An Upper Michigan man described as a professional poker player has been sentenced to 12 months of probation for his short-lived attempt to open a social-poker club in Marquette, the Upper Peninsula’s largest city. Joshua Thatcher, 42, of nearby Gwinn, pled guilty in December to a single count of operating an illegal gambling operation after his club, 906 Poker Social, was ordered to close by Michigan law-enforcement and gaming officials in July of 2021.
Thatcher had modeled his social-poker club on those that have emerged in Texas and several other states, which operate by charging set membership fees and hourly seat charges in lieu of collecting rake. The legality of such private and semi-private poker clubs has yet to be established at trial, and enforcement actions targeting them have occurred on a state-by-state basis.
Here, the Michigan Department of Attorney General and Michigan Gaming Control Board Criminal Investigation department launched an investigation into Thatcher’s 906 Poker Social club shortly after it opened on April 1, 2021. Three months later, the club was ordered to close and enforcement officers seized all gambling equipment and money from the premises.
In addition to the probation sentence, Thatcher was also ordered to forfeit the seized equipment and more than $13,000 in cash either found on the premises or seized from 906 Poker Social’s bank accounts. The seizure and Thatcher’s arrest abruptly ended the club’s brief existence. Thatcher had received advice from an attorney that his club’s social-club approach did not violate Michigan law, and Thatcher’s club even received positive mainstream press coverage from Michigan news outlets when the plans for the club were first announced.
Besides the felony gambling charge, prosecutors later added five more felony charges against Thatcher, including two counts of using computers to commit a crime, plus a high misdemeanor count of “permitting a gambling house for gain”. The extra six charges were dismissed in what was likely a plea deal but was not specified as such within a Michigan Gaming Control Board press statement on the case.
The court-ordered closure of 906 Poker Social ended the chance for residents of the greater Marquette, MI area to enjoy live poker. The Upper Peninsula has sparse opportunity for poker players. Only two small rooms operate in the entire peninsula, and the closest of those to Marquette is a tiny part-time room at the Island Casino in Harris, Michigan, an hour and a half’s drive away… weather permitting.
In Marquette, 906 Poker Social temporarily served the Upper Peninsula’s largest city, with a population of just over 20,000. Marquette County, with about 70,000 residents, includes nearly a fourth of the entire Upper Peninsula’s population. The county is also home to the Ojibwa Casino Marquette, though the casino is largely a slots parlor, with no table games at this time, and has never offered poker.
Thatcher’s recorded poker-tournament cashes are just shy of $85,000 in five years of play from 2018 to the present. His largest single tourney payday, of $53,383, came for winning a Mid-States Poker Tour event in Las Vegas in 2021 that was offered within one of the Venetian’s Deepstack Poker Championship series.
Featured image source: 906 Poker Social