Maryland Gambling, Betting & Poker Laws Reviewed

An Overview of Gambling Laws in the State Of Maryland

Maryland has been swinging backwards and forwards between prohibition and legislation since the end of the 1700’s. The first gambling was though licensed charitable lotteries, which exploded to number in their 1000’s before they were banned. Slot machines led the next wave of gambling in Maryland, leading to the ‘little Vegas’ label in the 1950s’. Again the forces of prohibition won out and gambling was forced underground. The latest resurgence is as much to do with lost revenues from people traveling to neighboring States than anything moral – with the 2012 opening of land-based casinos leading the way. This article covers the Maryland Gambling Laws in detail.

First, to help you put the laws into a historical context, a quick-fire overview of how some colorful episodes of the past unfolded. After this you can find a game-by-game rundown of what is legal and what might be soon – followed by some detail from the statutes and legal timeline featuring key dates. Finally, you can find a summary and look to the future.

Maryland Gambling Laws – A Brief History

Church lotteries might not strike you as a hotbed of gambling vice, though this is exactly what happened for almost 50 years after the legalization of good-cause lotteries in 1791. There were so many running, and so much cheating and corruption that it took until 1834 to stop new licenses being issued and even then another 26 years for the last ones to stop. Lotteries moved south, with the heyday of the Southern Lotteries, based in Louisiana coming shortly after this.

There are two top quality racetracks in MD at Pimlico and Laurel Park. The racing board was formed to oversee these in 1920 and today you can enjoy pari-mutuel betting on live races from across the US via Simulcasts.

The next chapter in the sequence of gambling booms in Maryland came via Slot Machines – the old mechanical lever-pull machines of the 1940s and 1950’s. Power to control these machines was deregulated to the counties between 1943 and 1948. There were soon nickel machines in every store, gas station and mall – with people traveling to play them. This earned the areas of these 5 counties the name of ‘Little Vegas’ for a time.

Anti-gambling forces within the State played the ‘ruining families’ card and after several attempts, got the machines banned in 1963, it would be 5 more years until the last machines were removed.

Other than a State lottery and deregulation of charity bingo and raffle games to the counties, all was quiet on the gambling front until 2010. At this point the citizens of this State were given a referendum on introducing casinos – which passed. The first casinos opened in 2012, and there are currently 5 of them enjoying a boom. The first poker rooms opened last year, and already there are big live poker tournament events being held. This was a pragmatic solution to people crossing the border into more gambling-friendly States and has already started generating much needed revenue.

With Maryland watching other States efforts to regulate online gambling, there is a reasonable chance that internet poker games will be allowed within the next few years.

What Forms Of Gambling Are Currently Legal?

Casino Games: Yes, this is a very recent development with the casinos approved in 2012 opening their doors in 2013. There are 5 in total which include both slots and table games.

Online Casinos: No, as is the norm the broad wording of this States statutes is considered good enough to include Internet Gambling – though this has yet to be tested in any court.

Live Poker: Yes, there are now card rooms at two casinos. 2014 saw a $1 million poker tournament series, which really did make a splash in the State press. Home games are technically not legal, though they are tolerated as long as nobody makes a profit from hosting or running them. There were hearings in February 2014 in which arguments were put forward that there should be a specific carve-out for home (social) poker games.

Online Poker: No, however there are encouraging signs from the Senate that a ‘wait and see’ approach is being taken – rather than regulated poker ruled out. Delegate Eric Luedtke indicated that progress in other States was being monitored ahead of any debate on legislation.

Sports Betting: Only pari-mutuel betting on horse races is allowed, including live simulcast racing between States.

Lottery Betting: Yes, Maryland has a State lottery and participates in the games between States.

Bingo Games: Yes, charitable bingo and raffles are allowed. Unusually, control of these is deregulated to the individual counties.

Maryland Gambling Laws – Timeline and Key Statutes

Alongside a very broad definition of gambling based on catch-all combination of ‘wagering’ and the widest possible definition of buildings hosting gambling games – there have been some presidents in Maryland concerning a wide variety of ‘gambling devices’. In one court a pinball machine was designated a gambling device, although the best you can win is a free play – the same went for vending machine which randomly allocated tokens for more plays which had no other value to them.

What we are witnessing at the moment is a progressive loosening of the gambling restrictions in this State which were brought in during the 1960’s after a boom in mechanical 5c slots was demonized as ‘ruining families’.

Here is the key definition:

“Betting, wagering, gambling, etc.

(a) Prohibited.- A person may not:

(1) bet, wager, or gamble;

(2) make or sell a book or pool on the result of a race, contest, or contingency;

(3) establish, keep, rent, use, or occupy, or knowingly allow to be established, kept, rented, used, or occupied, all or a part of a building, vessel, or place, on land or water, within the State, for the purpose of: (i) betting, wagering, or gambling; or (ii) making, selling, or buying books or pools on the result of a race, contest, or contingency; or

(4) receive, become the depository of, record, register, or forward, or propose, agree, or pretend to forward, money or any other thing or consideration of value, to be bet, wagered, or gambled on the result of a race, contest, or contingency. “ (From Section 12-201)”

Penalties associated with illegal gambling are reasonably severe compared to other states. Fines are low, though many of the violations to include prison sentences. In many States, players of gambling games are less liable under the law, this is not the case in Maryland – though there is no real history of prosecuting players. As of March 2014 social gambling (home-games) have not been carved out, though there is an ongoing debate in the Senate.

Here are some interesting dates from the legal timeframe of gambling in Maryland.

1791: First legalized gambling in Maryland took the form of ‘lottery grants’ for church and public works purposes. This led to an explosion in private lotteries, at one point thousands were operating.

1834: Lotteries reigned in as the State votes to stop new licenses.

1920: Horse racing oversight board formed.

1943 to 1949: Special local option bills lead to the legalization of slot machines in several counties, leading to a boom in the mechanical machines.

1963: Law passed to stop renewal of licenses for slot machines saw this booming area decline, the last licenses expired in 1968.

1973: Lottery begins, this has generated more than $13 Billion in revenues for the State as of 2014.

2012: Referendum passes legalizing casino table games, and leads to an instant boom in the building of casinos, with 5 open and 1 in plan as of 2014.

Maryland Gambling Laws – Summary and Look to the Future

Maryland is not the first place you consider when thinking of the rich episodes of US gambling history – yet this State has had its share of gambling booms. The recent introduction of casinos was more a way to stop people (and their revenues) traveling to neighboring States than a big win for personal freedoms.

With 2 neighboring States (New Jersey and Delaware) already hosting regulated online gambling in the form of online poker – there is some cause for optimism that Maryland might join in a second wave of States once any issues have been ironed out.

Useful Resources:

Gambling Law Masters


Statutes Summary

Battle between States

Interesting Piece Covering Slots History

Little Vegas history (Also Slots)

State Lottery and Gaming Control Agency