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Joint Committee on Gaming Oversight September 18, 2013
Chairwoman King, Chairman Luedtke and distinguished members of the Joint Committee on Gaming Oversight, thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony in support of HB 486, the Home Games Protection Bill, sponsored by Representative Kirill Reznik (D-District 39). My name is John Pappas, and I am the Executive Director of the Poker Players Alliance (PPA). The PPA is the nation’s largest grassroots organization dedicated to defending the rights of poker players and promoting poker as a great American pastime. Nationwide the PPA has more than 1 million members, and in the state of Maryland we boast nearly 14,000 poker activists. For nearly two centuries we have been a nation of poker players. Whether the game was played on a Civil War battlefield, on a Louisiana river boat, at a Las Vegas casino or at your grandparent’s kitchen table, Americans have a long time attraction to poker. The popularity and intrigue of the game are rooted in the lessons it teaches. It is a game of strategy, psychology and mathematics. It teaches patience, money management and strong decision making skills. It is a game of tremendous skill (peppered with some luck) and many people in the state of Maryland continue to learn the game around kitchen tables. In fact, on any given night within 5 miles of the state Capital, there are probably dozens of poker games taking place. I would even place a small wager that some people in this room played poker in their home, or a friend’s home, within the past week. Poker has a strong history in Maryland and more history will be made with the recent opening of poker rooms in Maryland casinos. Maryland is also home to some great poker players like Greg Merson, who won the World Series of Poker Main Event in 2012 while wearing his signature Baltimore Orioles jersey and took home more than $8.5 million for his effort. Greg follows a long list of Marylanders who have seen professional success on the poker felt. But the bill I have come to support today is not about the professional poker player in Maryland. It is about the average resident – the doctors, lawyers, school teachers and waiters – Marylanders from every walk of life who play poker in their homes and without even knowing it are violating state gambling laws. Given the popularity of the game and the rich history poker has in this state, it is no wonder that we are gathered today to discuss the efficacy of a current state law that makes it illegal to play poker in a private home or residence in the state of Maryland. The law is arcane, hypocritical and, even if it was enforceable, it raises serious questions whether the state’s valuable (and limited) law enforcement resources should be spent breaking up innocent poker games.
Specifically, Section 12-102 of the current law is the most troubling. It is written in such a broad manner that the playing of any game for a wager, even if it is a simple chess match, is treated the same as if the person was in an illegal casino betting thousands of dollars with a bookie on the Orioles to lose. These are obviously not similar situations. HB 486 corrects this inequity by eliminating penalties for private games played at home where no one is profiting from “operating” or “hosting” the game. The design and wording of HB 486 leaves all of Maryland’s current antigambling statues intact, while merely ensuring that games conducted under the rules for home games are exempt from prosecution. Under the bill, law enforcement would still have every tool needed to prosecute unauthorized commercial games. HB 486 is a common-sense solution to an ambiguous, antiquated and unenforceable law. It has no unintended consequences, and it will not lead to an expansion of gambling in Maryland. The bill simply legalizes an American tradition by allowing Marylanders the freedom of playing their favorite game of poker, chess, Monopoly™, or Bunko for a small wager in the comfort of their home without fear of being arrested and treated like common criminal. Again, Chairwoman King, Chairman Luedtke and members of the Committee, I thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony today. I hope that this Committee will recognize the need to change the existing and outdated home game law. I look forward to answering your questions.