Understanding Maryland Gambling Law

Maryland Gambling LawsTo the best of my knowledge there are no longer any legitimate online sportsbooks that accept players from Maryland. If you live in this state, you could attempt to register an account at www.5dimes.eu and deposit and withdrawal with Western Union or MoneyGram, but there is no guarantee they’ll accept your action. Meanwhile, I can confirm with certainty Bovada.lv and Bookmaker.eu no longer accept players from Maryland.

Why? Well with a string of high-profile indictments of online betting operators over the last several years, the State of Maryland puts betting sites’ domains and bank accounts at risk. Online betting is legal on the consumer level in most states, but running a sportsbook is not. These bookmakers operate outside the US and therefore so long as they don’t accept players where online betting is illegal they are legal under international law. Hence the reason Maryland players are blocked yet most other US states are allowed to use these betting sites.

In an attempt to provide some context and background for those researching the specifics behind the headlines, this article will focus on explaining the current state of Maryland gambling law and how it impacts the online gambling industry in plain-language terms. Before I begin, a caveat – all law involves interpretation, and this article provides exactly that and no more.  This article should not in any way be considered as advice from a lawyer nor as a substitute for qualified legal advice.

Maryland Gambling Law is Both Strict and Broad

Anyone reading the statutes relevant to gambling law in Maryland will quickly be struck by how vaguely – and therefore, how broadly – Maryland defines gambling.  In fact, there is no formal definition of “gambling” provided in the law; instead, the code refers to gambling and various synonyms such as “game of chance,” “betting,” and “wagering.”

This characterization of gambling, so vague as to include virtually any activity involving the risk of a thing of value, is paired with a very broad definition of gaming device to ensure that any conceivable type of gambling is covered by Md. CRIMINAL LAW Code Ann. § 12-101:

(d) Gaming device. —

(1) “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.

In this manner, “gaming device” effectively provides the statutory definition for gambling in Maryland code.  When I refer to “gaming devices” going forward in this article, I am employing the definition above and not a standard or otherwise proscribed definition.

To make it abundantly clear in Md. CRIMINAL LAW Code Ann. § 12-112 that the law embraces the definitional ambiguity as a strategy for providing maximum flexibility in prosecution and enforcement, Maryland code explicitly asserts that an indictment for illegal gambling need not actually define the nature of the gambling or gambling device involved:

(1) An indictment for violating the prohibition against gaming is sufficient if it states that the defendant kept a gaming device.

(2) The indictment need not state the particular kind of gaming or gaming device involved in the alleged violation.

In short, it is effectively illegal to participate or offer any game in which a thing of value, tangible or abstract, is bet, wagered or gambled. Maryland makes no distinction between games of chance and games of skill in this regard – all games that involve a wager, bet or gamble are illegal.

Maryland does distinguish between gamblers and operators, and in doing so further widens the scope of potentially illegal activity. Let’s start with individuals, who are effectively prohibited by law from using any “gaming device” by § 12-103:

(a) Prohibited. — For money or any other thing or consideration of value, a person may not play:

(1) the game called “thimbles”;

(2) the game called “little joker”;

(3) dice or the game commonly called “craps”; or

(4) any other gaming device or fraudulent trick.

Maryland law does not offer an additional definition or clarification of fraudulent trick.  As for the game of “little joker,” that one may be lost to time; some variants of spades involve using the little joker card, so named because it’s smaller than the other joker card, but to break that particular part of Maryland law you’re going to need to do a bit of research on your own.

As for operators, a person or business quite clearly cannot run a gambling operation or handle the money for one and not be in violation of Maryland law (Md. CRIMINAL LAW Code Ann. § 12-102):

(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.

Md. CRIMINAL LAW Code Ann. § 12-104 further widens the scope of prohibited activity on the operator side by including management and indirect interests later in the code.  So, not only can you not own a business that is involved in gambling or the processing of funds for gambling, you also can’t be an employee of one (at least not an employee that manages anything) or have an indirect (one assume financial) interest:

(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.

The concept of “an interest in a gaming device or the profits of a gaming device” invites legitimate speculation that the operation of even a website advertising online gambling could run afoul of Maryland law, as could an investment by a resident of Maryland in a gambling business even if that business did not serve Maryland customers.

In addition to aggressively broad prohibitions, Maryland does explicitly prohibit some specific types of wagering.  For example, pari-mutuel betting is specifically off the table, so books covering horse racing or other specific events that employ pari-mutuel betting are specifically in violation of Md. CRIMINAL LAW Code Ann. § 12-107:

(b) Prohibited. — A person may not conduct or operate with pari-mutuel betting, or with any similar form of betting, wagering, or gambling:

(1) the game, contest, or event commonly known as “jai alai”; or

(2) any other game, contest, or event.

What Gambling is Legal Under Maryland Law?

As is often the case with states that have aggressive gambling laws, Maryland does permit many forms of state-sanctioned and regulated gambling.  One example:  Charitable and fraternal organizations (as defined by statute) meeting certain conditions may operate slot machines legally in several Maryland counties.

Maryland residents can participate legally in the state lottery.

