Real Money Online Gambling in Maryland

Maryland has a long history of gambling, and has taken a more relaxed approach to it than many other states. Gambling revenues from lotteries played a big role in Maryland rising up to become a state, and betting on horse races has been legal since 1870, and the track that started it all way back then is still in operation.

Maryland has even decriminalized gambling now, where instead of charging you with a crime, you get issued a ticket instead. While gambling at establishments other than the approved casinos still risks being issued a citation, Maryland doesn’t go after gamblers anyway, and especially don’t raid people’s homes to break up home games like Texas used to do in the golden age of Texas road gamblers.

It wouldn’t matter if they wanted to break up online gambling as there isn’t an effective way for anyone to do this. The fact that this is also no longer a crime has even more Marylanders gambling online now, although you do need a good guide to navigate this frontier, guidance that we’re happy to provide if you are up for it.

History of Gambling in Maryland

Maryland Online Casinos and SlotsLike other states in the original 13 colonies, Maryland held various lotteries in its colonial days which raised money for various public projects as the new colony grew. While this eventually fell out of favor throughout the country, gambling made a comeback in 1870 when betting on horses became regulated by the state, which has remained the case since.

It wasn’t that Maryland first got horse racing in 1870, that’s just the year that the state of Maryland became involved in it. The Maryland Jockey Club was founded all the way back in 1749. The custom with horse racing had been for the participants to make side bets on it, but Maryland wanted to elevate this to a pari-mutuel format. This new regulation coincided with the building of the Pimlico racetrack, which got completed just in time for the 1870 regulation.

Pimlico is still standing, and is the second oldest racetrack in the United States and home to the Preakness Stakes, one of the jewels in the Triple Crown. Maryland added 4 more race tracks over the years and remains one of the horse racing capitals of the country today.

Maryland has always been one of the most permissive states toward gambling, as reflected in their approving pari-mutuel gambling for so long, and this is believed to be rooted in Maryland’s stronger then normal belief in religious freedom, due to so many coming to the state from across the ocean and moving to Maryland specifically to avoid religious persecution. This has led to a more liberal view on the separation between church and state, in contrast to many states that are more prone to codify religious beiefs such as opposition to gambling into law.

Once lotteries became popular in a few states, Maryland was eager to jump on this bandwagon again, with a state lottery approved in 1972, making them one of the first states to do this. In a lot of states, the 1980s and 1990s brought tribal casinos, where federally regulated Indian tribes were allowed to open casinos under federal law, but Maryland was not subject to this, and any casinos operating in Maryland would require the state approve them on their own.

It took a while, but in 2008, casinos became approved by the state, by way of a statewide referendum to amend the constitution. The Maryland Lottery was given oversight on these new casinos, and there are currently 6 in the state.

True to form, Maryland was one of the states that has moved forward to legalize and regulate sports betting at their land-based betting facilities. The measure is currently on the ballot in the general election of 2020 and if passed, the state is ready to move on working out the details and issuing licenses. Online sports betting is not included in the bill though and that will have to wait.

Maryland Gambling Laws

Some states engage in rather detailed and complex descriptions of what they wish to prohibit with their gambling laws, and often times, for their many words and examples, they may miss the mark and either leave out types of gambling they may have wished to include, or create substantial uncertainty about what it may or may not be legal to bet on.

Maryland’s gambling law is outstanding for both its brevity and comprehensiveness, and achieve this with just 8 words: “A person may not bet, wager, or gamble.” This might look redundant on its face, where bet, wager, and gamble mean the same thing generally, but putting these three together better defines the kind of gambling that is prohibited.

We might consider a lot of things not under this law to be gambling for instance, like taking a gamble on going into business, or investing, or anything else involving risk, but the inclusion of all three terms defines the scope of this law, that it includes acts normally considered to be gambling, where people place bets or wagers.

While legal jurisdictions reserve the right to apply laws as they see fit, it is also important to write laws such that they can be easily understood and applied, and this law accomplishes that very well. It does rely on common usage more than laws usually do though, but if relying on common usage is can be very effective, as it is with this law.

If we want to be sticklers, we could criticize this law as being potentially overbroad, and some states go way too far the other way in including business practices that no one would ever consider to be within the scope of anti-gambling laws, excluding things like “legitimate business transactions,” which are not only not needed but may muddy the waters.

We might wonder why someone agreeing to play blackjack at a casino would not involve a “legitimate business transaction,” and it would be if not for the fact that the state wants to prohibit certain transactions that would otherwise be legitimate. This in itself could be seen to exclude all gambling, given that it is in essence legitimate.

