Explainer: Setbacks in Maine, Maryland Dash Hopes for Online Poker in 2024 Explainer: Setbacks in Maine, Maryland Dash Hopes for Online Poker in 2024

It’s been a rough week for expanding online poker in the US.

One day after Maryland lawmakers failed to get a bill legalizing online poker and casino gaming across the finish line before the legislature adjourned for the year, the same scenario appears to be playing out in Maine — a bill that would authorize both verticals in that state must pass before their legislature adjourns next Wednesday, April 17.

Maryland and Maine were the gaming industry’s two best shots at expanding igaming in 2024. Efforts fell short in both states, albeit for different reasons. Now, it’s back to the drawing board for 2025.

Let’s unpack what’s happened and where plans to launch regulated markets for online poker in Maryland and Maine go from here:

What’s this all about?

Lawmakers in Maryland and Maine introduced legislation (last year, actually) to legalize online poker and casino gaming. The bills were carried over into 2024, but this week the bill in Maryland officially died and the bill in Maine is teetering on the brink — it could die next week.

That’s a major bummer 😟. What happened in Maryland?

Senator Ron Watson (D-Bowie) and Delegate Vanessa Atterbeary (D-Howard) each introduced legislation to legalize online casino and online poker in Maryland. Their bills differed on the tax rate but were otherwise similar. Atterbeary’s bill actually cleared the House, but her bill and Watson’s both met the same fate — they were referred to the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee and didn’t go any farther.

Why didn’t the Maryland bills advance? Was their opposition?

Yes, and it came from several places. There were the usual concerns (completely appropriate, btw) about a possible increase in gaming addiction, but union reps from the state’s land-based casinos also came out in force. A few local government officials and reps from two of the six casinos also complained that legalizing online poker and casino gaming would take business, and jobs, away from the land-based facilities. A committee hearing on February 28 was an ugly spectacle.

Yikes. And what happened in Maine?

Maine is a slightly different story. The Maine bill was referred to the Joint Standing Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs, which has 13 members from the House and Senate. The bill would have the state’s four federally recognized tribes offer online poker and casino, but not two commercial casinos in the state. That could prove to be its undoing, however, judging by testimony the joint committee has received so far.

Seven committee members issued a report (basically, a recommendation) stating the bill should pass, but the other six got behind a report calling for the bill’s demise. Maine’s quirky system of government allows a committee to issue a so-called “divided report,” and it did so on Monday.

That’s weird. What happened then?

Things get a little complicated here. The House agreed to accept the “should pass” report, but then reversed course and rejected it. That’s when the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Laura Supica (D-Bangor), decided her bill would have better odds at final passage if the House accepted the “should not pass” report — that’s because the bill would then move on to the Senate, where Supica will have a few days to try and win over her skeptical colleagues.

Got it. So, what happens now?

Well, lawmakers in Maryland, frankly, need to do a better job of presenting the argument that expanded igaming won’t negatively impact land-based casino gaming — in fact, just the opposite. The aforementioned Senate committee hearing, and another in the House, didn’t go well. They may also want to revisit the tax rates they were proposing (55% in the House bill, 47% in Senate version). Efforts to expand igaming in Maryland could resume in 2025, but since voters would need to give final approval the entire discussion could be put on hold until 2026 — the next election year.

Meanwhile, the bill in Maine is likely dead this year. Assuming that Rep. Supica and other igaming expansion supporters win reelection in November, they will likely resume their efforts on January 1, 2025 — unless the governor, or the majority of both Democrats and Republicans, call/vote for a special session (but it seems very unlikely that she/they would do so). The response to this year’s bill shows some lawmakers want the state’s two commercial casinos to be able to participate in igaming.

Bottom line, when will regulated online poker come to Maryland and Maine? 🔮

It will likely come to Maine first, simply because in Maryland you need voter approval to expand igaming. Assuming lawmakers in Maine got a bill passed quickly and state regulators got straight to work setting up rules, a regulated market for online poker could emerge in Maine by early 2026. Maryland voters will go to the polls in 2026 — assuming they pass a referendum that November, you could see regulated poker launch in the Old Line State by mid-2027.