Two year anniversary of Question 7 and the legalization of table games

This past Thursday marked the 2-year anniversary of when Marylanders voted to pass Question 7, which allowed for the addition of table games in Maryland casinos, while also opening the door for the future MGM casino in PG County. In the past two years, local players have experienced quite a poker boom in the area, even making Cardplayer’s list of the top 5 places to start your poker career.

Here’s a quick recap of some of the big highlights:

  • Perryville strikes first with smaller room.
  • Maryland Live! completes poker room add-on and becomes a major player on the east coast.
  • Live! runs the first Poker Classic event, complete with $3500 main event. Follows it up with Summer Series a few months later.
  • Home poker legalization bill easily passes state Senate for the first time, but fails to gain traction in the House.
  • Maryland poker gets televised for the first time via Poker Night in America. Locals regs and legends like Greg Merson tangle with big names like Danielle Moon, Matt Glantz, and Jason Somerville. In a second taping, Phil Hellmuth suits up in a baby costume for some reason.
  • Baltimore Horseshoe finishes construction and opens up WSOP-themed poker room. Live continues to reign supreme.

In the next two years, I would expect not to see much slowdown in the action, especially with the first WSOP Circuit event in Maryland running next February, and then the 2016 opening of the massive MGM casino. Hopefully we’ll also see more positive action in finally legalizing friendly home poker games, and perhaps – though I’m not holding my breath – a big breakthrough for online poker either at the state or federal level.

Posted in Maryland Casinos

A peek inside the Horseshoe Baltimore poker room

The final steps of preparation are taking place inside the Horseshoe Baltimore, which plans to open on August 26th at 9:00pm. Poker room manager Anthony Chester has been supplying occasional updates in the 2+2 hype thread over the past month or so. Many locals will recognize Anthony’s name and solid reputation from the Delaware Park poker room, which, before the years of Maryland poker, was a favorite among area players for its great tournament offerings.

The Horseshoe poker room features 25 tables and will spread cash games starting at 1-3 NLH ($100-300 buy-in), 3/6 limit, and 2-2 PLO. The new casino will also host the first WSOP circuit event in Maryland, scheduled for next year (Feb. 26th – Mar. 9th). Here’s a quick peek inside the room:

Horseshoe 3

Horseshoe 2

Horseshoe 1

One feature that some Maryland Live regulars will appreciate is the convenience of having a bathroom located within the poker room. Just how much the opening of the Horseshoe will shake up the overall Maryland poker scene though, will likely depend upon the quality of cash games, tournament structures, and player comps at the two big contenders.

Posted in Maryland Casinos

Maryland Live! Poker Classic teaming up with Poker Night TV

Starting tomorrow, the state of Maryland will experience its first ever big tournament series – the $1 Million Live! Poker Classic at the Maryland Live! casino. The series features nine events over a two week period, and concludes with a $3,500 buy-in $400,000 guaranteed main event. These big figures are likely to attract some of the big names in professional poker, particularly some of the pro’s who hail from the Maryland area. Luckily for us little folks, Maryland Live! has teamed up with Poker Night in America to film and eventually air the main event final table, as well as a cash game set to follow. The cash game lineup is set feature highly accomplished Marylander’s such as Greg Merson, Christian Harder, and Darvin Moon, as well as well-known players such as Matt Glantz, Gavin Smith, and Danielle Anderson. There are also potential seats available for anyone who happens to have $5,000 to $20,000 laying around to buy in to the high stakes action. However, you must also make it through the application process, which can be started here.

Several clips of past Poker Night in America events have been aired on the web, but recently the announcement was made that full television airings for the show will begin on April 27th, though no network information was provided. It is quite likely that the Live! Poker Classic will not only be the first big tournament series in Maryland, but the first to be televised on a national level as well.

Posted in Maryland Casinos

Recap of home poker hearings

Over the past two weeks there were two committee hearings on bills to legalize home poker and other forms of private, not-for-profit social gaming in the state of Maryland. Last year’s version of the bill (H.B. 486) has been resubmitted as H.B. 305 by Delegate Kirill Reznik, and now also has a version in the Senate (S.B. 428) sponsored by Senator Nancy King. Both hearings were attended by PPA representatives and a few Maryland poker players testifying in support of legal home poker. As with last year, there was no one testifying against. I was personally unable to make the trip this year to either of the hearings, but audio and video clips of each hearing are made available (see links below), and I took a little time to summarize how things went.

