Citizens of Maryland have perpetuated a love/hate relationship with the gambling industry for far longer than most state legislators have even considered legal gaming in their states. Since the 1940s, a tug of war has been played among citizens, politicians and attorneys in defining nuances of the law – and in determining whether the benefit for the economy outweighs some bad press nationally.
For the time being, six large outlets host casino-style gambling and one can find scattered gaming machines throughout the state – just not in some counties…
Population: 6.01 million (off. 2016 est.)
Area: 12,407 sq. mi.
Gambling Age (Casinos): 21
Gambling Age (Lottery): 18
Number of Casinos: 6
• George Herman Ruth was born, grew up, signed his first pro baseball contract and was given the nickname “Babe” in Baltimore.
• The official state sport of Maryland is jousting – thus that state flag.
• The state anthem “Maryland, My Maryland” was written by a Confederate sympathizer and refers to Abraham Lincoln as a “tyrant.”
• In 1943, the National Bohemian brewery released the world’s first-ever six pack.
In terms of legal casino-style gaming, the state of Maryland goes down as more progressive than virtually any state outside of Nevada – in a way. Laws regarding so-called vice are typically passed county by county in Maryland; the legalization of slot machines in 1943, therefore, was merely for Anne Arundel County. In ’47, St. Mary’s and Calvert counties passed similar legislation, but Charles and Worchester counties did not.
In 1949, Charles and Prince George counties legalized slots; as though to test the bizarre autonomy of county rule in Maryland, revenues garnered from taxation of casino game operators in Prince George County were to be leveraged to reduce area property taxes. This was apparently too radical a proposal for state legislators, who subsequently denied Prince George County’s newly-passed law as invalid.
Maryland even found an interesting end-around to some particularly slots-unfriendly federal legislation in 1950. That year, the U.S. Congress banned shipment of slot machines across state lanes. While a case-by-case basis for exemption was provided for, the Maryland government did not seek such an exemption. Instead, a formerly Reno-based slot game designer/manufacturer relocated to Maryland to supply the state’s gaming locales.
In 1950, Congress banned the interstate shipment of slot machines unless a state sought exemption. Only Nevada did so. Maryland decided not to seek this waiver because of "a fear of outsiders 'muscling in' on Maryland's slot machine business." In 1958, one of the three largest U. S. slot machine manufacturers relocated to Maryland from Chicago to be in the only other state truly friendly to slots outside of Nevada and to also be able to supply the Maryland market. Most of its business was in Nevada, where it also had an assembly plant in Reno that supplied 80%-90% of that city's machines.
Thanks to reports and rumors of bribery in Maryland state politics in the 1950s and 60s, Maryland gambling law was rolled back a bit. In 1958, river-based gambling in Maryland was made illegal. Two years later, Charles County residents voted to limit gaming parlors to 35 slot machines maximum. When David Hume became governor in ’62, he set to work on getting all slot machines banned from the state; legislation to this end was passed in ’63 with an eye to phasing out the games within five years. By December 1968, even slots rejiggered to award prizes rather than cash were deemed illegal.
The resurrection of legal gambling in Maryland began in 1971, when state legislators re-legalized gambling in 10 counties – if the gambling was sponsored by a non-profit, e.g. the state, which soon introduced a lottery.
Passage of the federal Indian Gambling Regulatory Act of 1988 didn’t change things immediately for Maryland citizens, but in 2008 a constitutional referendum passed allowed for “video lottery terminals,” i.e. slot machines, to be operable in private facilities. In 2012, table gaming became legal, and by mid-decade some five large-scale casinos and one racino were open for business.
As stated above, five casinos are open for business as of this writing: the Maryland Live Casino in Hanover; the Horseshoe Casino Baltimore; the Rocky Gap Casino Resort in Flintstone; the MGM National Harbor Resort & Casino in Oxford Hill; and the Hollywood Casino in Perryville. Hundreds of slot machines are available for the playing year-round at the Casino at Ocean Downs racetrack as well.
To think that in the 1940s, no age restrictions on the thousands of slot machines in the state were in place … today, Maryland required traditional age limits on its would-be gamblers: One must be 21 years of age to play in the state’s casinos, and 18 for other forms of gambling.
Would you call a guy who rules the poker rooms in your home state a “local hero”? Maryland product Chad Power has enjoyed quite a bit of positive press for divesting “whales” of their money at the poker tables in Maryland casinos. Power naturally participates in WSOP and World Poker Tour events, but most of the time he can be found at his favorite haunts in his home state. Best of luck if you ever face off against this guy…
Thanks to the amendment to the state constitution made in 2008, the prevailing gambling laws in Maryland, with all major forms of gambling legal. Of course, the actual availability of such gaming is completely reliant on the county that you are in. Should you find yourself in a gambling-unfriendly bit of Maryland, well, get in the car and start driving to the next county over. You may have better luck (so to speak) there.
One would think things are pretty secure with regard to keeping the casinos open in Maryland, but given the state’s previous about-face on the subject, gambling enthusiasts might want to start paying attention to political machinations beginning in about 2020 or so.
Beyond this, one can’t expect too much more expansion within Maryland casino gambling; the last general expansion of the law went down in 2012 and, as if to leave no stone unturned, in ’16 passed a law which extended legal gambling in to retirement homes (!).