Legal Maryland Gambling Laws

One of the smallest yet most populous and wealthiest states in the USA, historically Maryland has quite a restrictive approach to gambling, although it does allow its counties to rule on various matters such as charitable gaming. In recent years there has been a fair amount of movement in the state regarding its gambling laws, and the first casinos have opened, now numbering five in all.

Despite a serious drought in the state as regards poker rooms, with all of one currently running in Maryland, there have nonetheless been a number of poker notables who have emerged from the state, including two runner-ups and a winner in the WSOP main event.

Steve Dannenmann, a CPA and financial advisor from Maryland took 2nd place in the 2005 WSOP main event, taking home $4.2 million for his troubles.

His fame has been somewhat eclipsed by the more recent exploits of amateur player and logger Darvin Moon, who made the final table of the 2009 main event as a huge chip leader and ultimately finished 2nd to Joe Cada, scoring an impressive $5.1 million.

But a 24-year old from Maryland outdid them all most recently in 2012, with Greg Merson taking down the WSOP main event and besting a field of 6,598 entrants to scoop the first prize of $8.5 million, as reported in this release by ABC News [1].

So Maryland certainly has its share of big winners, although it seems unlikely that they seriously cut their teeth at the game within state boundaries, as with only one licensed poker room and no allowance for social home games under state law, your options for a poker game in Maryland are very severely limited.

The Letter of the Law

Maryland prohibits any individual from betting, wagering or gambling, a broad and firm prohibition. Exceptions are incorporated into state law for various purposes, including the state lottery, licensed horseracing tracks, and county specific allowances for charity gaming, typically bingo and raffles, with a few other local variations thrown in.
An extremely detailed account of every single county’s rules for gambling can be found courtesy of the ever helpful Gaming Law Masters [2].

Maryland is unusual amongst the states for making less than the usual degree of distinction between players and organizers of illegal events, with both parties charged fairly severely at least on paper. Penalties for a range of gambling related misdemeanors may include prison time and stiff fines, all the details of which can be found in the guide referenced above.

In a referendum in 2008, voters approved the introduction of slot machine gaming, and in 2012 a further referendum approved table games at Maryland casinos. For more on the history of gambling in the state, and the use of proceeds, consult this page from Maryland Gaming [3].

Is Online Gambling Legal in Maryland?

While Maryland doesn’t have any specific statute outlawing online gambling, that certainly doesn’t mean that it qualifies as legal under state law. It would most likely qualify as illegal under one of the broader statutes outlawing gambling, for example a gambling device is defined extremely broadly as “a game or device at which money or any other thing or consideration of value is bet, wagered, or gambled”, which would seem to readily encompass a computer if used for gambling.

As for the prospects of online intrastate gambling, in recent months there has been an increasing amount of discussion on the subject in the legislature, with The Daily Record reporting on the latest in an August 2013 post to be found here [4].
In the meantime one avid gambling blogger has written to two state representatives [5] asking about this issue and has received a civil and somewhat encouraging reply from delegate Eric Luedtke stating that he “would like to see the state monitor implementation of online gambling in other states and wait to see if congress addresses the issue through legislation before beginning to seriously debate legalization”. So while things are not exactly moving apace, there is at least some motion on the issue.

What Froms of Gambling Is Legal in Maryland?

You have several decent options in Maryland for a wager, including the well-established state lottery [6] which has been running since 1973, with over $13 billion channeled into state funds during that time.

There are several excellent horseracing tracks in Maryland, with pari-mutuel wagering allowed under state law. The online home of the racing commission can be found here, with links provided to further detail on harness, thoroughbred and standard bred horseracing in the state. Simulcasting is also allowed in Maryland, and one of the most popular racetracks in Laurel Park whose racing calendar is currently occupied with such events.

Beyond lotteries and races, there are a range of charity events held across the different counties, each controlled by county laws. The typical games on offer are bingo and raffles, with the occasional punchboard and other game mixed in.
Aside from the above, you can certainly head down to one of the state’s five regulated casinos for some serious gambling action, and remain comfortably within the law. The state has allowed slots since 2008 and table games since just 2012, so it’s all very new and fresh, with more action on the way.

Casinos and Poker Games

The five casinos on offer can be located using this handy map provided by Maryland Gaming [7], with links provided to all the casino websites.

The Hollywood Casino in Perryville is currently the only place where you can get a legal game of poker in the entire state, and they also run over 1,000 slots, blackjack, craps and roulette. The poker room has only been running since March 2013, and apparently has at least 8 cash game tables running on a regular basis. Although the casino site doesn’t specify any limits, Cardplayer has it that they run a $5 - $10 No Limit game twice a week.

The Maryland Live Casino in Hanover is a very popular resort, which has run table games for some months now, and is just about to launch its poker room, the second in the state, on 28th August 2013. For now you can choose between slots and a host of table games including blackjack, roulette, craps, various poker variants versus the house, and mini baccarat. There are actually over 4,000 slots running at this venue, which gives an idea of how large the casino is.

