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Maryland Online Poker Laws

The United States has come a long way in regards to online poker laws in the last decade – albeit not as far as millions of Americans would like. Likewise, legislators in Maryland have made a lot of changes to the state’s gambling laws since 2012. Again, not quite the full range of alterations many citizens would have liked, particularly the regulation of online poker, but progress is progress.

The US has flip-flopped completely since the government passed the UIGEA in 2006 to put a stop to online gambling in America (or at least the financial transactions that support it), followed by the seizure of three of the world’s largest online poker sites – PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker – on April 15, 2011; a date forever embedded into the online poker community as Black Friday. The reversal came in December of that same year when the DOJ unexpectedly overturned its opinion of the Federal Wire Act of 1961. For years, the DOJ had insisted online gambling was illegal by this enactment, but suddenly decided it applied only to sports betting. Thus individual states were given the right to legalize and regulate online poker and online casino games as they deemed fit.

Several states jumped into action, including Nevada and Delaware, who passed laws to regulate online poker and/or casino games. New Jersey followed suit as well, and for a time, it looked like Maryland might jump onboard. Instead, law makers omitted the online gaming literature from a 2012 proposition that was originally designed to expand the state’s land-based casino industry. However, while online poker is not regulated in Maryland, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s illegal.

Legality of Online Poker Maryland

It’s important to note the difference between an activity that is illegal, and one that is regulated. A regulated activity is legal, and mandated by the state. But an unregulated industry is not necessarily prohibited. That all depends on the exact literature of the laws surrounding the subject.

All forms of officially legalized gambling in Maryland are regulated by the state. Maryland is home to 5 raceway tracks and, since the passage of a gambling expansion law in 2012, is increasing its number of brick and mortar casino establishments to 6. The state lottery has been in operation since 1973. Officials in Maryland are clearly acquiesce to the concept of raking in tax dollars from gambling. And while residents of the Old Line State are still participating in online poker games from offshore operators, the only way to determine whether such activity is legal is to examine the legislation closely as it pertains to Maryland’s online poker laws.

Maryland Statutes and Code – Gambling

The following is a list of excerpts borne directly from the Maryland States and Codes, Title 12, Subsection 1; General Provisions. These are only portions of the law that may pertain to online poker. To read the full text of Maryland’s gambling laws, please use the link provided.

12-101 Definitions

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.

12-102 Betting, Wagering Gambling, etc. (applies only in Baltimore City)

(a) Prohibited.- A person may not:

(1) bet, wager, or gamble…

(b) Penalty.- A person who violates this section is guilty of a misdemeanor and on conviction is subject to imprisonment for not less than 6 months and not exceeding 1 year or a fine of not less than $200 and not exceeding $1,000 or both.

12-104 Gaming Device… (applicable statewide)

(a)  Prohibited.- A person may not:

(1) keep a gaming device, or all or a part of a building, vessel, or place, on land or water within the State for the purpose of gambling;

(2) own, rent, or occupy all or a part of a building, vessel, or place and knowingly allow a gaming device to be kept in the building, vessel, or place;

(3) lease or rent all or a part of a building, vessel, or place to be used for the purpose of gambling;

(4) deal at a gaming device or in a building, vessel, or place for gambling;

(5) manage a gaming device or a building, vessel, or place for gambling; or

(6) have an interest in a gaming device or the profits of a gaming device.

(b)  Penalty.- A person who violates this section is guilty of a misdemeanor and on conviction is subject to imprisonment for not less than 6 months and not exceeding 1 year or a fine not exceeding $500 or both.

What does it all mean? Is online poker illegal in Maryland?

There are three key points in the gambling laws above that you should pay special attention to. First, under 12-101, Definitions, the meaning of a gambling device includes a table, as in a poker table, which clarifies that poker is illegal (unless regulated by the state). Second, in section 12-102, we see that a person may not bet, wager or gamble (unless regulated by the state). A definition of betting, wagering or gambling is not provided, thus it could include anything whatsoever that might be gambled upon, with no regard for the level of chance or skill involved. However, note that section 12-102 applies only in Baltimore City. Third, in section 12-104, it says that a person may not “have an interest in a gaming device or the profits of a gaming device”. The fact that the word ‘or’ was used constitutes any profit, whether derived from being a player or a manager, promoter, etc.

All things considered, the laws are incredibly ambiguous and could easily be construed as to mean that online poker is just as illegal as playing craps in a back alley. Despite the fact that no terms specifically point towards playing over the internet, we would have to conclude that online poker is not legal in Maryland. However, we advise consulting a practitioner of law in the state for a more accurate riposte.

Is Maryland working to regulate online poker?

In 2012, law makers did attempt to draft online poker laws in Maryland as part of a casino expansion bill. Unfortunately, that attempt died a rapid death. However, Maryland has been competing with Delaware’s gambling markets for years, and Delaware is poised to launch its first online casino and poker games later this month. That could spell a quick rebirth to the discussions of online poker regulation in the Old Line State.