Getting Welfare Payments in Casinos: Gambling With Government Money?


In California and Michigan, welfare recipients have been using their Electronic Benefit Transfer cards to withdraw state-funded payments from ATM machines in casinos. The degree to which the casinos benefited from this is not known, but politicians in both states have called for the machines to be programmed so as not to accept the ATM-like EBT cards.

"You may say that someone can go to the corner store, use the ATM machine there, withdraw funds, and then go to the casino," acknowledges Michigan Senator Bill Hardiman (R-Kentwood), who introduced a bill that would stop casino ATMs in his state from processing welfare payments. "But my feeling is that we shouldn't make it easy for people [to gamble] if they have gambling issues."


In California, where, according to The Los Angeles Times, 79 out of 148 tribal casinos and state-licensed poker rooms have welfare-friendly ATM machines on the premises, it's particularly easy.

"What these people are doing inside casinos in the first place is a good question," says the State Assembly's Republican Leader, Martin Garrick (R-Solana Beach). Stating that $1.8 million in state welfare revenues were withdrawn from ATMs in gambling establishments over an eight-month period, Garrick adds, "It's disgraceful and needs to cease immediately."

While it's unclear whether the casinos were merely laissez faire about the welfare-dispensing ATMs or actually complicit in the machines being there, this is a softball issue that any politician will find easy to take a stand on. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger released an executive order forbidding welfare recipients from using their EBT cards at casino ATMs.

Casinos' Payday Lures

Nevertheless, there's at least one person who disagrees. According to the Detroit Free Press, Maureen Taylor, state organizer of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization advocacy group, feels that Hardiman's bill singles out welfare recipients unfairly. "This is a way to corral low-income welfare recipients, put a red mark on their face and say, 'You're not welcome,'" she told the paper.

Maybe Taylor should move to Las Vegas. No word on whether or not welfare recipients are collecting their government dollars in casinos there, but plenty of working-class folk cash paychecks, without charge, in casinos every week. Places including Palms, Hard Rock, and Green Valley Ranch lure in workers on payday by offering free drinks, T-shirts, or gratis play for anyone who cashes a paycheck at the cage.

"It's brilliant from both sides," says Anthony Curtis, publisher of Las Vegas Advisor and a frequent casino casher. "You get a free drink in exchange for going in there to cash your check. And the casino gets you in when you feel flush and have money to wager. Of course, though, the best thing to do is go in, get your money, have your drink, and hit the road. That's basic strategy."

States Banking Gamblers?

What does Curtis think of welfare-dispensing ATMs near the blackjack pit? "The welfare thing is going too far," he admits. "That's just wrong."

There is, however, a potential bright side: What if some of the welfare recipients gambled with their money and won? "If they won, then the state banked them," says Garrick, agreeing that lucky welfare recipients might owe 50% cuts to their local governments.