May 21, 2024
Annapolis, US 69 F

Maryland’s Long History with Legalized Gaming has had its Ups and Downs.

Maryland was, at one point in time, the second-largest home for gambling behind only Las Vegas before waves of prohibitive lawmaking killed most of the action. In recent years, though, gaming has been making a comeback thanks to a series of laws that culminated in the 2022 launch of legal online sports betting.

Let’s take a quick look at the history of gambling in Maryland. We’ll travel from its mid-century heyday, through the lean years, before finally coming out the other side into today’s gaming renaissance.

The Early Years of Gambling in Maryland

The first documented form of gambling in Maryland goes all the way back to the 1700s and their earliest lotteries. Horse and dog racing were also popular in the state, leading to the formation of the Maryland Racing Commission in 1920.

What really put Maryland on the map, in a gambling sense at least, was the deregulation of slot machines in 1943. This led to a 20-year boom of gaming, nightlife, and tourism for Annapolis and its surrounding counties, earning the area nickname Little Vegas.

Prohibition and the Forty-Year Freeze Out

Those high times unfortunately came to an end in the 60s as new regulations slowly phased out the slot machines. This inevitably led to a loss of revenue for the area and a decline in much of the tourism and nightlife that had been drawn in by the prospect of gaming.

This led to a long, dry period for gambling in Annapolis and for Maryland overall. For the remainder of the century, most forms of gaming were funneled to legal venues in neighboring states or else pushed into the black market.

The Glorious Return of Gaming in Maryland

That dry period came to an end in 2008 when a new law finally allowed slot machines to return to the state. The Hollywood Casino Perryville was the first establishment to take advantage of these new laws, and its grand opening in 2010 marked a watershed moment for the state.

Ocean Downs and Live! Casino and Hotel in Annapolis followed suit over the coming years, opening locations both to enjoy the new freedoms and in hopes of positioning themselves to take advantage of future legislation. In 2012 the Maryland Senate voted to approve the return of table games and other forms of gaming, granting the casino operators’ wish and ushering in a new era of legal gambling in Maryland.

DFS and Fantasy Sports in Maryland

In 2012 Maryland also explicitly legalized paid-entry fantasy sports, including daily fantasy sports (DFS). In 2016 the state further amended these laws, making them even more permissive and clarifying any questions that existed regarding DFS’s legality.

DFS was controversial at the time due to the fact that some argued it was too close to sports wagering.  Instead of just picking funny team names and playing for an entire season, enthusiasts were leveraging powerful DFS tools to enter contests that lasted only a week (or less). 

Those worries were largely set aside in 2020 when voters went ahead and decided to allow legalized betting on sports in Maryland.

Maryland Sports Betting is Finally Legalized

When Question 2 passed in 2020, it technically allowed for the possibility of in-person sports wagering at licensed facilities. It took several more years of negotiating before the laws could actually be implemented and sportsbooks began taking bets.

Governor Larry Hogan finally signed HB 940 in April of 2021, which hammered out the specifics of the law. The state then handed out the first sportsbook licenses that November, and in December the first sportsbooks started opening their doors.

Legalized Gambling in Maryland Today

Legalized gambling is thriving in Maryland today, and its presence has been a massive financial boon for the state. Maryland has earned more revenue from gambling with each year that it’s been legalized, and the state now rakes in over $832M annually.

It seems like a safe bet that with that kind of money being made that there is little chance of the state ever returning to its more prohibitive days. The days of Little Vegas may be long in the past, but the future of gambling in Maryland is brighter than ever.

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