Although Maryland is ranked just 42nd largest of all the 50 US states, it packs in quite a population of 5,928,814, listed as the 19th most populous. The tertiary service sector, particularly affective labor, is the state’s most significant economical resource, but the extensive shoreline and proximity to Washington D. C. draws a great deal of travelers to the area. To further bolster the tourism industry, Maryland chose to expand its gambling offerings to include regulated casino gambling on slots and, more recently, table games. The venture has been phenomenally successful, but the legalization of online poker has yet to come to fruition.
There were innumerable online poker players in the Old Line State pre-Black Friday, most of which would like to know just where the local government stands on the issue of internet gaming. The fact that it has not been regulated doesn’t necessarily make it illegal. The laws of many states leave online poker in a grey area. We will examine the gambling legislation of Maryland to determine what legal category internet poker falls into.
Land-based Gambling in Maryland
Maryland wasn’t always so agreeable to the idea of land-based casino gambling. In the first half of the 20th century, Southern Maryland was known as Little Nevada for its abundance of slots facilities, but fearing corruption, the state outlawed casinos in 1968. Maryland legalized charitable casino slots in the 1970’s and established a state-run lottery, bringing in millions for state-funded programs, but by the 1990’s, charitable slots were again prohibited due to corruption.
The subject didn’t resurface until 2008 when voters approved the return of slot machines at five locations. The first, Hollywood Casino Perryville, opened its doors on September 17, 2010. Four years later, table games, including poker, were sanctioned, along with a new casino establishment in Prince George County, scheduled to open as MGM National Harbor sometime in 2016.
Maryland is also home to four horse racing tracks including Pimlico Race Course, established in 1870 and home of the Triple Crown event, Preakness Stakes.
Deciphering the Laws of Maryland as they relate to Online Poker
Maryland is obviously open to the idea of generating tax dollars from regulated gambling activities. Since online poker isn’t expressly authorized, we’ve scoured the gambling laws of the Old Line State to find context that could be related to real money internet poker. The following excerpts are taken from Title 12 of the Criminal Law section of Maryland’s Statutes and Codes, with brief meanings provided for each.
|Section||Text||Meaning (in re online poker)|
|§ gcr-12-101 Definitions||d. 1. “Gaming device” means:
i. a gaming table, except a billiard table, at which a game of chance is played for money or any other thing or consideration of value; or
ii. a game or device at which money or any other thing or consideration of value is bet, wagered, or gambled.
|There is no differentiation between a game of chance or skill by Maryland law, therefore a gaming device would include a poker table. Because no clarification is specified for mechanical or electronic devices, it could possibly include an online poker table as well.|
|§ gcr-12-102||a. A person may not:
1. bet, wager, or gamble;c. 1. The provisions of this subsection apply only in Baltimore City.
2. A person who violates this section may be charged by a citation.
|Betting, wagering or gambling of any kind is strictly prohibited in Baltimore City, MD. A citation means the culprit will have to pay an unspecified fine or appear in court, similar to the penalty for a traffic violation.|
|1. The prohibition in subsection (b) of this section applies notwithstanding a license or permit granted through or by a county, municipal corporation, or other political subdivision of this State.2. This section does not apply to:
i. pari-mutuel betting conducted under the Maryland Horse Racing Act;
ii. bingo, carnivals, raffles, bazaars, or similar games of entertainment; or
iii. …slot machines, that are authorized in the State…
|This section does not apply to licensed operators who conduct authorized gambling activities.|
|b. A person may not conduct or operate with pari-mutuel betting, or with any similar form of betting, wagering, or gambling:
1. …jai alai…
2. any other game, contest, or event.
|Criminalized gambling is extremely ambiguous in this section, and therefore seems to apply to any form of gambling that is not authorized. However, the term ‘conduct or operate’ alludes to the person running the game, not the players.|
Is Online Poker Illegal in Maryland?
Not exactly. Online poker seems to fall into a grey area of the law in Maryland (except for residents of Baltimore City). Although it is not a regulated form of gambling, the penalties appear to fall on the operators, not the players.
In Baltimore City, however, the laws state that any type of gambling is illegal, and therefore an online poker player may be subject to a citation.
Is Maryland working to Legalize Online Poker?
Maybe. The topic of regulated online gambling in Maryland was introduced by House Speaker Michael E. Busch in 2012 in a memo regarding an upcoming hearing on gambling expansion, but was dropped from the discussion before it ever began. Instead, the state chose to authorize table games, bringing land-based poker to the Old Line State.
Nearby competition has already pushed Maryland into expanding its casino industry over the last few years, and the presence of internet gambling in Delaware and New Jersey could be a catalyst for online poker development in the foreseeable future. Lawmakers have stated that they wish to keep the focus on the development Maryland’s nascent casino industry for the time being, but that could change if iGaming opportunities in nearby jurisdictions begin to detract from the state’s land-based gambling industry.
Online Poker Players from Maryland
The evidence that online poker isn’t illegal in Maryland is further supported by the fact that many online poker players from the state don’t bother to mask their identity. The most prominent online poker pro proudly residing in Maryland is James “mx4ever” Sloat, who racked up over $625k on PokerStars and $260k on Full Tilt before Black Friday. He now plays primarily on the Winning Poker Network as “MBRMACR”. Other successful online poker players from Maryland include Josh “TKO121” Mischel of Baltimore and Brian “Poker366” Hollywood of Pasadena.
Land-Based Card Rooms in Maryland
There are currently 5 land-based casinos in Maryland, all licensed and regulated by the state’s Lottery and Gaming Control Commission. A sixth licensed destination, MGM National Harbor, is under construction in Prince George County, slated to cut the ribbons in 2016. Four of the state’s casinos offer poker rooms, with the largest being the 25-table WSOP-branded poker room at Horseshoe Casino Baltimore, and the doubly massive 52-table, two-story poker room at Maryland Live! Casino.
Casino at Ocean Downs
Location: Berlin, MD
Poker Room: No
Hollywood Casino Perryville
Location: Port Deposit, MD
Poker Room: Yes
Horseshoe Casino Baltimore
Location: Baltimore, MD
Poker Room: Yes
Maryland Live! Casino
Location: Hanover, MD
Poker Room: Yes
Rocky Gap Casino Resort
Location: Cumberland, MD
Poker Room: Yes