The Michigan Gaming Control Board is cracking down on illegal and unlicensed gaming machines, especially those that are located in areas that are already not licensed for gambling.
Machines, like the “pusher” machines that have popped up at local gas stations, are considered illegal gambling machines, and according to a retired Dearborn police officer, are made more illegal when they use actual money and not tokens.
The “pusher” machines have a bed where various coins or other prizes are placed and are slowly pushed forward as consumers drop coins or tokens into the machine.
Other than using coins and even paper money, retired officer Rich Margittay said these machines are illegal due to the design, allowing an unknowable amount of coins to spill off the side of the bed, and going back to the house, not to a payout to the player.
Margittay was a Dearborn officer from 1969 to 1994 and completed a gambling seminar through the Wayne County Detectives Association in 1987. The training, based on information from the state Attorney General’s Office, included carnival games enforcement.
Margittay has written two books on illegal gaming machines: “Carnival Games: the Perfect Crimes: An Alert for Law Enforcement and Would-Be Victims,” published in 2009, and “Carnival Games: $10,000,000,000 Hoodwink Racket: Organized Crime on the American Midway,” published in 2011.
Margittay recently witnessed one of these “pusher” machines at a Dearborn gas station and said others have told him of more in other locations across the city.
“I observed this particular ‘pusher,’ had been set up to entice gamblers, and especially children, with a display of currency bills up to $20, teetering on the (bevel impeded) lip,” he said. “Potential winnings deceptively appear to easily fall over the cliff and into the player’s hopper. This automatic chain-reaction slot machine was engineered with difficult-to-detect features to fool gamers.”
Margittay said that, other than using actual money, the lack of “skill” is what makes these machines illegal.
“Lacking requisite skill according to Michigan statute, this mechanical marvel is a ‘game of chance’ and illegal if not licensed by the state of Michigan for casino or nonprofit fund-raisers,” he said. “Most players of this have diminishing returns … (and) are hoodwinked and wiped out by design.”
Last year, the gaming control board issued 41 search warrants, and seized 1,033 machines with more than $248,000 in cash, officials said. Now they are going to start cracking down more with help from the state Liquor Control Commission and attorney general. With the help of the two extra agencies in enforcing laws, the gaming control board looks to expand on the 246 felony and misdemeanor charges that were issued last year, officials said.
Margittay said these machines aren’t about “winning or losing” for the individual.
“The machine will eventually win by ‘law of diminishing returns’ or it wouldn’t be there,” he said. “My point is about the slot machine being an illegal game of chance according to Michigan statutes.”
He said he watched underage players in the store where he saw one of the machines.
“Only games of skill are allowed for private profit,” he said. “I observed a 14- (to) 15-year-old pumping quarters in and quite possibly in the process of grooming to be an addicted gambler as an adult.”
Margittay said the use of paper money, which is weighted down by being attached to heavier rubber keychains, will attract “marks” to play the machine.
“Displaying $5, $10, and $20 bills, some at the edge, will surely attract marks to venture a few quarters at first,” he said. “The requisite skill element, necessary according to state law, is lacking. The machine retains maximum control and the player has minimal control of the outcome. It is not a legal game of skill according to a study and ruling by the Michigan AG’s office.”
A gaming control board spokeswoman declined to comment on the specific machine Margittay observed in Dearborn.
A tip line has been set up to anonymously report illegal machines by calling 888-314-2682.