The new poker room is pretty big news in Maryland, with several publications running stories on it. This piece from Capital Gazette [8] covers the fact that the poker room will partner with the Players’ Poker Championship and will run satellites to the Aruba World Poker Championship. Cardplayer of course cover the news, running a story covering casinos across the state here and mentioning that the Maryland Live will feature over 50 tables of pure poker including a tournament schedule. Finally The Baltimore Sun ran an interview with the new poker director Mike Smith.

Recent Developments

Recent research suggests that problem gamblers are more likely in the 50 mile zone surrounding a casino, which in a small state like Maryland is almost everywhere! With the recent introduction of table games to the state, there are fears of a rise in problem gambling. The Washington Post Local [9] has a story on this issue facing the state as gambling becomes more popular, and more available.

Things may be looking up for social home games in Washington, with House Bill 486 being introduced which would grant non-raked home games legal status. The bill was first heard in February 2013, and the full document can be found here [10]. It remains to be seen whether the bill will pass into law or not.

Busts and Arrests

Discussion occurred in a 2012 Twoplustwo thread concerning the reported shooting of a player in a home game in Maryland. The news link provided in the forum is infected with malware, and curiously the story cannot be found covered elsewhere, but read through the thread for a detailed debate about the sad occurrence.

In another violent incident, a man was arrested who accosted two women with a knife at the Maryland Live Casino in August 2013.

Several physical busts of illegal gambling events have occurred in Maryland over the years, including a game at a private club in Edgemere bust in 2011, in which five men were arrested and several slot machines seized. Money was being raked on the game according to this report by Dundalk Patch [11].

Various complaints were filed after the bust, including one player who claimed that all the money in his pockets was confiscated by police in the raid, as reported in The Baltimore Sun [12].

Venues continue to be busted for running slot machines illegally, including this seizure of 29 machines [13] from a sports bar in Marlow Heights back in 2012, as covered by WUSA9.

Back in 2007 a “Greek” poker game organized by a former professional poker dealer and hosted in a private house was bust by police, with the notable feature of topless dealers making it a popular option in Charles Village. A full story on the bust can be found here courtesy of City Paper Baltimore [14]. Apparently the same game had been the target of an armed robbery a year previously, which no player reported owing to home poker’s current illegality in the state.

In 2012 police raided at least ten establishments across the state operating sweepstakes online gambling under the guise of being Internet cafes, a typical pattern of business which has been seen across many states in the USA over recent years. Police seized equipment and cash in these raids, and more details are available in this article from ABC 2 News [15].

Federal arrests of four associated with the gambling company Bodog were prompted at least in part by the actions of an undercover investigator who successfully placed bets and cashed off winnings in online sports wagers placed from within Maryland, as part of a sting operation. WBAL have more information in this article from February 2012, and City Paper Baltimore covers this major incident in even more depth here [16].

Although the coverage doesn’t specify whether this was as a result of the Bodog bust, Anne Arundel County Police Department are to receive $470,000 for their involvement in undercover stings connected to federal investigations into online gambling. Time for the force to invest in some new equipment, having won this particular game hands down. Further coverage on this story is available here thanks to Annapolis Patch [17].

Summary

Your wagering options in the state of Maryland consist of the state lottery, the fine pari-mutuel wagering options at several horseracing tracks across the state, and charity bingo, raffle and other such events which are controlled under the law by each individual county.

For a serious gamble, there are a total of five state regulated casinos across Maryland, offering slot machines and since 2012, table games as well. There is just one legal venue for real poker games in the state at this time, the Hollywood Casino in Perryville, but there’s a second larger room just around the corner, opening in late August 2013 at the Maryland Live Casino in Hanover.

There’s also a bill in the works which could allow legal home games in the state, and rumors of discussions about online gambling. For now though, don’t try either of the above, as they’re firmly against the law for the time being.

Sources for this article

  1. ABCNews.go.com: 24-Year-Old Wins $8.53M at Poker in 12 Hours
  2. GamingLawMasters.com: Maryland
  3. MDLottery.com/: FAQ
  4. TheDailyRecord.com: The Furture of Online Gambling in Maryland
  5. MDPokerConnection.com: Online Poker in Maryland: 4 Simple Reasons
  6. MDLottery.com
  7. MDLottery.com: Maryland Lottery Locations
  8. CapitalGazette.com: Here's the deal: Maryland Live! announces first poker tournaments
  9. WashingtonPost.com: For Maryland’s gambling addicts, new casinos amplify the ‘siren call’
  10. Maryland.gov: House Bill 486
  11. Patch.com: Police Bust Illegal Poker Game at Edgemere Social Club
  12. BaltimoreSun.com: Anger over county police poker bust
  13. WUSA9.com: Police Seize Slot Machines, Cash In Illegal Gambling Bust
  14. CityPaper.com: Game Over Police Raid Charles Village Poker Game
  15. ABC2News.com: Police say Internet cafes were a cover for illegal gambling operation
  16. WBal.com: Feds Close Down Online Betting Operation, Arrest Four
  17. Patch.com: County Police Net $470,000 in Online Gambling Bust