Gambling in Maryland? You Bet! Here’s What’s Legal.

The perception of gambling as a crime is dwindling in America. But, laws still exist outlawing the practice. Those facing gambling charges or accusations need to know the latest up to date laws. JC Law’s criminal defense attorneys have all the current information about gambling and how it affects you, including:

  • How gambling laws in Maryland have changed;
  • The legality of March Madness office pools; and
  • Federal or State: Who prosecutes illegal gambling charges?
Recent Gambling Law Changes in Maryland

Gambling has a long history in the great state of Maryland, thanks to horse racing. The second leg of the Triple Crown, The Preakness, has been run in Baltimore since 1873.

That’s 145 years of gambling on the ponies!

Despite the state’s long-standing tradition of horse betting, not all gambling is legal

Current Maryland law only allows gambling on horse races, in casinos, lottery games, raffles, and bingo.

Gambling law also changed in 2019. The Maryland General Assembly passed new legislation that decriminalized gambling in the state. Now, gambling is only a civil offense, without jail time or a criminal record.

Running an illegal gaming operation, however, is still criminalized. 

Gambling laws will continue to change with a new law passed during the 2020 election cycle. (Hello, DraftKings and FanDuel!)

Yes, the voter referendum on legalizing sports betting passed in November 2020.

However, the law has yet to be defined by legislature. That question only asked yes or no on sports betting. It did not disclose details about what to allow or not.

Therefore, Maryland’s 2021 legislative session will hash out the details regarding sports betting. Lawmakers will begin with non-profit licensing and work from there.

But, until the laws are officially on the books, sports betting is illegal in Maryland.

And, if betting on sports is currently outlawed, that begs the question…

Are March Madness Office Pools and Football Squares Legal in Maryland?

The short answer? No. Office pools and squares games are technically illegal in Maryland.

Activities involving a monetary prize in Maryland are illegal if consideration, chance, and a prize are not all included.

Basically, Maryland considers anything that requires you to bet or wager on the outcome of a “race, contest or contingency” to then win “something of value” as gambling.

In a March Madness office pool, participants:

  • Submit money to play – a bet or wager;
  • Qualify to win the accumulated prize pool – that “something of value;” and
  • Only win based on their chosen basketball team’s performance – a external “contest.”

Yet, the likelihood of anyone in an office getting charged running a March Madness office pool is slim. There has never been a case tried in Baltimore.

Now for those “football squares” games. They, too, bring some legal issues that could cause trouble. Why? Because they are technically private lotteries.

Private lotteries violate both state and federal laws. They divert funds from state-sanctioned public lotteries. And, the activities could potentially cross state lines.

These games are fun and entertaining, but the possible legal consequence makes them a risky venture – Particularly football square games.

If you have the chance to participate in one, then it may be best to keep it to a close group of friends. Also, avoid using the Internet or online payment processors.

Another aspect to consider: Is the boss or office OK with a pool?

If you’re unsure, then bring it up with your human resources department before you start. HR will know if your boss will be alright with it, or if a coworker may be at odds with it because of a gambling addiction.

Until Maryland puts sports betting laws on the books, fun office games are best kept quiet. (We know you’re going to play them, just keep it to the office and don’t use the Internet to run it or pay out winners.) The laws are coming; they are just going to take a little time.

So, what happens to someone charged with a gambling crime?

Gambling Charges: State, Federal, or Both?

As with many crimes, defendants can face either state- or federal-level charges – or both! But what situations will most likely trigger certain levels of charges?

Starting with state level charges, Maryland has undergone a recent change to gambling law with the sports betting referendum passed this past election cycle.

And, as we previously noted, gambling is only a civil offense as of 2019; running an illegal gambling operation is a misdemeanor.

Penalties for a gambling civil offense are fines ranging from $500-$1,000, depending on the amount of money wagered.

Running an illegal gambling house brings jail-time of up to a year, as well as fines of up to $5,000.

(It seems easy to see why no one in Baltimore has been charged for running an office pool lately – doesn’t seem to be worth prosecutors’ time.)

If a defendant is charged with gambling on the federal level, then the activity must cross state lines. That’s why federal gambling charges are often associated with online gambling.

Punishment for federal gambling convictions can be quite harsh.

Conviction Prison Sentence Fine Other
Illegal Online Gambling Up to 5 years N/A Lifelong ban from gambling activities
Running an Illegal Gaming Operation Up to 5 years for each organization run N/A N/A
Laundering Money through Gambling Up to 20 years $500,000 or twice the amount laundered N/A
Running Gambling as part of other illegal operations Up to 25 years $250,000 or twice the illegal funds, whichever is higher N/A

If anyone conducts gambling without a license, it is illegal gambling. It can be prosecuted at either the state or federal level.

However, who prosecutes will generally depend on if it happened just in the state, or if it crossed state lines.

If just in the state, then only state charges are brought.

But, an organizer using an online payment processor to pay out gambling winnings may face federal prosecution.

Now, the likelihood of a person facing both levels of gambling charges is slim. In general, the more serious charges are pursued first, and the less severe follow.

In this case, federal prosecution would generally occur first. Then the state could prosecute, if and only if the federal charges did not gain a conviction. (In legalese, this situation is known as “dual sovereignty.”)

As Maryland allows more forms of gambling, the laws are certain to change. JC Law understands this and is always staying up to date on any law change in Maryland.

Convictions may need expunged or overturned altogether because of these law updates. Our Firm fights for the right of every Marylander to enjoy life to its fullest without potential hurdles due to legal issues.

If gambling has landed trouble on the doorstep, contact JC Law. Schedule a free initial consultation about your specific case.

Each case brings interpretation in nuance and circumstance. The criminal defense attorney’s at JC Law will listen carefully and lay out a possible plan to defend any accusation.

[CHECKLIST] If you need a criminal defense lawyer in Maryland, learn the 8 questions you must ask before retaining.