The State of Maryland has also issued licenses to a small number of land-based casinos including Hollywood Casino and the Casino at Ocean Downs.  These licenses exempt holders from the majority of state gambling laws.

According to the website for agency responsible for regulating casinos, the Maryland State Lottery Agency  ( http://www.mdlottery.com/about-us/frequently-asked-questions/) Maryland is slated to add over 8,000 additional slot machines at sites currently approved but not yet constructed. According to the same agency, Maryland netted well over $70 million in casino-related revenues in the first three months of 2012.

Finally, Maryland carves out exceptions to their gambling laws for what are termed “qualified organizations” such as volunteer fire departments, religious organizations and fraternal organizations.  The law appears to grant these organizations the right to employ any type of gaming device as long as the event where the gaming devices are used does not benefit any member of the organization personally and is managed directly by the organization (along with additional statutory requirements).

Online Poker and Maryland Gambling Law

Poker is not mentioned in any substantive way in Maryland gambling law.  In fact, the term “poker” on appears once in the code in Md. CRIMINAL LAW Code Ann. § 12-101 as an incidental element of a definition:

“(h) Token. — “Token” means a poker chip, bingo chip, or other device commonly used instead of money in the playing of a gaming device.”

One could argue that the pari-mutuel betting section covers tournament poker, as the technical definition of pari-mutuel betting does seem to describe a poker tournament (or at least a type of poker tournament) but my research did not uncover any use of that argument to date in Maryland.

Despite not being mentioned specifically, the playing of poker or the offering of poker games (regardless of whether or not a rake is taken) could easily be construed as illegal under Maryland law via the statutory definition of “gaming device.”  Additionally, the parts of the code the address the handling of gambling-related payments would also provide difficult, if not impossible, for a real-money online poker room to circumvent.

In terms of internet-specific aspects of Maryland code, there are none; however, here again the vagueness of the law provides ample opportunities to apply law originally designed for land-based gambling to any medium, including virtual ones.

Maryland Gambling Law in Action

Maryland has been a bit of an epicenter for online gambling indictments over the last several years. While the SDNY indictments of PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and CEREUS partners Absolute Poker and Ultimate Bet received arguably the most mainstream media attention of any online gambling-related indictment to date, Maryland has been party to a far larger number of individual indictments than any other jurisdiction, thanks in no small part to the (potentially) sweeping reach of their gambling laws.

The Maryland indictment playbook is well-established at this point:

  1. Officers (of various state and federal agencies; so far participating agencies have included the IRS and the DHS) access online gambling sites as customers.  These agents deposit, make bets and then initiate withdrawals, actions that trigger an alleged violation of Maryland state law on the part of the company accepting their bet and processing said deposits and withdrawals.
  2. That violation sets the stage for federal charges of running an illegal gambling business and money laundering under 18 USC § 1955 and 18 USC §1956 (in addition to a few other conditions, a state law must be violated in order to charge someone with running an illegal gambling operation under 18 USC § 1955). The federal charge allows for the threat of significant asset seizure and more severe criminal punishments than possible under Maryland state law.

That was the approach taken in the most recent indictments against Calvin Ayre and Bodog, and also the approach taken in the so-called “Blue Monday” indictments that led to the seizure of the TruePoker, DoylesRoom and BetED domain names.

It’s worth noting that all three indictments mentioned specifically cite online sports betting as the violation of Maryland state law that triggered the federal charges; nowhere in the indictments will you find mention of online poker or casino games.

You can read copies of the indictments referenced above using the following links.  The indictments that name Thrillx and K23 are the indictments related to the “Blue Monday” action:

Maryland Gambling Law: Fun Facts

While Maryland is quite strict about prohibiting gambling, there are some exceptions.  In addition to the already-mentioned exceptions, the law contains a few other loopholes.  For example, politicians running for office are allowed hold unlimited raffles (with some limits on the amount of tickets individuals can purchase), as can credit unions.  Charities wishing to hold raffles, however, are limited to 2 a year (§ 12-107) and can only provide prizes, while candidates can raffle off cash and prizes.

Another interesting tidbit about Maryland gambling law: You can’t gamble legally with a credit card in Maryland.  That is to say that gambling operations which are legal under state law are essentially not allowed to extend credit or accept credit in lieu of cash (meaning they can’t take your credit card).

Perhaps the most interesting part of Maryland law from a gambler’s perspective is § 12-110. Recovery of gambling loss, a section that specifically allows for gamblers who participate in illegal gambling to treat any losses from said activity as a legal debt that can be recovered:

(a) In general. — A person who loses money at a gaming device that is prohibited by this subtitle, Subtitle 2 of this title, or Title 13 of this article:

(1) may recover the money as if it were a common debt; and

(2) is a competent witness to prove the loss.

Where to Bet Online From Maryland

As mentioned Bookmaker, Bovada, and most other reputable betting sites no longer accept players from Maryland. Our advice is to try lower profile sites such as www.5dimes.eu but know if they do allow you to wager it will be on a cash transaction basis via Person to Person (P2P) transfer. If you’re from Maryland your best bet is probably registering an account at their website and then contacting live chat. Outside this you might need to go to less reliable betting sites see our sportsbook rankings for a complete list.