New Michigan gaming regulations could cripple local charities

Niles, Mich. Michigan’s Gaming Control Board is dealing a bad hand to organizations that rely on proceeds from charitable gaming.

Last month, a judge lifted a temporary restraining order against the board and its director, allowing new regulations for charitable gaming to take effect.

The rules aren’t being enforced yet, but some Southwest Michigan organizations say they would have a crippling effect on their fundraising efforts.

Niles Community Schools is one of many groups that takes advantage of charitable gaming at Joey Armadillo’s in Niles. A few times a year, volunteers help out at poker tournaments there, which can bring in up to $4,000 for a school over a 4-day stretch.

That money is used to help fund various programs and activities throughout the district, including the SOAR program for special needs students.

“That program helps special needs kids adjust to the outside world,” said Niles Track and Field Coach Tony Todd. “Teaches them how to do checking accounts and shopping, stuff like that.”

Todd says volunteers from that school make about $8,000 a year through the poker games.

Schools also use some of the money to help pay for athletic costs instead of transferring that financial responsibility onto parents. Charitable gaming proceeds helped several Niles High School teams buy much-needed, new uniforms.

“Lord help us, we used to have one kid would get done running, take off his jersey and hand it to someone else to run,” Todd said.

Todd met with several other group leaders Wednesday night at Joey Armadillo’s to talk about how the new regulations will impact them.

Among the new rules, businesses will only be allowed to host charitable games 30 days out of the year and only three charities will be allowed per site. Organizations will also have to have at least five volunteers at the games – and each volunteer must have been involved with the group for at least six months.

“They're asking for things we just cannot do as charities,” Todd said.

The Niles Moose Lodge Chapter 413 also relies heavily on money generated from the poker tournaments. They make about $11,000 a year from volunteering.

That money is divided between charities Moose International supports and local organizations, like Helping Hands.

But, volunteers fear they’ll have to reduce or eliminate their donations to those groups if the new charitable gaming laws are implemented.

“We can't cook enough dinners or sell enough raffle tickets to make that kind of money,” said Darlene Born with Moose Lodge Chapter 413.

Many charity groups think the new regulations look out for the interests of Detroit casinos, who think they’ll gain more customers by restricting charitable gaming.

But, the state says more oversight is needed because they've found hundreds of violations throughout Michigan.

There could be some relief for groups that benefit from the games if Bill 4960 does well in Lansing. It still provides more oversight for charitable gaming, but allows more organizations to participate.

It’s unclear when the gaming board will start enforcing the new regulations. Todd says he thinks they’ll wait to see what happens to Bill 4960 before moving forward.

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