The risk of being this broad is that someone may be confused and refrain from transactions that they believe might be included, such as investing in stocks, which do involve a certain type of bet or wager and could even be compared to gambling. This is where common usage comes to the rescue, as we do not commonly refer to investing in stocks as betting or wagering even though we are taking a financial stake in a future contingent event, the movement of the stocks we buy.

Looking at this law in its entirety excludes such interpretations, although it is enough to claim that playing blackjack is within what people generally consider to be betting, wagering, and gambling, where other activities such as investing in stocks are not considered to be in the category of gambling but within another distinct category called investing or trading securities, even though they may be substantially similar.

If we define gambling that we wish to prohibit more narrowly, such as wagering anything whose outcome is contingent upon an event not completely under one’s control, this brings the potential for this to be applied overbroadly. Some may claim that purchasing stocks would exclude our using wagering to describe the activity, but some financial transactions are pure bets that do not ever involve taking possession of anything but your betting slip basically, and the intent of the law isn’t to include such activities in gambling law. Maryland’s law, by sticking to commonly used terms, turns out to be a pretty elegant way to achieve their legal goals.

There are all sorts of views on the internet that interpret gambling laws, and it seems like everyone copies everyone else without either looking at the law or keeping up with changes. Many of these are rife with nonsense with statements such as the law outlaws gambling generally but online gambling isn’t mentioned specifically so it “might” be legal or even is legal, and all sorts of other misinterpretations.

Even sites that are run by lawyers often substantially misunderstand gambling law, and we don’t have to go any further than the preposterous idea that the Wire Act or the UIGEA could possibly apply to players, a patently false idea promoted even by some who claim to be legal experts. What is left out the most is the practical side of the law, and you can’t just tell someone that it is against the law in Maryland to gamble without getting into the consequences of the matter.

It turns out that Maryland has now de-criminalized gambling, meaning that it is no longer a crime to gamble in this state, and has instead now become a civil offense, where they may ticket you for it if they wish like they do with parking tickets.

You can still get arrested for running gambling operations, but given that players aren’t really targeted with these laws anyway as a practical matter, players can at least gamble in Maryland at whatever they want, including online wagering, with the knowledge that they are not committing a crime in doing this anymore.

So if you read something like Maryland makes all gambling illegal other than what they approve, which is true, we also need to be told what illegal means in this context, and it’s also illegal to not put change in your parking meter in a timely way as well. Laws derive their force by way of consequences, and therefore need to be accounted for in our decision making.

Land-Based Gambling in Maryland

The state of Maryland was built on gambling revenue, back during a time when lotteries were very popular. After a long hiatus, the lottery returned to Maryland in 1972, and Maryland’s is one of the most successful in the country, generating almost as much revenue as the state’s casinos do.

While Maryland does permit charitable gambling, social gambling, gambling among players, isn’t allowed by law, leaving it subject to the general provision against gambling. Social gambling is notoriously difficult to prosecute though, and when states conduct expensive sting operations to go after gamblers, they don’t do it with home games, especially given that gambling of any sort is no longer a crime in Maryland.

Players in Maryland therefore just go about their business with social gambling, which was ignored even before gambling was decriminalized. It is still a crime to run an unauthorized commercial gambling operation, but home games are none of this sort, just players having fun among themselves.

Maryland has had continuous pari-mutuel horse race betting since Pimlico was completed in 1870, and Pimlico remains one of the foremost horse racing tracks in the country, and hosts the Preakness Stakes of Triple Crown fame. There are 4 other pari-mutuel horse race tracks in the state, Laurel Park, Ocean Downs, Rosecroft Raceway, and the Timonium Racecourse.

Ocean Downs also has a casino, the state’s only racino with 800 slot machines to go along with their horse races, and has now added table games as well, making it a full casino as well as a racetrack. It is owned by Churchill Downs of the Kentucky Derby fame, who used to sell their racetracks once they became racinos, but has changed their views towards casinos and bought this one after it became a racino.

Ocean Downs was the second casino to open in Maryland, first offering slots in 2011. Maryland’s first casino was completed a year earlier, in 2010, with the opening of the Hollywood Casino Perryville, in the northern part of the state. It houses a 75,000 square foot gambling floor, and offers 1,500 slots as well as blackjack, craps, and roulette tables as well as real money poker.

2012 saw the opening of the Live! Casino and hotel in Hanover, a suburb of Baltimore, Maryland’s largest city. It still Maryland’s largest casino and one of the biggest in the country, with 4,000 slot machines, 189 casino table games, and a 52 table poker room. It also has a 310 room hotel, 9 restaurants, and is across the street from Maryland’s largest shopping mall which is also among the 25 biggest in the country.

The Rocky Gap Casino Resort was built in a state park in 2013, which offers not only a resort and casino but with outdoor activities such as boating, hiking, and camping as well. Its casino features 631 slot machines and 18 table games. The Horseshoe Casino Baltimore was completed in 2014, with 2,202 slots and 178 casino table games.

