called “skill-based” or “gray” machines in numerous markets throughout the country.

That letter is addressed to US Attorney General Merrick Garland. In it, Miller asks Garland to have the US Department of Justice (DOJ) “protect American consumers, crack down on illegal operators, and enforce federal regulations” against offshore online casino and sportsbook operators, as well as unregulated skill game machines.

About the Author

Heather Fletcher

Heather Fletcher is a writer for Michigan Sharp with a focus on online casino content. She had her first published byline at age 10, but didn't get paid for her writing until she got her first newspaper job. Heather's work in Suburban News Publications in Ohio and eventually took her to The New York Times, where she's still a contract freelance reporter for the National Desk. In March 2021, Fletcher began writing about online casino gambling as the lead writer for Online Poker Report, which lead her to MI Sharp.