The Reef opened as a medical marijuana dispensary in 2014 and attracted 500 customers a day. That’s before losing almost all of them four years later 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 debuting.
“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 approved 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 aren’t 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.”
n addition to its faux casino, the company also recently released 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-like look, consuming cannabis still is illegal in Detroit everywhere except in private residences. Campbell said new regulations regarding cannabis lounges are currently being written by the city’s cannabis control board, and “should be in the pipeline soon.” At that time, 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 100 new employees to staff them in the coming months.
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