Legal Poker in Maryland

A Guide to Poker in the State of Maryland

Maryland Gambling Laws

In this guide to poker in Maryland first up is a basic overview of gambling in the State. Next, the question of whether poker is legal is discussed. This is followed by a look at the live games in the State and to wrap it up the current status of online poker is covered.

A Brief Overview of Gambling in Maryland

Maryland has gone through a back and forth relationship with gambling. While this State has witnessed gambling booms such as the vast amounts of lotteries operating in the early 1800s and a huge growth in slot machines during the 1950s, these have quickly been reined in by new legislation enforcing restrictions.

The most recent change in gambling came in 2012 with the passing of a referendum legalizing casino games. This was quickly followed by 5 casinos opening up and more due for the future. This expansion has been allowed by Governor Martin O’Malley in order to keep the tax money generated by gambling – rather than watch this going to neighboring States.

Is Poker Legal in Maryland?

You can play poker legally in any of the regulated casinos within Maryland, although playing anywhere else is technically illegal. As there are no exceptions for home games at the moment, these too are not considered legal - although there are plans to address this.

While Maryland Statutes do not directly address what is classed as gambling, Section 12-102 clearly states a person must not “bet, wager or gamble”. The laws continue to define “gambling devices” which are broad enough to cover anything apart from billiard tables and the properties in which gambling takes place.

Penalties for taking part in illegal poker games are fairly harsh compared to other States, ranging from low fines to possible jail time. The law makes no concessions for players involved in illegal gambling, although in practice the State has no history of prosecuting players, concentrating instead on the organizers.

Live Poker Options in Maryland

Maryland Live is currently the only casino hosting live poker games. This opened in 2012 and is a state of the art, modern entertainment complex. The card room has proved very popular with poker player and has already held some local tournament series with million dollar guarantees.

In addition to a wide range of cash games spread there are monthly tournament schedules with buy-ins generally ranging from $100 to $330. You can find some satellites mixed in to WSOP or Caribbean tournaments and there are even PLO8 tournaments available.

While the options for live casino play are limited at the moment, a second casino Horseshoe Baltimore is due to open in August 2014, with plans to spread poker.

Home games are technically illegal in Maryland. In practice this is mostly unenforced by the authorities, unless there are suspicions rake is being applied and the games are operating to support a business. Therefore a small stakes home game between friends should be fine.

In 2014 the subject of social gaming was discussed in the Maryland Senate. There were hopes that it would be decimalized however no action was deemed necessary on this occasion. It is hoped that when the next gambling amendment comes, a carve-out for home games will be created. 

Maryland’s View on Online Poker

Maryland has no specific law addressing online poker. The wording in the Statutes referring to betting and wagering is considered to be enough by the authorities to class online gambling as illegal, yet this remains to be proven in a court as no players have been arrested.

With the lack of enforcement many players enjoy playing on the offshore sites which continue to serve US customers. These are legal operations based outside of the US, mainly in the Caribbean and claim they have the right to provide games through international free-trade agreements. Despite no action being taken against players using these sites, Maryland prosecutors have seized bank accounts relating to offshore sites. This has resulted in some refusing new sign ups from the State and does send the signal that the State is keen to restrict these sites.

With neighboring Delaware regulating online poker and gambling, there is the hope Maryland may follow. As of yet the subject has not been approached among the law makers.

In Summary – Maryland Poker

Now that progress has begun to regulate gambling in Maryland it is hoped it will continue, giving players more opportunity to enjoy live poker. With new casinos due to open and a desire to decriminalize social gambling the State appears to be going in the right direction for poker players.

Maryland prosecutors have taken a tough line against those companies providing online poker, by taking direct action in seizing bank accounts. There is currently no indication they will go after players using these sites.

While there is talk of regulated online games this seems unlikely in the very near future.