Michigan’s Capital City Criminalizes Gambling

Lansing, Michigan - elevated view of State Capitol Building

While many states are loosening their gambling laws lately, it seems that other jurisdictions are taking a backward step. Lansing, Michigan’s capital city, has criminalized gambling.

Adoption of this measure

Many states have eased their gambling laws since the federal ban on sports betting was struck down, but the capital city of Michigan has gone the other way. The city council of Lansing, Michigan, passed an ordinance making gambling illegal within the city limits.

The ordinance passed by a 7-1 vote after the required number of votes was not obtained in an earlier vote, which was 4-1 in favor of the measure. Three council members were not present at that meeting. An ordinance requires five or more votes to pass in Lansing.

Gambling in the state

Michigan traditionally has been one of just a handful of states where betting is not illegal. Therefore, there are no laws to stop someone of legal age from placing wagers on a game of chance, skill, or event outcome.

However, there are strict protections for state-sanctioned casinos, and anyone violating them faces a fine as high as $100,000 and as much as ten years imprisonment.

Betting on horse races in the state has been legal since 1933, and the state lottery began alongside bingo in 1972. The first tribal casinos were allowed in 1993.

Non-tribal operators were allowed to open casinos in Detroit after a 1997 vote, and online lottery games were permitted in the state in 2014.

It is estimated that Michigan earns more than $1.1bn (£840m) annually in tax revenues from the gambling sector. There has been a debate about the merits of legalizing sports betting in Michigan, but no such bill has been passed yet.

Details of this move

Under the new Lansing ordinance, nobody is allowed to host gambling-related activities, to use gambling equipment for gaming, or to transmit any form of gambling information. Someone frequenting a gambling operation or just transporting someone such an operation will be breaking the law.

Violators will face a fine as high as $500 (£380) and imprisonment of as long as 90 days. Civil action can now be taken against any illegal gambling operations as they will now be considered public nuisances.

Any person found in violation of the ordinance could be open to forfeiture of civil assets. This is commonly seen in drug cases, where personal property is confiscated because it is likely to have been purchased using the proceeds of crime.

Some in the city are worried that this provision could set a dangerous precedent because it could create incentives that are misaligned for public servants. Gambling operations covered by state law and regulation are exempt from this new ordinance.

It is believed that the enforcement of these new rules will be on a complaint basis, so an operation needs to be reported before it will be investigated. It is not clear how the ordinance will apply to online gambling.

The ordinance was introduced after a number of unsavory crimes resulted from gambling operations. For example, eight people have been prosecuted as part of a dog fighting ring that brought in sizable betting revenues.

Michigan has only two gambling compliance officers who are spread very thin. Because of this new ordinance, the city can now deal with such matters on its own rather than waiting for these state officials to get involved.

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