Legislature Beats Deadline To Put Maryland Sports Betting On Ballot

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Maryland sports betting

Voters will have a chance to approve Maryland sports betting in November.

Getting Maryland sports betting up and running, however, could take several more months.

The Maryland Senate concurred 45-0 Wednesday with changes the House made the previous day. The House version removes most language from S 4 but puts the issue of legalizing sports betting in front of voters.

On Tuesday, the House gutted most of the language in the bill authored by Sen. Craig Zucker but voted 129-3 to move forward with the legislative referendum.

There was little time to discuss the details of how sports betting would be conducted in the state, with the session ending three weeks early because of coronavirus concerns.

The House opted to get the issue on the ballot in November and figure out the rest later. If Marylanders pass the referendum in November, the legislature will have to pass another bill outlining how sports betting will operate next year.

How Maryland sports betting will appear on ballot

The House amendment to S 4 strikes the majority of the sports betting bill, from Page 2 through 25, in its final line.

Before doing so, the House made one helpful addition in establishing how the referendum question for sports betting will be phrased:

“Do you favor the expansion of commercial gaming in the State of Maryland to authorize sports and event betting for the primary purpose of raising revenue for education?”

As ballot questions go, the language appears favorable for passage with its deference to education.

The other change made by the House involved the addition of a Minority Business Enterprise Disparity Study. It requires the Maryland Department of Transportation and the State Lottery and Gaming Control Commission to commission a review of whether minorities face a disadvantage in participating in the industry.

Discussion of changes on the Senate floor

In announcing the amendment made to remove the substantive portion of the Maryland sports betting bill, Senate President Bill Ferguson said, “Tried our best.”

Senate Minority Leader J.B.  Jennings asked what the bill does now. Ferguson said, “Not much.”

Zucker responded:

“Well, it needed to go to referendum to approve sports betting and that will happen. Assuming the voters approve it, then we will be allowed to do it. We had a bill that did both that and a whole implementation program. The House would not agree to that implementation program, so we’re going to have to go back and have that discussion again.”

Jennings summed up that if the voters did approve legalizing sports betting in November and the legislature is back in January, it could “theoretically” only be a two-month delay.

What was removed from MD sports betting bill

As passed unanimously by the Maryland Senate last week, Zucker’s bill would have legalized sports betting at four Maryland casinos, three racetracks and potentially, the Washington Redskins’ stadium and practice facility.

The Senate created a tiered structure for initial fees ranging from $1.5 million to $2.5 million, renewable every five years for 25% of that cost.

Sports betting would have been taxed at 20%, with 19% going to education and 1% to a minority business enterprise program.