Maryland’s latest casino was completed in 2016, the MGM National Harbor near Washington, DC. It features a 23 story hotel with 308 rooms, 7 restaurants, retail space, a spa, 27,000 square feet of meeting space, a 3,000 seat theater, and a 135,000 square foot casino with 3.139 slots and 165 casino table games.

Maryland is in the process of trying to get a sports betting bill passed, which is up for vote in the November election. If approved, the state will then roll out live sports betting to its casinos, although there are no current plans to offer online sports betting or anything else online. The Washington Redskins have also been offered a sports betting license if they commit to keeping the team in Maryland.

Maryland Online Casinos & Slots Gambling

Maryland doesn’t currently authorize any form of online gambling apart from off-track betting on horses. They at one time legalized daily fantasy sports betting, but retracted this a few years later due to legal concerns, or rather, legal confusion on the part of the state of Maryland.

It is clear that gambling online is contrary to Maryland law, but the fact that no form of gambling is a crime anymore in Maryland does factor into the decision of whether to gamble online or not in this state. This has now become similar to not putting money in the meter knowing that no one ever comes around to check. There may be some philosophical issues here but no practical ones.

When considering the consequences of a law, the penalty is just one consideration, and Maryland’s recent de-criminalization of gambling did take the bite out of this law, where the consequences have been marginalized. It’s not that Maryland or any state are able to catch you gambling online though, although many gamblers are nonetheless reassured by this now being a civil matter now, just in case perhaps.

There has never been a single person in the United States ever charged with online gambling, criminally or civilly, but Maryland was involved in an effort that came to be known as Blue Monday, where several offshore operators were charged in absentia for violating the UIGEA. These were not persons in any way subject to U.S. law though, and the worst they could do is seize some domains, not even legitimately, as this would require that the internet itself be subject to U.S. law, a ridiculous claim.

This had nothing to do with Maryland law or Maryland state officials, and especially had nothing to do with players, it was merely the U.S. Department of Justice office in Maryland barking at some foreigners. Bodog.com was lost, so Bodog just changed their sites to Bodog.lv to continue to market to Americans, and Bodog.eu for their other operations.

Other than that, they and others flipped the bird to the DOJ as this was a complete farce from a legal perspective as other countries have their own gambling laws which are not superseded or diminished by foreign laws. This is certainly no reason for players to be nervous, especially now that gambling is no longer a crime in Maryland, and especially since there is no way for the state to catch you doing this as bad as they might want to, and they do not even want to.

Maryland has not chosen to license and regulate online gambling, but several other jurisdictions outside the United States have. It is up to the individual site to decide whether or not they accept players from certain parts of the world like Maryland, and plenty of sites are happy to accept Marylanders.

For those who wish to play real money online games such as poker, casino games, and sports betting, there are plenty of good opportunities out there if you know where to look, and especially if you know what sites are worthy of your business and which ones aren’t. We are happy to show you the way.

Future of Gambling in Maryland

Maryland has settled in with their 6 casinos, with at least good coverage of the two major metropolitan areas, Baltimore with its 2.8 million people as well as Washington DC’s metro population of 6.2 million being in easy reach. This is not to say that there won’t be more expansion, but the biggest way that Maryland can expand their gambling revenue is to permit online gambling and open up the whole state to on demand real money gambling.

States generally turn a blind eye to online gambling, where the adage of out of sight and out of mind very often applies. Pretending that online gambling doesn’t go on in a state doesn’t generate any revenue though, and sees gambling profits needlessly going overseas instead of staying in a state’s economy. States also miss out on the opportunity to tax these profits and they instead are subject to the rock bottom corporate tax rates of tax havens such as Malta, Gibraltar, or in the Caribbean, money Maryland sees none of.

The U.S. government long ago tried to strongarm these offshore jurisdictions for offering gambling to U.S. residents and lost the battle resoundingly, and if gambling is legal in a place like Antigua, who the United States took on with this issue and lost, as well as several other jurisdictions, there isn’t anything stopping them from serving the U.S. market, as they have done since online gambling began.

States are also powerless to stop their players from gambling online all they want, so this cashes out to states like Maryland missing out completely on this action with no recourse at all but to sit back and watch all this money flow offshore, until they finally decide that if you can’t beat them, you might as well join them. There are a few states that have woken up to this reality, but Maryland hasn’t shown us that they are anywhere near ready to do this yet.

While state legislators continue to sit on their hands, real money online gamblers continue to gamble to their heart’s content, and it’s only the state that really loses here provided players are up on what the options actually are. Many are waiting for Maryland to license and regulate real money online gambling, not being in the know, but for those who do not wish to wait for whoever knows how many years, the future is now, as long as you are properly aware of where to go.

