First Cannabis ‘Casino’ in US Opens

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Posted on: April 13, 2023, 06:33h. 

Last updated on: April 13, 2023, 06:33h.

A failing cannabis dispensary in Detroit has remade itself into what it calls the first cannabis “casino” in the US.

At The Reef dispensary in Detroit, customers can win prizes by playing blackjack, craps, roulette, slot machines, and more. (Image: The Reef)

The Reef opened as a medical marijuana dispensary in 2014 that attracted a few hundred customers a month, but lost almost all of them four years later. That’s when recreational marijuana was legalized in nearby Michigan cities such as Hazel Park and Ferndale. Though Michigan voters approved recreational cannabis in 2018, it was held up in Detroit by years of court battles.

“Everyone drove to these other places instead,” The Reef spokesperson Tim Campbell told Casino.org. “So we were hanging by a thread. It was either close our doors or come up with a great idea.”

It turns out, someone else already had a great idea. Jason Kouza of Dort Hwy Dispo — a recreational dispensary in nearby Burton, Mich. — was developing the games that The Reef ended up leasing.

“We approached them and asked if we could collaborate and be the first to launch their concept,” Campbell said. “They graciously agreed.”

By the time the games were ready, earlier this year, Detroit had passed recreational cannabis.

Not Much of a Casino

The Reef only has one blackjack table, one craps table, one roulette table, three slot machines, and a Plinko machine. More significantly, its games are not played with money. Customers activate them with tokens based on reward credits they receive for purchasing cannabis products.

“This is definitely not gambling,” Campbell stressed, “because if you win, you get a pull on the wheel of fortune, or a throw on the craps table. You play with store credit and you win store credit.”

The Reef is being very careful to spell out what is and isn’t happening inside its walls. After the concept was first introduced by an article in the Detroit Metro Times, a spokesperson for Michigan’s Cannabis Regulatory Agency told the newspaper that it planned to investigate the practice. (Campbell had no comment about that development.)

In addition to its faux casino, the company also recently released its own faux pull tabs, scratch-off cards, and a knock-off of McDonald’s “Monopoly” game in which customers can win prizes including a Caribbean vacation for two, $100K cash, or free cannabis for life.

“Our games give the feeling of gambling without actually gambling,” Campbell said. “It’s kind of like the intersection of dope and dopamine.”

Despite The Reef’s lounge-y look, consuming cannabis still is illegal in Detroit everywhere except private residences. But Campbell said that regulations regarding cannabis lounges are currently being written by the city’s cannabis control board and “should be in the pipeline soon.” At that point The Reef will apply for a cannabis lounge license.

Based on its blossoming new business, Campbell said The Reef expects to expand to three more Detroit-area cannabis “casinos,” and hire 20 to 30 new employees to staff them, in the coming months.

For more information, visit findthereef.com.

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