Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported that police raided a mah-jongg game at Heritage Harbour. They raided a poker game.
Fear not, card game enthusiasts: Maryland’s governor has signed a bill that would legalize some home poker games.
The bill came with many caveats. Among other restrictions, games cannot be held more than once a week, cannot be advertised, cannot involve the wagering of more than $1,000 in a 24-hour period and cannot involve “use of an electronic device that connects to the Internet.”
Loretta Alessandrini, a 72-year-old resident of Annapolis’s Heritage Harbour, a 55-plus community, was part of a letter-writing campaign to support the bill. She said police “begrudgingly” busted at poker game at Heritage Harbour last year after a resident who lost $20 snitched. This resulted in her $4 mah-jongg game being shut down.
“We love it,” said Alessandrini, who attended the signing ceremony with a fellow 96-year-old mah-jongg player. “It’s the best game for senior citizens. It keeps your mind alert.”
State Del. Kirill Reznik (D-Montgomery County), a sponsor of the bill, said authorities shouldn’t have to use limited resources to police people playing cards in their own homes.
“What is important is eliminating the possibility that police can come and bust a game,” he said. “Once we eliminate that possibility, I hate to say it, but you can have any amount of money on the table.”
To prevent legalizing underground casinos, the bill also excludes games that allow people “to benefit financially in any way, directly or indirectly, other than from the winnings accrued by participating as a player in the game.” Players must also “share a preexisting social relationship.”
The bill also protects senior gamblers, legalizing games “in a common area of a residential property that is restricted to residents who are at least 55 years old.”
With Maryland’s sixth casino slated to open in National Harbor this year, Reznik, who consulted with gaming officials on the bill, said they do not see home games as competition.
“They see this as an ability for people to get comfortable with the game before they come to casino,” he said.
John A. Pappas, executive director of the nonprofit Poker Players Alliance who also attended the signing ceremony, praised the legislation, saying 30 states allow some form of gambling in homes.
“What this provides is a lot of legal clarity and comfort for those that want to play low stakes, medium stakes and even high stakes,” he said. “ . . . I think it’s a very positive step forward.”