Hosting Maryland poker home games isn’t very likely to lead to your arrest, but technically, the activity is indeed illegal.
According to current law, playing a casual game among friends in your house is a criminal act that comes backed with a potential $1,000 fine and a12-month prison sentence.
Now State Delegate Kirill Reznik (D-District 39) is trying to change that statute through House Bill 127, an act that would allow “an individual who is at least a certain age to conduct a home game involving wagering if the home game is conducted in a certain manner.”
After being approved by the State House Ways and Means Committee in early February, HB 127 received unanimous support with a 139-0 vote last week (although one delegate was absent). The bill is now in the State Senate, where Reznik expects similar backing in his attempt to decriminalize home poker games.
Politics at Its Worst
The longstanding law that bans citizens from playing friendly games of poker is rather ironic, considering Maryland has moved all-in over recent years when it comes to gambling expansion.
In 2008, voters approved the installation of slots at five privately owned facilities. Two years later, the state’s first casino, the Hollywood Perryville, opened its doors. In 2012, voters approved another referendum to legalize table games.
While the state now receives over $1 billion from its five casinos, with a sixth scheduled to open this year, when it comes to private residents playing, you’re still in a gray area that’s technically against the law.
Reznik has been fighting to uplift the Maryland poker home games ban for three years. In previous legislative calendars, the Montgomery County delegate called for a $2,000 table limit for these games, but his constituents felt that was too excessive.
HB 127 now restricts total money on the felt to $500 among all players, meaning a buy-in for a game of nine would be capped at $55.55. The reduction in funds being bet has been the kicker in bringing in further endorsements in Annapolis.
What About My State?
Concerned whether playing a home game in your state is illegal? Generally, you’re probably fine (legal disclaimer inserted here: check with your own state to be sure), with the issues usually being around charging a rake or vig, thus making you a de facto “casino” in the eyes of the law, as you become the house.
For example, in 2014, the US Supreme Court denied a petition to hear Lawrence DiCristina’s case, a Staten Island, New York man who was convicted in 2012 for hosting a regular poker game where he collected a five percent rake.
HB 127 says hosts aren’t allowed to collect rake or charge admission for a seat. Reznik also dictates that the players must share a “preexisting social relationship,” meaning you can’t recruit players in the produce aisle, or by yelling out your car window, or posting an ad anywhere.
A casual stroll around Baltimore’s iconic Inner Harbor and you’ll come across strip clubs and a casino. One day soon, you might also be able to play poker with friends from the comfort of your own home.
What a concept.