This is where we come in, to show you the best sites that accept Maryland residents, sites that do not just cater to Maryland but to players all around the world. This is especially important if you enjoy real money poker, as you need sites big enough to have the crowd that all poker sites need, for you to find the games and stakes that you want. This part doesn’t matter with casino and sports betting, but it is still critical to play at top quality sites over lesser ones, and we’ll make sure that you are only directed to the sites well worthy of your play.

Maryland Online Slots & Casinos FAQs
  • When did Maryland first get legal gambling?

    Maryland first authorized and ran gambling way back when they were one of the 13 colonies, relying on lotteries to pay to build up the state. This was a time where lotteries were popular in the colonies, and among other things, lotteries contributed significantly to the War of Independence. Times changed though, as the new country eventually had a change of heart and lotteries became disbanded.

  • What does Maryland law say about gambling?

    It is against the law in Maryland to gamble on anything not specifically permitted by state authority. Maryland simply makes it illegal to bet, wager, or gamble, and it is actually important that all three are included. You can take a gamble on anything, like driving around the block again to find a parking spot. You can bet on things without anything of value changing hands. Wagering means risking something on a future outcome, and only some of this would be considered gambling. Including all 3 makes clear what is being prohibited.

  • What sort of gambling or wagering is a crime in Maryland?

    Betting, wagering, or gambling, the state’s definition of gambling, used to be a crime. Maryland ended up passing a bill that decriminalized the act of gambling, treating it as a civil offense, like a parking offense. They could have just removed it from the books entirely, as no one is handing out these tickets. Perhaps you don’t want to be shooting craps in an alley with the police around, but for practical purposes, this serves to treat gambling in private as if it were no longer any sort of offense, not that gambling was even prosecuted when it was a crime.

  • Does Maryland offer pari-mutuel wagering on horses?

    Legal betting on horses in Maryland goes all the way back to 1870, when a bill was passed to allow it, coinciding with the opening of the Pimlico Race Course. Pimlico has been offering pari-mutuel betting on their horse races ever since, and is not only standing but is still one of the premier horse racing venues in the country. There are 4 other horse racing tracks that offer betting, including off-track betting.

  • What sorts of land-based gambling does Maryland have?

    Maryland brought back the lottery in 1972, and the Maryland Lottery is one of the most successful and profitable in the country. The state has had horse race betting since 1870 and features 5 pari-mutuel racetracks, including one racino that also offers slots and table games. Maryland has 5 regular casinos, with two very big ones, one in Baltimore and the other in the Washington DC area. Sports betting will likely be added soon.

  • Does Maryland allow social gambling?

    There are states where the only form of gambling allowed is social gambling, and it’s actually unusual for a state like Maryland having wide-open casino gambling and not allowing friendly home games. It is true that home games can’t really be regulated and the state would not maintain control over them, but there really isn’t a need for this and it is a waste of time to regulate social gambling either way, to either permit or prohibit it, because people just do it anyway and enforcement is impractical.

  • Does Maryland have licensed and regulated sports betting?

    Maryland hasn’t been quite as quick to join the wave of real money sports betting that is now being permitted in many states already, but they do have a bill that is being voted on in a referendum that would serve as permission for the state to proceed putting together a plan to regulate this. Current casino operators would be given licenses to offer this, which may also include the Washington Redskins offering it, as they are located in Maryland.

  • Does Maryland have online real money gambling yet?

    Maryland does not license and regulate any form of real money online gambling, and do not even intend to allow for online sports betting if the current sports betting bill gets signed into law. Maryland seems to be under the impression that they get to decide if their people gamble online or not in their state, and once they realize that they actually have no say, this may serve to open their minds to this more.

  • Why might it make sense for Maryland to get into online gambling licensure?

    Online gambling in Maryland and in the United States in general has been around ever since real money online gambling sites first appeared on the scene in the 1990s. It is inconsistent in principle to welcome casino games, poker, and soon, sports betting at land-based venues but not online. The fact that this sort of thing goes on without them, to a very large extent, should also encourage them to seek to both profit from the deal and exercise control over it.

  • Are there good real money online sites that Marylanders can play at now?

    While players wait for Maryland to finally get around to licensing real money online gambling sites themselves, there are plenty of places elsewhere in the world that have been happy to do this for us. There is considerable variance in quality with these foreign sites, to an extent where it’s best not to venture off on your own too much, especially if you are seeking the same high quality as a Maryland regulated site would provide. Let us be your guide.

Associate Writer: Geoff enjoys both live and online poker as well as casino games, and is particularly knowledgeable about the legal landscape of online gambling.