S.B. 428 Hearing – February 5th in Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee
Audio: (fast forward to about 47:30 mark)

The hearing began with Senator King giving a brief introduction to the bill, clarifying the fact that currently home wagering on games such as poker and bridge are currently illegal, and that this bill would simply legalize a common and harmless activity that is rarely enforced. The bill covers “games of chance or skill that involve wagering,” provided they are held in a private residence, involve competition against other players, do not involve electronic devices connected to the internet, and are non-raked.

Senator Jamie Raskin posed the first question, stating “this comes up in the context of home poker… are these things actually prosecuted?” King clarified that currently law enforcement agencies make no efforts to enforce this specific law, and that the bill simply aims to repeal an antiquated policy that is still technically on the books. Senator Bobby Zirkin was quick to state his support for the bill, and went further to suggest that the bill be amended to include legalization of other friendly wagering, such as sports betting and NCAA bracket pools.

First to testify was Steve T., who is an Assistant States Attorney in Maryland. Steve’s testimony had a broader focus than just poker, including anecdotal stats and stories about how common and harmless bets (on sports, golf, biggest loser, poker, etc.) between friends are. Testimonies were limited to three minutes, so he had to wrap his prepared speech up earlier than planned, but he did highlight the fact that his profession puts him in a tighter spot than the recreational home game player. This point was extended upon at the H.B. 305 hearing in which he discussed how those in the fields of government, politics, law enforcement, etc. must be extra careful when it comes to harmless home games that are technically illegal.

John Pappas, Executive Director of the PPA, testified next, but unfortunately was not asked any follow-up questions. The hearing moved pretty quickly overall, and it seemed as if committee members were anxious to get through the rest of the bills for the day. John’s testimony can be read in it’s entirety here.

H.B. 305 Hearing – February 11th in House Ways and Means Committee
Video: (fast forward to about 1:45 mark)

The H.B. 305 hearing featured a little more substance, lasting well over 20 minutes. It began with Delegate Reznik’s re-introduction of the bill (very little seems to have changed since last year) and his discussion of the “specter of illegality” over friendly home gaming and wagering. He reiterated that this bill would not lead to an expansion of gambling, only that it makes legal the most common and harmless forms of it. Reznik also claimed that the bill has unofficial support from both law enforcement and casino officials that he has talked to, though both take no public position. He also brought up the fact that, although it is very rarely enforced, home game players worry about scenarios such as angry neighbors or sore losers notifying police, turning a low-stakes friendly game into a charge of operating an unlicensed and illegal casino.

Drew Lesofski, the PPA’s Director of Grassroots and External Affairs, followed up Reznik’s introduction and hit on some similar points, particularly the absurdity of how a friendly card game could be labeled as an unlicensed casino under current Maryland law. Neil O. testified next, sharing his own poker story and why friendly games for low stakes are a safer option for many recreational players. He also mentioned how a smaller group of poker enthusiasts – professionals with security clearances, political implications, etc. – are at greater risk under current law. This point was similar to that mentioned by Steve T. at the S.B. 428 hearing, and low-and-behold, Steve came back to testify once more and elaborate even further on this particular concern.

Steve’s testimony took up the larger part of the hearing (including questioning), and I have to say that his unscripted presentation and handling of questions was spectacular and spot-on. Delegate Eric Luedtke, co-chair of the Joint Committee on Gaming Oversight, took it upon himself to play devil’s advocate in asking questions, adding that he is “semi-supportive” of the bill and that “half the legislature plays.” Luedtke’s questions centered around the ideas of “if it ain’t broke, why fix it,” (if no one is really being prosecuted for breaking this law, why bother with changing the law?) as well as the “law of unintended consequences.” On the latter point, Luedtke stated “you’re opening the door to illicit home games that can’t be enforced… technically by legalizing them, you would have to pay taxes on your winnings, so there would still be some level of illegality.” Steve did a great job of dismissing both the “slippery slope” argument and the assumption that the current law is not broken. It is broken and it does need fixing, and I would suggest anyone even remotely interested in this issue take a few minutes to watch Steve’s testimony.

Stay tuned for more updates on any progress that either of these bills make during this session. In the meantime I would encourage everyone to continue contacting your representatives, particularly the delegates and senators mentioned above. Be sure to thank Delegate Reznik and Senator King for sponsoring the bills, Senator Bobby Zirkin for his enthusiastic support, Delegate Luedtke for his interest and hopeful support, and the PPA for getting behind the efforts to legalize home poker here in Maryland.

