For pro poker player Joshua Thatcher, his a-ha moment came while he was in Texas this past summer, playing poker at Johnny Chan’s 52 Social in Houston.
He had gone to Texas from his Michigan home because the Lone Star State was one of the few places in America where poker rooms were open during the height of the pandemic.
“I played there, I played at the Texas Card House, I played at a bunch of different places,” Thatcher told MI Bets. “And I said, ‘Why the hell don’t we have these in Michigan? It’s got to be legal.’ So I came back, consulted with my attorney, found out it was legal, and then it was just finding a location.”
Fast forward to April 1, and welcome to Michigan’s first “social” poker club, 906 Poker Social in Marquette.
“It’s legal because when you’re in a private membership club, like a gym or organization that requires you to be a member, it’s considered like having a private residence,” Thatcher said. “And the way state law works, two individuals can make a wager between each other as long as no one is making money from that wager except for the bettors themselves.”
And that’s how the games operate at 906 Poker Social — there is no rake, just membership fees (which vary based on weekly, monthly, or yearly deals) as well as a $10/hour chair rental fee.
Add it all up, and it’s live poker (and cribbage, and a billiards table, and whatever else patrons are looking to get some action in on).
As to why Thatcher was the first? He chalks it up to unfounded worry.
“I guess the reason no one has done before is the fear factor you might get arrested,” he said. “My attorney says it’s legal, the law says it’s legal.”
“When I talked to my attorney he said, ‘Yeah you’re legal but you’re walking up to the line of what’s legal,’” Thatcher said. “Kind of like a bartender serving someone who just turned 21 at 12:01 a.m.”
Thatcher is not wrong — there are no laws prohibiting a private membership club where the members gamble against each other, and the Michigan Gaming Control Board (MGCB) is not looking to expand its reach.
“The Michigan Gaming Control Board does not license nor regulate private poker clubs,” Mary Kay Bean, the MGCB spokesperson, said. “The agency licenses and regulates poker through the commercial casinos and authorized online operators as well as charitable poker (known as millionaire parties).”
Currently, the legislature has no pending bills seeking to prevent Thatcher — or others like him — from operating a poker club, and, in fact, Thatcher hopes the legislature will actually get involved down the line.
“I think it would be great if the legislature looked at it and legitimized it even further by passing a bill and making some laws regarding this,” he said. “As it stands, I’m a business owner like anyone else, paying my normal taxes. I don’t have any concerns that someone is going to look at it and tell me to stop. Zero concerns.”
As for the future, beyond any legislation?
“We have hopes and aspirations to expand and have a couple throughout the state,” Thatcher said. “Once I opened up people were saying we need to open one up here, one there, investors coming out wanting to open one in different spots. It’s a sound business.”
To wit: After a month, Thatcher has over 70 members, and more joining every day. Even better: He turned a profit in April.