Two Detroit casinos plan to reopen poker rooms, catching Michigan's gaming board off guard

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — At least two downtown casinos are making plans to reopen their poker rooms, one as early as this week. But that's news to the Michigan Gaming Control Board.

MotorCity Casino recently sent out an email to customers, saying "Detroit's best Poker Room reopens NEXT WEEK!" That mass emailing went out last week, so MotorCity plans to reopen this week.

BetMGM has added online poker to its app,.

A spokesman for MotorCity Casino didn't return a message from The News.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Penn Gaming, which operates Greektown Casino, said they are hoping the poker room is "back up in a few weeks."

All this caught the Michigan Gaming Control Board a bit off guard. Reached by The News, spokesperson Mary Kay Bean said the board would address poker once "one of the casinos indicates an interest in offering it." Told that MotorCity was emailing customers about a looming relaunch, Bean said any plans must get board approval.

"The casinos must follow (Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's) workplace safety executive order," Bean said. "And the MGCB must approve the casinos' plans on how social distancing and other health and safety requirements will be met.

"It is the same approach used prior to the reopening of the casinos."

The third Detroit casino, MGM Grand Detroit, said it has no immediate plans to reopen its poker room.

Detroit's three casinos shut down in mid-March, early in the COVID-19 pandemic, costing the gambling halls hundreds of millions in revenues, and costing the state and city tens of millions in tax dollars. It also cost more than 1,000 Detroit workers their jobs.

The three casinos reopened in early August, amid strict health and safety guidelines. Casinos are limited to 15% capacity, every customer gets a temperature check upon entry, and hundreds of slot machines have been turned off for social distancing. 

Poker rooms have been open in Las Vegas for weeks, but with restrictions, including going five- or six-handed, max. Typically, poker tables allow for nine players. Some Vegas casinos recently started going eight-handed, with plexiglass dividers.

Poker is considered a high-risk casino activity, given the players' close proximity, they touch the cards, and chips are constantly being moved from one player to another.

The nation's biggest poker gathering — the World Series of Poker, which spans dozens of tournaments in Vegas in the summer — was postponed, and replaced temporarily by a summer schedule of online tournaments. That format limited the pool of players, because only three states, Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware, allow online poker.

Twitter: @tonypaul1984