Posted in Maryland Politics

Upcoming hearings on home poker legalization in Maryland

The next two weeks will feature dual hearings on a pair of similar bills, SB 428 and HB 305, aimed at finally legalizing home poker games in the state of Maryland (yes, even a nickel-dime-quarter game between friends is still considered illegal under current law). Both hearings will take place at the State Capitol in Annapolis, and the Poker Players Alliance (PPA) is looking for Maryland players who would be willing to either testify in person or submit written testimony, as well as for us to take a few minutes to urge our representatives to support legal home poker games.

I personally made the trip to testify at last year’s hearing on HB 486, which unfortunately did not make any forward progress during the rest of the 2013 session. I’m hopeful that this year will be different, though it is critical that poker players do their part to help push these bills along. Due to my work schedule, I will be unable to attend the hearings in person this year, though I will be submitting written testimony, thanking the sponsors of each bill, and contacting members of each committee that are hosting the hearings. Here is the official schedule for both hearings:

SB 428 HearingJudicial Proceedings Committee
Feb. 5th at 1:00 pm in the State Capitol building
SB 428 is sponsored by Senator Nancy King (@Senatornjk), one of the co-chairs of the Joint Committee on Gaming Oversight.

HB 305 HearingWays and Means Committee
Feb. 11th at 1:00 pm in the State Capitol building
HB 305 is sponsored by Delegate Kirill Reznik (@DelegateReznik), who sponsored HB 486 last year.

The PPA has prepared a set of talking points for those willing to testify and/or voice their support. Those interested in getting more involved should contact Drew Lesofski, the PPA’s Director of Grassroots and External Affairs at Also be sure to thank Senator King and Delegate Reznik for representing the concerns of all of us who regularly host and play in friendly home poker games. Hopefully this is the year that we’ll finally come out of the dark ages.

Posted in Maryland Politics

$1 Million Live Poker Classic to be Maryland’s first big tournament series

This past week Maryland Live! officially announced that they will be hosting their first big tournament series – the $1 Million Live Poker Classic. Starting March 10th, the series features nine tournaments, beginning with a 4-day $550 NLH $225k guarantee, and culminating on the 21st (through 24th) with a $3,500 main event $400k guarantee. The $1 Million component refers to the total guaranteed prize pool over all nine events, which include several bounty tournaments, a 6-max event, and one PLO event. Here is the official lineup of events.

Because each tournament will be hosted within the 52-table poker room, seats are limited to those at the 30 tables set aside for tournament play during the series. Registration begins on February 15th, and director Mike Smith expects seats to fill up quickly. Keep in mind that many of the smaller events will run during weekday mornings and afternoons, in an obvious attempt to keep cash games flowing as much as possible during peak hours.

It’s quite likely that this series (or potentially even bigger ones) could become an annual event for Maryland Live! Player reviews of tournament offerings at Live! have been fairly mixed thus far, with complaints about structures and comparisons to alternatives at Delaware Park, Borgata, etc. In the near future, Live! will also have to compete with in-state WSOP Circuit events at the Horseshoe in Baltimore, as well as whatever MGM decides to start offering up in 2016. In order to host bigger events with larger fields of players, Live! will have to find a way to make more poker space appear, something much easier done in casinos with hotel conference areas attached on site.

Posted in Maryland Casinos

Maryland Poker Year-End Updates

Proposed MGM National Harbor Casino

Proposed MGM National Harbor Casino

Without a doubt, 2013 has been an epic year for poker players in Maryland and nearby states. This time last year, many of us were still traveling to Delaware, West Virginia, and New Jersey to play in legal games. Now we have one of the largest and most-popular poker rooms on the entire east coast, and despite any hiccups along the way, it’s hard to complain about how much things have improved. Still, this is only just the beginning. Here’s a quick look at potential things to come in the near future:

Maryland Live! beefing up tournament schedule
The release of Live!’s January tournament schedule featured the biggest buy-in tournament that Maryland has yet to see – a $600 deepstack $40k-guarantee set for Sunday, January 19th at 11:15. This also happens to fall during the annual Borgata Winter Poker Open in Atlantic City, which may mean fewer pros in the area to partake in the comparatively small $600 tourney. There is also speculation that Live! is testing the waters for a larger series sometime in 2014. This of course would require resolving the logistical issue of hosting big field tournaments while also being able to sustain cash game options. There are a few options for where temporary poker tables could be installed outside of the 52-table main room, but this is something that obviously takes a little time to figure out and get set up.

Speaking of tournaments, Live! has also renewed their partnership with the Players Poker Championship (PPC) circuit, and will be running the same two tiers of satellite tournaments as in this past September. Up for grabs once again are $5,000 prize packages, including entry into the 2014 PPC Championship in Aruba. Since this is not until October, satellites will be offered each month through August in week-long stretches.

