Traverse City Record-Eagle

December 13, 2013

Another View: New state gaming rules miss target


Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — 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.

So far, the Gaming Control Board has suspended licenses for 60 charities and closed down 16 businesses.

That actually shows that the needed regulations are already in place for the state to clean up those operations which are a problem.

But the state is proposing new rules. Some just go to far. Among the new rules offered by Rick Kalm, executive director of the Gaming Control Board, are to limit the number of days a poker room can operate to 120 per year. How does that help? It severely curtails the fundraising ability of those poker rooms and charities that run clean operations while allowing less-reputable operators to continue their games 120 days a year.

Other proposed rules, like requiring the charity to have five members present at each game, seem overdone.

Charities should have more oversight of their own fundraisers, true, but it isn’t the charities that are the source of the concern. Charities depend on the revenue stream and appreciate the fact professionals run the programs and trained dealers shuffle the cards.

The Gaming Control Board and state lawmakers need to make sure any new rules clean up abuses and make sure the money gets to the charities for which it is intended.

New regulations should not be aimed at curtailing a lucrative fundraising practice just because it is lucrative.

Livingston County Daily Press & Argus, Howell