Maryland sports betting might not need to wait for 2020 voter approval to roll out.
Lawmakers are considering a plan to start Maryland sports betting through the state lottery via a voter-approved referendum from 1972. That would hand the sports betting reins to the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency and bypass other operators.
If the lottery amendment proves a tangible path, the lottery can consider adding various forms of lottery games without further approval. While that could leave casinos and off-track betting facilities in the cold, Maryland lawmakers could push forward with this proposal.
“If we can find a way to do it without referendum,” Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller told reporters Thursday, “I’m certainly amenable to move forward this year.”
Maryland working around voters?
In 2007, a requirement went into place that calls for any new commercial gaming to receive approval by a majority of voters in a general election. The state lottery, however, does not fall under that category.
Alexandra Hughes, chief of staff to House Speaker Michael E. Busch, noted state officials must still determine if this approach is legal, according to The Baltimore Sun.
Any legal plan appears to have the support of Miller, Busch and Gov. Larry Hogan.
“At this point,” according to Hogan spokeswoman Amelia Chase, “the governor anticipates working with the legislature to determine the best approach to sports betting in Maryland during this session, and is open to considering any ideas put forth.”
Could state lottery option be viable?
George Medenica, the state lottery and gaming director, told The Sun that should sports betting go live, Maryland’s 4,500 lottery retailers could offer wagers on games alongside Powerball and instant-win games.
Still, Medenica noted that “lawyers are examining” just how to define “lottery operation.”
From The Sun:
The lottery currently does much of its work through vendors. Medenica questioned whether the lottery would need to have state employees run a sports book, which he doesn’t think would be a wise choice.
“We’re prepared as an agency — obviously, we were prepared a year ago — to embrace it,” Medenica told the Associated Press, “and we’re certainly keeping up with all of the developments in sports betting.”
If lawmakers are successful in bypassing voter approval, Medenica said an activated Maryland sports betting industry might not arrive until next year:
“If that were to succeed, we would then still need to go into a procurement process, so it probably wouldn’t be able to hit the market until early 2020 anyway, and so we could probably gain a year in terms of when we could actually launch some real sports betting in the state.”
Taking another crack at Maryland sports betting
Lawmakers for the Old Line State tried to legalize sports betting last year but were cut down before the finish line.
Last spring, the state legislature concluded without sending a bill to the governor for approval. That would have allowed Maryland to add sports betting to the ballot this past November.
The failure to push legislation through was a byproduct of the House of Delegates and Senate disagreeing on whether to allow sports betting at racetracks.
Because of those entries, Medenica told The Sun, “we’re already seeing some impacts from sports betting in other jurisdictions maybe anecdotally pulling some of our casino customers out of state.”
Uncertainty remains, but Maryland pushes forward
Delegate Anne Kaiser, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, expressed confidence lawmakers would pass sports betting legislation this session. Which path the Assembly takes is unclear.
“All the details are still out there, so we don’t know,” Kaiser said, “and then we don’t know if the option that everyone’s talking about — about going through the lottery — means it doesn’t go to the voters. That’s not definite, so everything’s still being talked about.”
Legalizing sports betting has the approval of the three most important lawmaking figures. One of them, Senate President Miller, said he would allow the matter to move onward “if the principals can agree this year to bypass the constitution.”
That said, Miller added, he’s already preparing for repercussions.
“Unfortunately, there are going to be lawsuits no matter who does what.”