MGM National Harbor project gets green light
This past Friday, what everyone assumed would happen was finally made official – the MGM proposal for Maryland’s 6th casino in PG County got the nod from the Maryland Lottery Commission, beating out Penn National (Hollywood brand) and Greenwood Racing. Per the guidelines of Maryland’s gaming expansion bill, the MGM casino will not be allowed to open until 2016, so it’s still a ways off. It’s opening will be preceded by the only other Maryland casino still in the works – the Horseshoe Baltimore, which is slated to open mid-year 2014, featuring a WSOP-brand poker room with 30+ tables. It will certainly be interesting to see how the local poker action balances out as new contenders open their doors. It is also possible that Virginia will attempt to take back their share of residents’ gaming dollars by introducing state casinos of their own.

Potential poker legislation in upcoming session
January 8th marks the beginning of the 2014 Maryland General Assembly session, as well as the time when poker players should really make big efforts to contact members of the Joint Committee on Gaming Oversight and voice their support of home poker legalization, as well as the potential for bringing online poker to Maryland. Back in September, members heard testimony from the Poker Players Alliance’s own John Pappas on Delegate Kirill Reznik’s bill that would make friendly non-raked home poker games legal. The same bill was introduced in the House Ways and Means Committee last year, but saw no further action. Hopefully this year, with more player support and a committee dedicated to gaming issues, the antiquated laws in place will finally get the boot.

The arguably bigger issue to watch at both the federal and state level is online poker legislation. With the early success of online poker in New Jersey, the time is ripe to push for other states to follow their example and hopefully start to create interstate compacts. Gaming Oversight committee co-chairs (Sen. Nancy King and Del. Eric Luedtke) both indicated openness to the idea, as did Stephan Martino, the director of the Maryland State Lottery and Gaming Control Agency, specifically stating that he was keeping an eye on the unveiling of Delaware and New Jersey’s online gaming programs.

Though it is difficult to say what will happen at both the state and federal level in terms of online poker, it should be apparent by now, more than two years after Black Friday, that sitting around and waiting is not a viable plan of action for poker players. Please, do what you can to reach out to your representatives and make it clear that poker played either live or online in the privacy of our own homes is not a crime, and that prohibition is not the answer.

Posted in Maryland Casinos, Maryland Politics, Online Poker

One year since Question 7, Maryland poker running good

Maryland Live! poker room

Maryland Live! poker room

A little over a year ago, Maryland poker players faced a very close coin flip of a situation that would decide whether or not we would continue to drive across state lines to play cards and donate dollars to casinos in neighboring states. The vote went down in an incredibly close 52/48 split, finally putting existing Maryland casinos on the same playing field as those in Delaware, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. Fast forward to now, with three open poker rooms, two more on the way, and games as high as $100/200 NL cementing the fact that Maryland has officially arrived on the national poker map. It’s a little eerie to look back and think that a swing of a few percentage points could have denied, or at least stalled, all the great action now taking place.

In the coming months we’ll get a chance to learn more about what still lies on the horizon for Maryland poker players. This includes, of course, the Baltimore Horseshoe casino slated to open in 2014, as well as what brand of poker room we can expect to see in PG County in 2016. There is also a bill to legalize home poker games in the state legislature that will hopefully see some forward progress in the upcoming session. Having a specially appointed gaming committee should help our chances of finally being able to play legally in our own homes. Last but not least, we’ll be keeping our eyes on the resurgence of online poker in Delaware and New Jersey to see what effects it might have in influencing Maryland officials to follow suit in the near future.

Apologies for not updating the site for a while. I’ve been super busy at work, while also trying still sneak in a poker session whenever possible. Stay tuned for more updates. Best of luck at the tables for now.

Posted in Maryland Casinos, Maryland Politics, Online Poker

More casino poker, possible home game legalization on horizon

Rocky Gap adding three poker tables; Ocean Downs expanding into table games
Earlier this week it was reported that the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency approved a request from the Rocky Gap casino out in Western Maryland to add three poker tables to their small offering of table games. Though it’s unlikely to make any waves in the poker community, it’s certainly nice to have another option, and should hopefully become popular with many visitors to the resort. Cards should be in the air by early October.

At the other end of the state, the Ocean Downs casino recently revealed that it has plans to expand into a small selection of table games, though it does not appear that poker will be a part of their 10-table layout.

