Charity Poker Pitfalls: States Struggle with Gaming for Giving
In the United States, charity poker has become increasingly common over the past 20 years. On the surface, it provides charity organizations with a fun and effective way to raise money. Dig a little deeper, and the pitfalls of gaming for giving can be seen in the legal struggle of several states.
Overzealous enforcement combined with widespread rulebreaking created a charity poker landscape where a statewide crackdown was inevitable. In 2012, the state shut down over two dozen charity poker operations on a variety of allegations. Most involve fraud, such as operating as a fake charity, accepting bribes, and misappropriating charity revenue.
The crackdown successfully drove charity gaming down in Michigan. Revenues dropped from a peak of $197.3 million in 2011 to $87.3 million in 2014. Charity poker proponents in the state argue regulators now harass operators with minor infractions and treat them like criminals.
Massachusetts' charity poker also peaked in 2011. Casino gambling was still illegal in the state and charity poker rooms took advantage of a legal loophole. They worked with a rotating roster of nonprofits to fill a weekly schedule of “casino nights” until then-Attorney General Martha Coakley announced plans to investigate.
Several operators, including Raynham Park dog track, closed up shop rather than face investigators. They were reportedly awarding $1,000 pots when the legal limit was set at $25, among other violations.
2017 was New Hampshire's first fiscal year with charitable gaming. It brought $1.7 million in tax dollars to the state while paying charities $5.8 million. So far, only one charity poker room has been fined and forced to close.