Traverse City Record-Eagle


December 13, 2013

Another View: New state gaming rules miss target

With three casinos in Detroit and almost two dozen tribal casinos operating across the state, how is it that charity poker rooms are somehow suddenly a problem?

Don’t forget that the state government runs its own gambling operations, the lottery, out of almost every gas station and convenience store in the state. And it runs Club Keno out of nearly every bar and tavern in the state.

But the state is now cracking down on charity poker games that raise money for food banks and animal shelters and scholarship funds.

These are good causes. What’s to crack down on?

It is true that charity poker has grown beyond its original intentions or expectations. “Millionaire party” fundraisers were originally set up to allow charities to operate the occasional Vegas night, allowing donors to have a little fun playing blackjack, roulette and poker while raising money for their cause. These types of events raised $7.9 million in revenue in 2004.

Between the rising popularity of Texas Hold ‘em and poker-room operators who began running games 365 days a year, raising money for different charities each day, revenues jumped to $197 million in 2011.

Again, this is for charity, so that’s not a bad thing.

The Shark Club in Howell is one of 42 charity poker rooms that operate year round. Mark Merrill, poker-room manager at the Shark Club, said it has raised about $1 million for about 25 county charities over the past five years through Texas Hold ‘em games, Omaha Hold ‘em and blackjack tables.

Merrill said his poker room kept one local charity afloat.

There have not been problems. Charitable gaming has become such big business that Gov. Rick Snyder turned oversight from the Lottery Commission over to the Gaming Control Board, because it has experience regulating large gambling operations like casinos.

And it has been cracking down on violations. Some operators have been manipulating the books, others were going over a $15,000 revenue ceiling, and others were failing to give the required 50 percent of intake to the charity.

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