Maine Poker & Gambling Laws

An Overview of the Gambling Laws in the State Of Maine

While gambling undoubtedly played a part in the early history of Maine, this is a quiet State when it comes to gambling – and gambling laws. Residents can enjoy 2 licensed casinos, betting on harness racing, high stakes bingo casinos and a lottery. What you should certainly not try here, is betting on Greyhound races, which is illegal. This article takes you through the Maine gambling laws in detail.

First below, you can read a history of gambling in Maine, this is in quick-fire fashion. After that I have covered all the different games, and noted the current legal situation of each one. Next the important passages from the statutes can be read, along with a timeline of legal events. Finally there is a summary and look toward the future.


Maine Gambling Laws – A Brief History

Harness racing is not everyone’s sport of choice, though the lavish tracks with restaurants and pari-mutuel wagering have been part of the Maine gambling scene since the 1950’s. More recently the two tracks (Scarborough Downs and Hollywood Racetrack) added slot machines to complete the entertainment experience.

1974 saw the start of the Maine lottery, which remains popular to this day. Inter-State games including New England specific games have since been added. In 1988 the Indian Regulatory Gambling Act saw the building of ‘High Stakes Bingo Casinos’ on the land of 2 tribes. In 2014 these tribes are lobbying for the rights to run full casinos.

More recently, things have gained momentum in Maine. In 2010 a State-wide referendum approved 2 land-based casinos with the Oxford County Casino already taking the experience to the next level. Table games, poker and slots have generated a lot of revenue for the State already – which can only increase the appetite for further loosening of the restrictions.

Poker can be enjoyed at the Oxford Country casino, and you can also legally enjoy a home-game under the ‘social gambling’ laws here. As long as nobody is raking the pots or profiting from hosting the game, these games are considered legal. Maine is considered to be one of the more likely candidates to join the State-regulated online poker – though there are currently no official records of discussions on this topic.


What Forms Of Gambling Are Currently Legal?

Casino Games: Yes, there are 2 establishments where you can enjoy slots and table games in Maine. Both are recent. The Oxford Country Casino was established in 2012 and the Hollywood Bangor Casino and raceway in 2013.

Online Casinos: No, there is nothing specifically banning online gambling on the ME Statutes, this is assumed to be covered in the ‘game of chance’ general prohibition on the current books.

Live Poker: Yes, you can play at the casinos, though the number of tables is currently somewhat limited. Social poker games are legal, with the legislation aimed at those who organize or profit from gambling. As long as nobody is taking rake or making a profit from the games, then there should not be any problem.

Online Poker: No, this State is regarded as a suitable candidate for joining the current movement towards intra-State games. With a population of 1.4 million, there are not enough people to go it alone with these games – which has raised the possibility of player-sharing deals with other Eastern States, possibly including New Jersey or Delaware.

Sports Betting: Limited to pari-mutuel betting on harness racing, dog racing is prohibited.

Lottery Betting: Yes, you can enjoy the usual lottery type games and the inter-state games too.

Bingo Betting: Yes, charity gambling is regulated. Maine uses the word ‘Beano’ to cover a lot of games in this area (a mix of Bingo and Keno?). This type of game needs to be individually licensed. You can also find high stakes bingo games on tribal lands in special ‘bingo casinos’.


Maine Gambling Laws –Timeline and Key Statutes

Like in many States the ME Statutes covering gambling have a wide definition. The important part in Maine is that a ‘contest of chance’ is the outlawed aspect – though the inclusion of wording for and ‘element of skill’ makes this broad enough to cover games like poker.  There is a carve-out for licensed charity gaming, and also for pari-mutuel wagering on harness races. Unusually, gambling on dog races is specifically outlawed!

Here is the main definition of gambling:

“A person engages in gambling if he stakes or risks something of value upon the outcome of a contest of chance or a future contingent event not under his control or influence, upon an agreement or understanding that he or someone else will receive something of value in the event of a certain outcome.” (Chapter 39: Unlawful Gambling – 952)

For the poker players about to say ‘… but poker is a game of skill’, you are out of luck in Maine, this argument does not pass the ‘shuffle’ clause in the same definitions chapter.

“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, a roll of a die or dice or a random drawing or generation of an object or objects that may include, but are not limited to, a card or cards, a die or dice, a number or numbers or simulations of any of these. “

There is no specific mention of gambling online in any of the Maine Statutes.

Bookmaking, running illegal lotteries, keeping gambling records or owning a gambling device (which could be just about anything connected with any form of gambling game) are all punishable under the code. Like in many States, it seems that the organizers and profiteers are the main targets of the legislation. This is backed up by a lack of prosecutions of players over the years – though by the letter of the law they are also in contravention of the codes.

There is a limited timeline of events in Maine compared to other States – the highlights are below:

1950: Scarborough Downs opens, one of two main racetrack / casino ‘racinos’ in ME.

1974: Maine State lottery established, they would go on to join many inter-State games from 2004 onwards.

1988: Tribal gambling laws passed at Federal level, this lead to the Maine tribes opening ‘high stakes bingo casinos’ on their land.

2010: State-wide referendum approves building of 2 land-based casinos.

2012: Oxford County Casino opened.

2014: Bill introduced to allow 2 tribal casinos on native land, this is facing opposition from the business interests behind the existing casinos.


Maine Gambling Laws – Summary and Look into the Future

As far as gambling goes, Maine was a very quiet place until 2010 – when the referendum allowed casinos. It seems that there is an appetite for more progress, though the interests in the 2 legal casinos are resisting at this point, they are probably very happy with their near-monopoly situation!

The introduction of regulated online gambling will largely depend on the success of New England neighbors NJ and DE – both of which already have regulated poker sites. If significant tax revenue is generated, then there is no historical or political reason why Maine should not want to join.


Useful Resources:

Gambling Control Board Maine

Gambling Law Masters Summary

Legal US Gambling + Charity

CNBC Recent bill for tribal casinos

500 Nations