Michigan Casinos Lower Gaming Age to 18, Tribe Says Compact Allows Such Provision

Posted on: March 30, 2022, 12:50h. 

Last updated on: March 30, 2022, 01:23h.

Michigan casinos owned and operated by the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians will soon be open to anyone aged 18 and older.

Kewadin Casinos Michigan gambling age Detroit
Kewadin Casinos’ Christmas location in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The tribe, effective immediately, is allowing anyone 18 years of age or older access to gamble at its five casinos. (Image: Kewadin Casinos)

The federally recognized tribe says its decision to lower its gaming age is permittable under its Class III gaming compact with the state of Michigan. Being sovereign entities, tribes are free to determine their own laws on certain vices, such as the minimum age to gamble.

The Sault Tribe’s Class III compact allows for tribal gaming involving anyone at least 18 years old. Prior to this week’s announcement, the tribe’s five Kewadin Casino locations were only accessible to those aged 19 and up.

The decision to lower the gaming age to 18 is a decision that gives all legal adults access to our gaming properties,” said Allen Kerridge, Kewadin Casinos CEO.

Kerridge explained that the decision is to allow the tribe’s casinos to better compete with other Michigan tribal casinos that have already reduced their entry age to 18. The tribal gaming executive added that transitioning to 18 also provides customers more consistency across the Native American gaming industry in Michigan.

Kewadin Casinos implemented the new minimum gambling age today, March 30. All five casinos are located on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The largest is Kewadin Casino Sault Ste. Marie, which features more than 800 slot machines and a 319-room hotel.

Tribal Sovereignty

Sovereign tribes are exempt from being required to adhere to many state laws and mandates. And that was never more evident than during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2020, as the coronavirus spread across the US and around the world, tribal casinos in Michigan closed of their own accords. The sovereign gaming businesses were not required by a higher authority, as they do not fall under the legal scope of a governor’s orders.

But the tribal casinos weren’t closed nearly as long as the three commercial casinos in Detroit, which Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D) kept closed from mid-March until mid-December of 2020.

Welcoming in 18 and older guests could give tribal casinos a slight competitive edge on the Detroit casinos, which are mandated under law to allow only those aged 21 and older entry.

Though the 18- to 21-year-old demographic isn’t exactly a coveted segment for casinos, as the young adults have limited disposable income, legal sports betting has been strongly embraced by millennials. Allowing late teens and early 20-somethings onto their casino floors could also allow Kewadin to secure those patrons for future business by signing them up for the tribe’s loyalty rewards program.

Alcohol Concern

One major issue facing tribal casinos that allow in under-21 patrons is alcohol. While sovereign tribes can allow people under the age of 21 to gamble, they cannot allow them to drink alcohol.

Federal laws mandate that federally recognized tribes adhere to state alcohol laws on their reservations.

In its press release announcing its lowered gambling age, Kewadin Casinos said its servers and bartenders are adequately trained through the Michigan TIPS Training and Certification program.

TIPS — or Training for Intervention Procedures — instructs customer-facing restaurant workers on measures to prevent guest intoxication. The scheme additionally trains participants with the necessary knowledge to prevent underage drinking.