Maryland weighs lifting obscure ban on playing poker for money at home

Marylanders who host penny-ante poker games in their houses would no longer be breaking the law under a bill that advanced in the Maryland Senate on Tuesday.

But then most Marylanders probably have no idea that hosting a friendly game of Texas hold ’em in the rec room is breaking the law, especially since the state has gone all in on casino gambling. Even some lawmakers didn’t know about an obscure provision that prohibits wagering on any game of chance or skill, even in the privacy of one’s home.

“It’s illegal to get your Parcheesi game out now and bet money on it,” said Sen. Nancy J. King (D-Montgomery). King said that when Del. Kirill Reznik (D-Montgomery) pointed out the prohibition to her, it seemed too ridiculous to be true.

“Nobody believes me when I tell them this,” Reznik said.

But Reznik acknowledged that, as a regular in a local poker game, he too had been living on the other side of the law for some time without even knowing it. (He also ratted out his wife for playing mah-jongg for pocket change.)

Reznik, who’s been known to deal a hand of high-low Omaha now and then, said he learned about the obscure provision after members of his regular poker game kept declining his invitation to play host in Maryland. Violators could face penalties of up to a year in jail and fines of up to $1,000.

“I think it’s one of those legislative quirks where you write a law outlawing gambling and this is one of the unintended consequences,” Reznik said. He said no one can remember when the law was last enforced, but it’s probably time to take it off the books.

King’s bill is headed for a final vote later this week. Reznik’s bill is pending action in the House. The legislation would still make it illegal for the host to take a cut of the proceeds, as casinos do.

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