Local towns trump state gambling laws


In light of recent controversies surrounding poker tournaments in neighboring Worcester County, the Coastal Point has reviewed the rules for communities in southeastern Sussex.

Last month, Ocean City organizers were shut down after several tournaments, supposedly benefits, produced but token donations for their purported charities.

Shortly thereafter (March 4), more than a dozen individuals were arrested for playing poker at a commercial storefront in Ocean Pines.

There as here, games of chance are strictly a no-no at commercial establishments, but legitimate at church functions and charitable events (with the proper license).

Janice Fitzsimons at the Delaware Attorney General’s office said they hadn’t received any complaints like the ones that surfaced in Ocean City — apparently, local organizers are still in the state’s good graces.

In addition, Fitzsimons said friendly games of chance were perfectly acceptable — in the residential district.

“It is legal to host a game — at a private home — as long as the house isn’t making a profit,” she pointed out. “That is, as long as they’re not charging $25 at the door.”

Is the house making a profit if the host has a good night at the poker table?

“If somebody’s there and makes a complaint, they could ask for that person to be investigated,” Fitzsimons said, with a laugh. “We haven’t had any complaints.”

Apparently, no one wants to appear a sore loser.

Elsewhere around southeastern Sussex, most municipalities echo state rules on friendly games of chance.

Several charters refer to a prohibition on “gambling houses,” along with various other unsavory establishments, but few towns make specific reference to the issue of games in private homes.

However, there are exceptions — in Bethany Beach and Ocean View, for instance.

Ocean View’s ordinance found its way onto the books in 1919, and still lingers there, unchanged, alongside the one prohibiting residents from “furiously” galloping their horses around town in excess of 10 miles per hour.

“Games of chance or hazard” are still considered a nuisance in the private residences of Ocean View, and players as well as hosts are considered equally guilty.

If convicted before the Alderman, each faces a stiff $10 fine — and if they can’t pay, a trip to the county jail.

Bethany Beach carries a similar ordinance on their books, in a somewhat more modern form (adopted in 1976, amended in 1992).

There, as in Ocean View, both hosts and players are culpable, but Bethany’s fines have become more realistic over the years.

If found guilty, each person faces a fine of between $25 and $100, plus court costs and Victims Compensation Fund assessment.

According to Fitzsimons, anyone who wonders whether a particular game is illegal should contact their local police department and let them make the determination.