A Montgomery County jury deliberated nearly three hours last night in the illegal gambling trial of the Progress Club Inc. before declaring itself hopelessly deadlocked. Circuit Court Judge William Miller declared a mistrial.

Both prosecution and defense lawyers, as well as club members, expressed disappointment. County State's Attorney Andrew L. Sonner said immediately he will prosecute the case again.

"After two and a half hours of deliberation, after a four-day trial, he [Judge Miller] has declared a mistrial," Sonner said. "It may set a record on the shortest ratio of trial time to deliberation time."

Said Alan Goldstein, one of the defense lawyers: "You go through this whole thing and you don't get an answer. You've got to know what that feels like. You didn't win and you didn't lose. It's like a tie."

One of the 12 jurors defended the panel's action: "There was a decision," said Joseph Gezelter of Rockville, one of six men on the 12-member jury. "There was a decision to disagree."

Another juror, Robert C. Troyer of Chevy Chase, said the disagreement was over the law and the facts of the case, specifically whether it was necessary for the state to prove that the clubhouse was rented for the purpose of gambling and whether the law went beyond prohibiting wagering on horse races.

Earlier yesterday, prosecutors and defense lawyers had sent the jurors from the courtroom with sharply differing messages, delivered with a sobriety and somberness that contrasted with the occasional conviviality of earlier proceedings.

Assistant State's Attorney Matt Campbell reminded the jury that despite the remarks and jokes tossed out by courtroom spectators during the four-day trial, the corporation that runs the Rockville club of 500 mostly wealthy businessmen is charged with six counts of maintaining a place to gamble -- a criminal offense under Maryland law.

"Part of the defense that has been presented to you is that this is some kind of a joke. I'm here to tell you, ladies and gentleman, no prosecution is ever a joke," Campbell said, noting the absence of "decorum" normally found in a courtroom during a trial. "The 'I didn't do it argument' hasn't been heard in this courtroom, but what you've heard and what you're going to hear is: 'We did it but it's all right because we're outstanding members of this community.' "

But defense attorneys Barry Helfand and Goldstein told the jury that Campbell had mistakenly pressed charges against the club, using a law that was meant to forbid horseracing. Then Helfand, letting his voice rise and fall dramatically, admonished the jurors to dismiss charges against the club and send a message to the state that "playing cards is a national pastime" and virtually guaranteed by the constitutional right to the pursuit of happiness.

"This is outrageous -- it has been stupid since the day we started and we never should have been here," Helfand shouted. "Do people in this day and age have the right to join anything without the government getting on their backs?"

"My friends," Helfand said cozily to the jury, his voice dropping, "are you listening to what's going on here? If it's illegal, what the Progress Club does, then it's illegal for you to do it in your home and for me to do it in my home . . . . What's to keep them from kicking down your door and my door?"

The charges against the corporation that runs the exclusive, all-male club stem from a 5 1/2-month undercover investigation by city police. Twenty-four officers raided the club last June 5, arrested 21 members, seized $27,700 in cash and, among other gambling paraphernalia, 25 cartons containing 144 decks of playing cards.

Charges against all but one of the mostly elderly men were dismissed after they performed community service. Members of the club do not deny that they played high-stakes poker and gin rummy games but maintain such gambling is harmless.

Nearly 100 members of the Progress Club, their families and supporters, have packed Judge William Miller's courtroom since the trial began last Wednesday, lending a festive air to the normally somber atmosphere at trials. Spectators have routinely commented at testimony or laughed loudly within earshot of the jury, prompting State's Attorney Sonner to criticize Miller for allowing a "carnival atmosphere."

Helfand and Goldstein couched their closing arguments in human rather than legalistic terms, reminding the six women and six men that many of the club members were elderly and most were successful. Goldstein also attacked the state for spending time and money prosecuting a case "missing evidence of evil deeds."

"What it's really about is hypocrisy," Goldstein said. "The state of Maryland tells you this is bad and wants you to stomp it out, while the state-run lottery is gambling that "hits the poor people."

But prosecutor Campbell said that whether or not the jurors agreed with Maryland's antigambling laws, it was their duty to uphold them.

"When you put the money on the table with the cards and the chips again and again, you're breaking the law. The corporation is being prosecuted for the blatant magnitude with which that activity was undertaken," Campbell said, adding that, if need be, the gambling laws should be amended by legislators in Annapolis, not by jurors in Montgomery County Circuit Court.

"There's a very troubling seed that Mr. Goldstein, Mr. Helfand and the Progress Club want you to plant in Montgomery County and I want you to think about what that's going to grow," Campbell said.