Maryland Poker Home Games Now Legal Thanks to Senior Citizens  

Posted on May 23rd, 2016 by Jon Pineda
Maryland poker home games mah-jongg

Maryland poker players should thank their local retirement community for leading the push to legalize home card games in private residences in the state. (Image: Jo Anne Killeen/lacrossetribune.com)

Maryland poker home games are now legal after Governor Larry Hogan (R) signed House Bill 127 into law on May 19. HB 127 allows for any individual over the age of 21 to conduct home card games once a week with other persons in the same social circle with no more than $1,000 being wagered in total.

The legislation is a direct result of a 2015 bust by police on a mah-jongg game at Heritage Harbour, a 55 and older community near Annapolis, Maryland. According to the Washington Post, law enforcement was notified of the illegal gaming by a disgruntled resident who had lost $20.

Heritage community members and residents throughout Maryland called hypocrisy on the state to ban small stakes home games while simultaneously profiting from commercial casinos. Various letters to state newspapers were published, and an active campaign to amend the law was initiated.

It worked.

Sponsored by State Delegate Kirill Reznik (D-District 39), HB 127 ends such two-faced-ness on the part of the Maryland government. Reznik said of the prior nature of the law, “It’s a complete waste of police resources and time.”

Senior Moment

Fortunately for poker and online poker fans in the Old Line State, the actions of the seniors in Annapolis effectively led to the legalization of home poker games.

Poker Players Alliance (PPA) Executive Director John Pappas made the short trip from Washington, DC, to Annapolis to witness Hogan’s signing. “Thank you @delegatereznik for all your hard work and for allowing us to see the home #poker game bill become law,” the PPA said in a tweet.

Though Reznik’s intentions were to free seniors living in communal residences from being the subject of potential legal action for playing mah-jongg, the wording in his bill has opened up home games to basically all card formats.

HB 127 states that the law is “limited” to mah-jongg, but then almost comically adds “or a card game.” With a $1,000 table limit per weekly meeting, buy-ins would be capped at about $166 for a six-person poker game.

It’s also worth mentioning that the host cannot profit off the competition in any way other than actually winning at the game being played.

Online Gaming

The Internet poker community has been searching for allies in various markets for years, but perhaps one overlooked demographic is that of senior citizens. Apparently, at least when it comes to pressuring lawmakers to act swiftly and in their favor, they get things done.

Small games of chance and card games are cherished activities among the older generation, and as computers became more user-friendly over the last two decades, many seniors have taken to online slots and games for fun.

The AARP even offers free online games on its website. From mah-jongg and solitaire to a variety of slots, the AARP is catering to its members’ interests and believes gaming can help keep the aging mind sharp.

Skill-based games are most credited for cognitive exercises, and when it comes to poker, the vast majority of players would highly argue the game is based more upon skill than luck.

Could the senior demographic better persuade state lawmakers into legalizing real money Internet gaming? It’s a stretch, but it couldn’t hurt to have a new voice in the game.

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