PPA’s John Pappas testifies on home poker legalization in Annapolis
This past Wednesday the Maryland Joint Committee on Gaming Oversight held a hearing on issues that included potential legalization of home poker games. It appears that H.B. 486, sponsored by Delegate Kirill Reznik, is getting another shot after failing to be brought up for a vote within the House Ways and Means Committee last session. Having a committee specifically designated to deal with such issues, and two co-chairs who seem somewhat supportive of poker players, should hopefully increase the likelihood of this bill making forward progress.

John Pappas of the Poker Players Alliance was there to testify, and the following is a summary from the PPA’s weekly update:

As the PPA team continues to work to help our members navigate the FTP claims process, PPA Executive Director John Pappas headed to Annapolis, Maryland’s capital, to testify before the Joint Committee on Gaming Oversight.

Pappas was invited by the Committee to provide his expertise and insights on the current law that makes it a crime to play any game for a wager, even a simple chess match with Uncle Joe. Yes, that’s right. Today, even a penny-ante game of poker in a private residence is considered illegal in that state!

Pappas spoke out in favor of legislation that would make exceptions for home poker games. Earlier this year, PPA worked with Maryland Delegate Kirill Reznik to introduce H.B. 486, the Home Games Protection Bill. This legislation would eliminate penalties for private poker games played at a home where no one is profiting from operating or hosting the game. I encourage you to take a moment to read Pappas’ testimony.

The hearing was attended by all eight members from the Maryland House and Senate who serve on the Joint Committee. It was encouraging that Committee Chairwoman Nancy King stated that she has heard from “many poker enthusiasts” about their right to play poker in the privacy of their own homes. The future of the bill is still not known, but PPA and our Maryland members will be stepping up their advocacy over the coming months to ensure this common-sense legislation becomes law.

Posted in Maryland Casinos, Maryland Politics

Poker action that every Maryland player should get in on

It’s hard to say that all is currently not well for any poker player in and around Maryland. The opening of Maryland Live!’s poker room last month finally brought a top-tier room to our home state, and it has been absolutely booming since day one, with a great variety of cash games and tournaments. As far as the casino poker experience goes, Marylanders arguably now host one of the best rooms in the region, with two big rooms still on the way.

On other fronts though, there is still progress to be made. It is easy to highlight all the recent positives, but the fact remains that home poker games are still technically illegal in Maryland (in many states only raked games are illegal), while online poker is still virtually dead across almost the entire nation. Both of these could very well be changing in the near future, and the time is ripe for Maryland poker players to pressure state officials to take action and lead the way in decriminalizing our favorite game.

Joint Gaming Committee to discuss home poker legalization
This Wednesday the Joint Committee on Gaming Oversight will meet at 3:30 and at the top of the agenda is “issues involving legalizing home poker games.” About a month ago I reached out to both co-chairs of the committee and received favorable replies on the issue of home poker legalization. Last year a bill to legalize forms of social gaming was introduced to the House Ways and Means Committee, but no action was taken on it before the end of the session. This year, with a committee specifically designated to address such concerns, and two co-chairs who seem on board with the idea, I’d say our chances of finally getting home poker legalization have certainly improved.

Please don’t be shy in reaching out to either co-chair and voicing your support. Here are all members of the committee:

  • Sen. Nancy J. King (co-chair) – / @Senatornjk
  • Del. Eric Luedtke (co-chair) – / @EricLuedtke
  • Sen. James E. DeGrange Sr. –
  • Sen. George C. Edwards –
  • Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden –
  • Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr. –
  • Del. Melvin L. Stukes –
  • Del. Jay Walker –

    Maryland officials watching (but waiting on) intrastate online gaming
    Late last week Cardplayer had a chance to talk with Stephen Martino, director of the Maryland State Lottery and Gaming Control Agency. Though there has been little open discussion about the possibilities for online poker (or gaming in general) in Maryland, officials are certainly aware of what is happening in New Jersey and Delaware, but are being cautious in moving ahead with them. As Martino puts it, “two of the four states that are kind of in our competitive area have or are going down the road with some form of online gaming, and that’s something we are going to have to keep an eye on.” This has been echoed by members of the Joint Committee on Gaming Oversight, though it at least appears that there is very little direct opposition to the idea. It is also something that has been brought up before and seems to have support from Maryland casino owners.

    In addition to voicing your support for online poker to members of the Gaming Committee, you can find Stephen Martino on Twitter at @stephenmartino.

    Stay tuned for updates, and hopefully good news for all of us.

  • Posted in Maryland Politics, Online Poker
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