Shortly after the Detroit Metro Times ran a story last week about The Reef on Eight Mile Road opening a “cannabis casino,” the marijuana dispensary got a call from the Michigan Cannabis Regulatory Agency.
If the Detroit cannabis shop was offering Las Vegas-style table games — such as blackjack, craps, roulette, and slot machines — to customers while they snacked on an edible or smoked a joint, it clearly wasn’t legal in Michigan. They would have to cease and desist or risk losing their license.
The dispensary also got a call from a Las Vegas reporter wondering whether any of the casinos there had reached out for partnership opportunities.
After swallowing hard, the management of the shop had to explain that its “casino” wasn’t real gambling. In fact, it was really no different than any other rewards program. If you buy so many sandwiches, you get a free one. If you fly a certain number of segments on an airline, they give you miles. Smoke $25 worth of bud and you get a spin of the wheel or a pull of the slots lever at The Reef. Customers who visit during off-peak hours get extra tokens to play the games.
Prizes included more marijuana (of course) as well as a 65-inch high-definition TV. And the dispensary remains vigilant about ensuring that each customer was limited to their daily allotment of 2.5 grams of product.
“We have always, from the beginning of time, obeyed every rule they made and at times we made up rules that weren’t even there to make sure we were above board,” Reef spokesman Tim Campbell explained to MI Bets. “It’s not worth having your license go away just to have some kind of underground gambling happening.”
It certainly looks like a casino
While it may not be real gambling, it certainly has the look of the real thing. The Reef has multiple slot machines, a real 10-foot craps table with store logos, a roulette wheel, and other props that would fit right in at the Las Vegas Strip, Atlantic City, or one of the three Detroit casinos. It has been a popular enough promotion for the dispensary that it’s installing similar tables at other locations statewide.
Campbell said the idea was that the “dope-and-dopamine concoction” customers get from smoking weed while simulating the rush of gambling seems to be a good formula to drum up business. Michigan legalized casinos in Detroit in 1999 and legalized recreational marijuana use in 2018. One day in the future, customers might be able to take a bong rip and put down real money on a blackjack hand at a Michigan lounge, but for now, The Reef’s “casino” is believed to be the only place offering anything close to the real thing.
“They’re having fun. A lot of people have walked in and they’re pretty much flabbergasted, saying, ‘I’ve got to tell my friends about this,’” Campbell said. “We’ve had really good feedback. We’ve created what we like to call our black hole. We acquire customers and then retain customers in our black hole.”
The brainchild for the idea was a partnership with Jason Kouza of Dort Hwy Dispo, a Flint dispensary that came up with the idea and started developing the games that later would be used at The Reef. Detroit dispensaries were forced to shut down for a time due to a series of lawsuits, but a city ordinance passed last August allowed them to reopen. The Reef used that time to come up with its new marketing plan, which included the casino concept.
More Michigan shops to get ‘casino schtick’
Next up, the Reef dispensary in Muskegon Heights will get the casino treatment, with additional casino-dispensaries planned in Detroit and Hamtramck.
The chain also has experimented with a Monopoly-style game in which customers can win free weed for life, luxury holidays, grow kits, or high-end cannabis paraphernalia.
“All of these adult-use cannabis dispensaries will get the ‘casino schtick,’” Campbell explained. “They’ll be coming online left and right.”
Whether it’s real gambling or not, the connection between the two activities, once considered vice crimes, apparently isn’t lost on customers.
“It’s definitely the same demographic,” Campbell said. “The same type of people seem to enjoy the same types of things, and until now, they haven’t been able to come together and enjoy them together.”
Photo courtesy of The Reef