Of all the northeastern states that have either launched or expanded their live casino operations in the past decade, Maryland is among the lucky few whose market has consistently boasted strong results. Since residents voted in favor of table game expansion and the construction of a sixth casino in 2012, the industry’s profit margins have ballooned. And today, Maryland’s burgeoning market generates somewhere in the vicinity of $85 – $90 million per month.  Granted, that’s still only about one-third of what Pennsylvania reaps from its slot junkets and card peelers, but remember Maryland only touts half the population and number of casinos as its neighbor to the north.
So the question becomes,
With all this positive momentum on its side, why haven’t Maryland legislators pushed to regulate online poker?
In 2012, House speaker Michael Busch postulated that Maryland must consider expansion into the digital gaming realm if it hoped to remain competitive. Around the same time, Maryland Live! Casino owner, David Cordish announced that he may loosen his opposition to brick and mortar expansion if Maryland were to consider an Internet gaming bill. These variables led many to believe that a bill would weave its way into a special legislative session , but ultimately, it never happened.
Since, the state known as
Little America has turned its attention away from Internet gambling and towards the continued growth of its physical casino market and the possible expansion into other gaming arenas, most notably an online lottery. But that doesn’t necessary mean legislators have forgotten about online poker; merely that their focus has been temporarily diverted.
Can Players from Maryland Play Real-Money Online Poker?
Online poker has yet to be regulated by the state of Maryland, and there is little indication that it will be anytime soon. Compounding matters further, Maryland has a history of aggressively pursuing unregulated Internet gaming providers, although no actual players have been indicted for playing on an illicit site.
For now, Maryland players are best served playing live poker at one of the state’s casino properties. The situation is vastly different in Europe, where creating an account on a real-money poker site is a relatively seamless process.
Is Online Poker Legal in Maryland?
Although the question of online poker’s legality is not specifically addressed by Maryland’s gambling statutes, the multiple prosecutions of Internet gambling sites have that originated from the state, and its aggressive pursuit of both operators and players participating in underground games lead one to believe that non-sanctioned gambling in any form is a crime.
Maryland’s gambling statutes offer no definition of gambling. Instead, they plainly prohibit individuals from betting, wagering or gambling.
Section 12-102 goes on to elaborate that bookmaking in any form is prohibited, as well as, using a piece of property for the purposes of
betting, wagering, or gambling.
The penalty for violating the aforementioned is a misdemeanor charge resulting in up to one year in prison and/or
a fine of not less than $200 and not exceeding $1,000.
Players are not only nonexempt from the law, but the penalties for playing a
gaming device or other fraudulent trick, are in some ways more severe than they are for operators – up to two years in prison and/or a $100 fine.
To understand the limitations the statutes impose upon players, we look to the definition of a gaming device, according to Section 12-101 defined as:
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 which money or any other thing or consideration of value is bet, wagered, or gambled.
Based on this broad definition, any surface in which a poker game is spread (poker table, kitchen table etc.) appears to fit the bill as a gaming device. That is, unless Maryland classifies poker as a game of skill, of which there is no clear indication.
While the individual penalties for playing in and operating a gambling game may appear less harsh than average, the totality of the charges guilty parties face vastly exceeds norms. Compounding matters further, Maryland’s law enforcement agencies have a history of hunting down and busting illicit gambling rings; both live and in the digital space.
Although individual counties make some exception for social gambling, there is no explicit exception that clearly renders non-raked home poker games as permissible.
Maryland Gambling History
Although Maryland’s gambling history dates back to the pre-Colonial days, it was largely kept out of public view. That is until the 1860’s, when Governor Oden Bowie approved the construction of Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore . The historic venue has stood proudly for over 140 years, and since 1873 has hosted one third of horseracing’s illustrious Triple Crown (Preakness Stakes), which itself was named after the colt that won the first running of the Dinner Party Stakes in 1870.
Slot machines made their way to Charles County in 1949, but were banned in 1968 as part of a statewide gambling crackdown. Five years later, voters approved the establishment of the Maryland Lottery. Since, it has expanded to include multi-jurisdiction games such as Powerball and Mega Millions. By fiscal 2013, the lottery was generating over half-a-billion dollars in revenue.
2008 hailed the second coming of slot machines, followed in 2012 by a voter’s referendum that saw the institution of table games, including poker, at Maryland’s casinos. Question 7 also permitted the construction of a sixth Maryland casino. MGM National Harbor , a $925 million luxury resort based in Prince George’s, is expected to open sometime in 2016.
Regulated Gambling Options in Maryland
Tribal casinos are the only form of gambling not permissible in Maryland, although that has more to do with the lack of federally recognized tribes than it does government disapproval. Horseracing and pari-mutuel wagering are long time stapes of Maryland culture, as is the lottery.
New to the mix are commercial casinos. At the forefront of the nascent industry was Hollywood Casino Perryville, which opened its doors to the public in September 2010. Today, the state supports five casinos, four of which spread table games.
Other recent headlines
In February 2014, Maryland legislators weighed in on legalizing home poker games. H.B. 305  passed unanimously in the State Senate but ultimately failed to be penned into law.
2012 WSOP Main Event champion and Maryland native Greg Merson became the brand ambassador for the U.S.’s largest independent and regulated site, WSOP.com, in September 2014. Merson’s sponsorship deal represents a paradigm shift away from those of the pre-Black Friday era, in that sponsor rewards are based on performance.
The Future of Regulated Online Gambling in Maryland
In 2012, it appears that Maryland was on the fast track towards legalizing online poker. But the poor performance of iGaming industries in Delaware and New Jersey may have prompted legislators to reconsider. Today, talks of regulation are virtually non-existent.
That being said, Maryland is surrounded by states that have either instituted iGaming or like Pennsylvania, are seriously considering its merits. Eventually, Maryland may need to launch online gaming to stay relevant, but that day is not today.
Expect Maryland to stick with its
wait and see approach until the industry reaps greater profits, or regulators iron out the kinks. Should states with existing iGaming industries forge successful interstate compacts, it may expedite Maryland’s entry into the mix, but it’s unlikely that a bill will make its way to the Governor’s desk before 2016.