One Michigan city is tackling illegal gambling on its own. In August, the Lansing City Council passed a local ordinance prohibiting illegal gambling.
The ordinance establishes non-sanctioned gaming activities as a misdemeanor punishable by jail time and fines.
Gambling is defined as any game played for money using equipment including dice, cards, computers or slot machines. The ordinance carves out exceptions for fundraising and charity events, as well as licensed non-profit organizations registered with the city.
Lansing City Council responds to recent gambling arrest
The first hint at a city gambling ordinance came as five Lansing women pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the operation of an illegal gambling ring.
The women appeared in court in June. Following their appearance, Richard Kalm, executive director of the Michigan Gaming Control Board, mentioned in a statement that legislation was on the horizon.
“Lansing City Council recognizes the seriousness of this crime and plans to vote next week on a local illegal gambling ordinance.”
Until now, the city left the management of illegal gambling claims to the Michigan Attorney General’s office. With only two investigators to evaluate potential unlawful gambling offenses for the whole state, delays in enforcement were common.
The initial attempt to pass legislation failed 4-1. With Council Members Patricia Spitzley, Jeremy Garza and Peter Spadafore absent and not able to vote, the five votes required did not materialize. Eventually, after addressing some concerns, a revised ordinance passed 7-1.
Opposition to Lansing’s new illegal gambling ordinance
The opposition to the new gambling ordinance had one member, Fourth Ward Council Member Brian Jackson. Jackson represents northwest Lansing and expressed concern about the broad language.
For instance, during the initial attempt to pass the ordinance, concerns surfaced about popular prize vending machines. An example of such a game is the crane game where the player tries to maneuver the mechanical crane to grab a prize.
“There was some concern that it would prohibit a crane game at Denny’s or Chuck E. Cheese’s,” said southwest Lansing’s Third Ward Council Member Adam Hussain to the Lansing State Journal. The recent version provided more detail to permit crane and arcade games.
Hussein goes on the say that the target of the ordinance is organizations in the business of illegal gambling, not popular arcade games. The businesses are at the heart of the problem.
“Unfortunately, these gambling operations are disproportionately affecting our impoverished neighborhoods. It’s the people who have the least to lose who are losing the most and I have a problem with any business that exploits people in that way.”
Jackson’s concern is that the ordinance is not specific enough.
“The intent is one thing but that doesn’t stop a future police chief from reading the plain language and concluding that it’s illegal to have a card game at grandma’s house,” Jackson said.
Civil forfeiture a sticking point
Specificity isn’t the only objection Jackson has. He is also concerned about the clause that gives the city the right to seize property, including money of an alleged gambling operation.
“Alleged” is the keyword here. The city has the authority to seize assets before conviction in a court of law.
“I believe through my experience as a prosecutor and a defense attorney that civil forfeiture is systemically flawed,” said Jackson. “The trend in opinion has been going against civil forfeiture. We should be moving to check forfeiture, not expand it.”
Regardless of Jackson’s opposition, the ordinance is now law. The ordinance went into effect at the time of publication.