The northeastern-most state in the US, Maine is relatively small in terms of size and populous, coming in 39th in land mass and 41st in inhabitants with a population of 1,328,302 (est. 2013). It offers a picturesque landscape that is about as versatile as they come, highlighted by dense forestry, low mountain ranges, a jagged coastline and scenic waterways throughout. Agriculture and fishing, particularly blueberries and lobster, are prime sources of income for the state, along with industrial factories and tourism. Maine does generate a modicum degree of tax dollars from gambling related venues, but online poker is not on that short list.
Playing poker over the internet for real money is not a legally regulated activity in the Pine Tree State, but that alone doesn’t make the activity illegal. To figure out whether online poker is legal, illegal or in one of those grey areas of the law, we have to examine the statutes of Maine as they relate to gambling.
Land-based Gambling in Maine
The history of casino gambling in Maine isn’t a very long one. Horse racing and pari-mutuel betting have been around since the 1950’s, but casino gambling was prohibited in Maine for many years. In 2004, after the voting public looked positively on the introduction of slots facilities, the state organized a Gambling Control Board to oversee the necessary regulation. The first slots station, Hollywood Slots, was opened in Bangor in 2005 (which later became Hollywood Casino Bangor in 2012), followed by a second gambling hall approved in Oxford in 2010, established as Oxford Casino two years later. Suffice to say, the progression of gambling expansion has been painstakingly slow, hence the lack of developments in the online poker department.
Deciphering the Laws of Maine as they relate to Online Poker
The following information was taken directly from Title 17-A of the Maine Revised Statues, found under Chapter 39; Unlawful Gambling. A concise meaning for each definition is provided for clarification.
|Section||Text||Meaning (in re online poker)|
|17-A-39-952 Definitions||1. “Advance gambling activity.”
A person “advances gambling activity” if, acting other than as a player…engages in conduct that materially aids any form of gambling activity.
|To advance gambling activity is to profit from gambling in some other way than personal gambling winnings (i.e. promoting illegal gambling, selling pools, bookmaking, etc.) An online poker player who only makes money based on their personal winnings would not be advancing gambling activity, but the owner/operator of an online poker site could be.|
|3. Contest of chance.
“Contest of chance” means any game, contest, scheme or device in which:A. A person stakes or risks something of value for the opportunity to win something of value…B. The rules of operation or play require an event the result of which is determined by chance, outside the control of the contestant or participant…C. Chance enters as an element that influences the outcome in a manner that can not be eliminated through the application of skill…
For the purposes of this subsection, “an event the result of which is determined by chance” includes but is not limited to a shuffle of a deck or decks of cards…or a random drawing or generation of an object or objects that may include, but are not limited to, a card or cards…or simulations of any of these.
|Because a random shuffle of the deck produces cards, poker is clearly included in the definition of a contest of chance. Online poker would also be included because the shuffling and production of cards are simulated.|
|4. “Gambling.” A person engages in gambling if he stakes or risks something of value upon the outcome of a contest of chance…upon an agreement or understanding that he or someone else will receive something of value in the event of a certain outcome…||The definition of gambling also includes poker due to its inclusion of a contest of chance.|
|5. “Gambling device” means any device, machine, paraphernalia or equipment that is used or usable in the playing phases of any gambling activity, whether that activity consists of gambling between persons or gambling by a person involving the playing of a machine…||Most states define a gambling device as a machine that is designed primarily for gambling. That is not the case in Maine. So long as the device can be used for gambling – hence a computer or mobile device used to play online poker – it is a gambling device.|
|5-A. “Illegal gambling machine” means any machine, including electronic devices, however operated:B. That is used to advance gambling activity;||As we already know, to advance gambling activity applies to online poker operators, not players, but by participating in real money online poker on a gambling device, advanced gambling is occurring on the operator’s end. Therefore playing online poker could be interpreted as using an illegal gambling machine.|
|17-A-39-956 Possession of a Gambling Device||1. A person is guilty of possession of gambling devices if he manufactures, sells, transports, places, possesses or conducts or negotiates any transaction affecting or designed to affect ownership, custody or use of any gambling device, knowing it is to be used in the advancement of unlawful gambling activity, as defined in this chapter.2. Possession of gambling devices is a Class D crime.||In relation to online poker, this definition is easier to read if we omit some of the extended context:
A person is guilty of possession of gambling devices if he…possesses…any gambling device… used in the advancement of unlawful gambling…
The penalty for possession of a gambling device is up to 1 year in jail and/or up to $2,000 fine.
Is Online Poker Illegal in Maine?
Yes. It does appear that online poker would fall into the category of unlawful gambling in Maine. The definitions of gambling and contest of chance obviously include poker, and a computer or mobile device used to play online poker for real money could be considered a gambling device. The only crime involved for players participating in online poker is possession of a gambling device, which does carry a hefty penalty if convicted.
Is Maine working to Legalize Online Poker?
Eventually, yes. The subject of online poker and casino gambling in Maine arose in 2012 when lawmakers expressed an interest in the market, calling it a “very sophisticated business that we need to catch up on”. Rep. Valentino proposed a carryover bill, LD 227, which would give the state the ability to amend its current casino gambling statutes to include internet gambling. As such, Maine could conceivably regulate online poker any moment. Unfortunately, no discussion of doing so has transpired since 2012. Like many other states, Maine is a taking ‘watch and wait’ approach to the subject, keeping a close eye on the current iGaming markets in Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey before deciding whether to take further action.
Online Poker Players from Maine
Maine has produced a number of successful online poker players throughout the years. Among them are Daniel “wweeee” Blais and Bryan “BDesrochers” Desrochers, both of Portland, ME.
Land-Based Card Rooms in Maine
The Pine Tree State isn’t exactly brimming with gambling opportunities, but there are two major casinos in Maine. For poker players, Hollywood Casino is the only one that offers a live poker room featuring Limit and No Limit Texas Holdem, Omaha and 7 Card Stud.
Hollywood Casino Hotel & Raceway
Location: Bangor, ME
Poker Room: Yes
Location: Oxford, ME
Poker Room: No